Released: 2011, Da Capo Press
By my count there have been at least a dozen books published about Black Sabbath. The band’s enduring appeal has provided an endless wellspring of materials for authors like Garry Sharpe-Young and Martin Popoff. Hot on the heels of Ozzy’s autobiography, I AM OZZY, Tony Iommi has written and published his own autobiography with the somewhat uninspired, but appropriate title of IRON MAN. I say, appropriate because Iommi, aside from being dubbed the ‘Godfather of Metal’, has been the only consistent member in Black Sabbath from day one. He personally kept it all together through all the years the great ones and the lean years too. After years, decades really, of hearing the stories, reading the books, we finally get to hear the legendary tales straight from the horses mouth. Not that Ozzy’s autobiography was horribly flawed, but in reality Ozzy was only in Black Sabbath for about a third of the bands life-span and let’s face it, Ozzy’s memory of Sabbath probably isn’t as clear or credible as Iommi’s.
The book is a standard hardcover with three dozen great photos from across the ages all on glossy plates. It follows a standard chronological time-line and each chapter is actually quite short, almost a just one anecdote per chapter, some chapters only two pages long. Iommi has a calm and understated writing style; it’s almost as if he is quietly shaking his head in disbelief at some of the nonsense from over the years. He doesn’t go into graphic detail about sex and drugs that other rockstars seem to relish in accounting. Accordingly, his book just doesn't have the same manic energy as Tommy Lee’s autobiography, for example. He uses the word ‘mad’ to describe some of the antics over the years; he was quite the prankster with poor ol’ Bill Ward getting the brunt of it.
As an older and long-time Black Sabbath fan, I’m hesitant to give this book the highest grade as there really isn’t that much new information. The stories have all been documented many times before; the poorly designed Stonehenge set, locking the dwarf in the road-case, Ozzy disappearing on a regular basis, the Dio vs. Iommi in-studio shenanigans (mixes and remixes of the live album), setting Bill Ward on fire, and many more weird and wonderful tales. On a number of occasions Iommi admits much of his memory of certain eras are hazy due to his cocaine use. It’s very likely that an author like Popoff could document the various technical details of the various line-up changes and band details better than Iommi could! However, if you are only a casual Black Sabbath/Iommi fan this book is loaded with cool stuff.
The areas where I wanted more info, namely the recording sessions, videos, tours of, for example, the Tyr or Forbidden eras. These times are painfully thin on detail. The chapter on the album, Forbidden is just four pages long and doesn’t say much except that the band was unhappy with the production job of rapper Ernie C., which we fans have all known for 15 years.
Iommi does a reasonable job in avoiding a consistent and chronic flaw in most recent Metal autobiographies (ie. Anvil, Ozzy, Mustaine) namely, neglecting the recent past. He doesn't just talk about ‘the glory years’. Fortunately, Iommi spends a reasonable amount of time, a good fifth of the book (70 pages or so) discussing his life and projects after Black Sabbath. Again, it is a bit thin on specifics but I found it very enjoyable to read about the DEP sessions, the Iommi solo album, the band Belch, the Fused album, Ozzfest, and the good times (the Grammy awards) and the bad times (the deaths of Powel and Dio) and everything in between 1995 and today. In fact, Iommi takes us up to November 2010 and he says, ‘By the time you read this we might be in a studio recording, or we may have an album in the shops already’. (p. 367). With the announcement on 11/11/11 of the Black Sabbath original line-up reunion (again), we all know there may be a revised edition of this book in five years when Iommi retires. I know I’ll buy it. Until then you should buy IRON MAN too.