Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Beyond the Seventh Star - Glenn Hughes & Tony Iommi

I've always been intrigued by Seventh Star. Whenever one expands their Sabbath collection beyond the original Ozzy albums, beyond the Dio albums...they end up with the fascinating and underappreciated vocal contributions of Tony "The Cat" Martin, Ian Gillan and Ray Gillen (if you dig deeply enough). Rounding out that collection is the sole Sabbath album featuring Glenn Hughes that's not really Sabbath (or is it?), Seventh Star.

Originally an Iommi solo LP, Seventh Star was released under the Sabbath name "featuring Tony Iommi" and I will never forget the first time I saw the LP. Iommi stands alone in the cover photograph, looking fairly unhappy. I was convinced at the time that there was no Sabbath aside from Ozzy and while I dismissed this as bogus I always wondered how much "Sabbath" would emanate from Iommi alone. I eventually saw the light and expanded my Sabbath collection, purchased Seventh Star and shelved it, satisifed that it sat there keeping the collection complete.

It was not until 2005 when Tony Iommi followed up his solo "debut," Iommi, with a rock-solid slab of tunes, Fused, all featuring Glenn Hughes on vocals, that I decied to revisit (or, visit for the first time) Seventh Star.

Seventh Star is, in fact, superb. At least half-superb. It's a slow starter and I can see how it would be easily abandoned by anyone tuning in for a Sabbath sound. The first four tracks are fine but unremarkable and only the dedicated listener is rewared when the title track lumbers out and Hughes shines through, a force to be reckoned with. Iommi's guitar is a perfect complement, the steel forged through Hughes' fire, and the title track, "Heart Like a Wheel" and "Angry Heart" should sit proudly among the acknowledged "classics" in the Black Sabbath canon. It is absolutely puzzling to me that "No Stranger to Love," a remarkably un-Sabbath song was chosen as a single to promote this LP.

Leap ahead, then, to Fused. This is an insanely great album that rips into the listener's head immediately with "Dopamine" and "Wasted Again" and, free of the Sabbath moniker, establishes a hard rock identity for Iommi/Hughes that I pray we hear from again. Hughes's vocals don't follow the guitar but soar overtop instead, emoting real soul and conveying more emotion than the typical "metal" delivery. And let's not forget that, in true metal fashion, Hughes also provides the bass credentials on Fused. The fact that the Master of the Unadorned Riff is delivering the guitar goods makes for a perfect union. Album closer "I Go Insane" is an absolute monolith that finds Hughes and Iommi stretching their musicianship across an impressive range of tempo, dynamics and intensity and should see prominent rotation in any self-respecting hard rock fan's playlists.

That then takes me backward/forward to the (unfortunately titled) 1996 Dep Sessions - acutally officially released in 2004. This one didn't exactly make waves when released and had been bootlegged as Eighth Star for years before but is a thrilling find for those, such as myself, who were slow and roundabout in their appreciation of the initial Iommi/Hughes pairing. Dep Sessions recalls Seventh Star even moreso than Fused as it runs the gamut from metal to soulful ballad and does a great job showcasing the staggering talent of this pairing. "Gone," "Don't You Tell Me" and "Time is the Healer" contend for "Second (Seventh?) Sabbath" status but tunes like "Don't Drag the River" and "It Falls Through Me" are the real finds here as they further define Hughes/Iommi as an impressive entity independent of any expectations the Black Sabbath history or name may hang upon them.

I've been enjoying this small collection of Tony Iommi/Glenn Hughes product for five years now and can only wish for more. I, for one, would be interested to see how Hughes may fit into a re-tooled version of Heaven & Hell, though the Butler/Appice element would have no significance in terms of recorded legacy. Perhaps an all-new Seventh Star project, then?  Probably not, as Black Country Communion seems to be hitting full stride. A latecomer to their work (the first album just arrived in this week's mail), it appears I have some more catching up to do - and, given my recent infatuation with Hughes' "other band," this is a task I am looking forward to.

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