"I don't know if I have any ancient tone secrets," says Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi on the phone from London. "But we basically went in and did it like the early days." Iommi's discussing the recording of Black Sabbath's latest album, 13, with producer Rick Rubin. "He saw us doing the album basically like the early days, not lots of effects and overdubs, not tarting it up or making it sound better, he wanted it to be like us playing. Mistakes and all." 13 is Sabbath's first studio album since 1995's Forbidden, compiled mostly of tracks that Iommi had demoed himself and brought to the band with a reunion in mind. 13 isn't exactly a throwback, but it does have the same level of satisfying Sabbath darkness and absolutely ridiculous solos. And Rubin sure is a weirdo. "You said that, not me!" says Iommi, laughing. "He's got his differences. What was strange for us was that he didn't have our sense of humour. He didn't get that at all. Later on he realized, whether he liked it or not."
It only makes sense that a band enjoying such a robust on again off again relationship for the past 46 years has a strong bond. This latest reunion came to be while Iommi was undergoing treatment for lymphoma. A few days before our interview, he'd just had his last treatment, which he said was both good and bad. The treatments were too harsh to be a long-term solution, so now Iommi has to wait and see if he's cancer-free. And reuniting, recording and touring with Black Sabbath seemed to be the right thing to do to take his mind off of it.
"They [Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler] were really helpful for me. When we were writing we did a lot from my house in my studio," Iommi says. "It was helpful because I could go to treatments and have them here. Even if I couldn't work after I could go in and tell them and they'd be like 'all right don't worry.' It helped me when I could play too, it got my mind off of it by having a laugh and a joke."
"We've been threatening to for many years," he says of a reunion. "This had to be the time, otherwise it was never going to happen. We had to get on it and do it---everyone was really enthusiastic, I haven't seen Ozzy that enthusiastic for many years."
But Sabbath's original drummer Bill Ward decided not to go ahead with the reunion. The band found out via a letter from a lawyer, and was left scrambling, deciding to replace Ward with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk. Seriously, what the heck is Bill Ward's deal? "I don't know," Iommi says. "Funnily enough I had an email off Bill a few days ago. It's a shame he didn't want to do it at that time. No one was more upset than us, we wanted him to do it but we had to carry on, otherwise we'd still be waiting now.
"It threw us, we were shocked. But who knows, one day we may play together."
Iommi's guitar chops still inspire metal god/goddess hopefuls today, and set the standard for metal at the time. Which is funny, considering his original plan was to sound completely different. "It's always the way though, isn't it," he says. "If you create something that people like they try to copy it. It's nice to see people looking at us as idols or whatever you want to call it. At least I can say I did it first."
Black Sabbath w/Reignwolf
Thursday, April 3 at 8pm, $101/$141
Halifax Metro Centre, 1800 Argyle Street