The 1996 DEP Sessions

Tony Iommi

Sanctuary Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Written and recorded soon after the world tour for Black Sabbath's final album with vocalist Tony Martin (Forbidden, 1995), The 1996 DEP Sessions is a curious footnote to guitarist Tony Iommi's catalogue. With Glenn Hughes returning to vocals and playing bass ten years after his appearance on the band’s Seventh Star (1986) album, the collaboration was shelved in light of Black Sabbath’s series of reunion tours with Ozzy Osbourne starting in 1997. As a result, the album soon entered circulation as a bootleg known as Eighth Star, initially as “Limited Edition 500 Copies” CDs and a hot find on the first generation of mp3 sharing programs. Looking back on the alternative titles and false tracks it had (e.g., a misnamed Jethro Tull cover featuring Hughes but not Iommi), and Don Airey's keyboards being high in the mix – giving it more of a 1980s vibe – the bootleg has a naive charm to it in hindsight.

Having replenished the bank account from Black Sabbath’s Ozzfest tours and released an eponymous solo effort in 2000, Tony Iommi dusted off DEP Sessions for an official release in 2004. The first of Iommi’s many recordings with sound engineer Mike Exeter, session drummer Jimmy Copley was recruited to re-record the drums using Cozy Powell's old recording kit and the album was reborn.   my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250  

Closer to Adult-Oriented Rock (AOR) than heavy metal at times, The 1996 DEP Sessions shows a different side of Tony Iommi. His guitar sound lacks the heaviness of the prior Black Sabbath albums (fans of his powerful sound on 1992’s Dehumanizer will be disappointed), but paired with Glenn Hughes’ vocal range and ability to wail with soul, it works well. The strongest songs on the album are those with groove to them. “Don’t You Tell Me” is immediately catchy for its riff, and for much of it, Hughes takes the lead with his powerful voice. A particularly interesting part for Black Sabbath completists is that the song’s riff also appears on Iommi’s eponymous solo album from the year 2000…but under the title of “Black Oblivion” and with Billy Corgan singing! What a difference a choice of vocalist and lyrics can bring to a song, eh?

“Don’t Drag The River” gets my vote as the best song on the album. While on the softer side, it would have made a great single for its chorus vocals, and Iommi loyalists get their dose of heaviness with soloing two minutes in – but short and to the point compared to his past work. “I’m Not The Same Man” is a good, fast rocker that’s interesting to listen to in hindsight as it’s got a similar vibe to some of the numbers Iommi and Hughes wrote for their 2005 album, Fused.

Oddly enough, it’s the heavy numbers that feel out of place and don’t work well on The DEP Sessions. The opener, “Gone,” could’ve packed some punch in the riff were the guitar tuned down to C# like the old days, but it’s tuned for Hughes, who is front-and-center in the mix. “Time Is The Healer” has a slow and sludgy riff that would’ve been right at home on 2000’s Iommi with Phil Anselmo on vocal – indeed, it may well have been the blueprint for Anselmo’s track on that collection, “Time Is Mine” – or even the best of the Tony Martin albums, The Eternal Idol (1987). Hughes’ vocals are an awkward fit for these ones.

“It Falls Through Me” is a good choice for a closer; it’s a slower number with reflective lyrics and a nice outro solo. The album as a whole is a bit uneven, but another way of looking at it is that Iommi and Hughes wrote a variety of songs for this 38-minute project, and after 25+ years of carrying the Black Sabbath name, doing so might’ve been cathartic for the founder of heavy metal guitar. Particularly interesting in hindsight is that the polishing and release of The 1996 DEP Sessions in 2004 was followed one year later by the third album (2005’s Fused) to feature the Iommi/Hughes pairing, which stands as their best.

Rating: B-

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