Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 87. The Devil You Know
We didn’t write while we were on the road. I did have an amp in the dressing room and fiddled about a bit and sometimes I’d come up with a couple of riffs, which I then recorded on a little digital machine. I just kept them so that I could go back to them at some point, but it never worked trying to write a proper song while on tour. We never sat down together to do it, simply because we weren’t in each other’s company all that much. Me and Geezer travelled on one bus together and Vinny and Ronnie on another, and we both left at different times. After a gig Geezer and myself would have a shower, get on the bus and go. Ronnie usually stayed behind for a couple of hours because he liked to relax, have a drink and see a few people. Meanwhile, Geezer and me were asleep and on the road. I’m an early riser, but Ronnie would sleep in late. With two different schedules like that, to write a track together was very difficult.
So after the tour we had writing sessions. I did a lot at home, where I put many riffs down and a lot of the structures of the songs, which I then put on a CD. Ronnie, Geezer and Vinny were at home in California, so I went over there with more than twenty song ideas on this CD. Ronnie had also put his ideas on a CD and so had Geezer. Vinny was very much involved; he sat there tapping away, but he didn’t write as such. We all got together in Ronnie’s house, sat down in his studio and just played the different CDs. We had a drink, casually went through them all and picked out the ideas we instantly liked, no matter whose they were. We put all those on one CD, made a copy of that for everybody, and then we decided which ones we wanted to work on first over the next few days.
We used one of Ronnie’s ideas in its entirety, which was ‘Atom And Evil’, the first track on the album. And we used bits of each other idea. Some of Geezer’s riffs would come halfway through, or some of mine. We just swapped them around, building songs. It was a great way of working. Instead of having to come up with everything myself, everybody was completely involved in it from day one, and that helped me immensely. We wrote about six songs this way.
Then we had a break to do an American tour in August 2008, after which we were all fresh and raring to go again for the next batch of songs. We did the same as before: each of us had a writing session on his own. We put our ideas on a CD again, got back together and played the CDs to each other and picked some more tracks to work on.
When we decided to record ‘Atom And Evil’ because we all liked it so much, Ronnie was quite honoured. He had written the words and the music, but he was very humble. He said: ‘We don’t have to do it.’ And then he added: ‘But if you like it . . .’
I said: ‘It’s wonderful. It would be a great song to do!’
When we were in LA putting the songs together, I had a little studio set up in the basement of the house I rented. My engineer, Mike Exeter, was staying at the house as well. We’d put the ideas together at Ronnie’s, and afterwards I’d go back home. The next morning I might tinkle around with it and change the riff. And then later in the day, back at Ronnie’s, I’d say: ‘What about this idea?’ On ‘Bible Black’ I had started off with a riff I’d come up with back home in England, and then Ronnie had changed this and that around. Then one morning in my little basement studio I changed the riff completely. It worked good and in the end ‘Bible Black’ turned into a great song.
Not all the songs came from the ideas we already had on our CDs. We came up with ‘The Turn Of The Screw’, ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Eating The Cannibals’ at Ronnie’s; they were done from scratch right then and there. We didn’t just sit around listening; we had our instruments there and did a fair amount of writing together on the spot. Most of the songs were group efforts. Even the ones that were almost completed when presented to the other band members were changed. We’d move stuff around and put new bits in and add little twists that would make them more interesting. Ronnie might say: ‘What about trying that bit there? And that bit?’
And we’d try it. It was good because we pushed each other. Instead of going: ‘Eh, all right, that’ll do’, it was: ‘Oh yeah, we can make that better!’
We got along really well and we became very close, and that helped us while writing the songs. We really homed in on the whole thing.
Recording The Devil You Know didn’t take long at all. We’d already gone into pre-production in LA. Once we had finished the writing, we rehearsed the songs. We played them and taped them and got them fairly tight. We had a little time off and then everybody came over to the Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, in Wales, where we just played the songs live in the studio. We put them all down in three weeks instead of the five we’d originally planned. I was thrilled. To be able to write like that and get the pre-production done and then go in to play it live, it was absolutely great.
It wouldn’t be right to be in the studio with no hi-jinks and this time the drummer on the receiving end was Vinny. It was cold, being November, but Vinny was as usual working up a right sweat and at every take his hair was soaked so he’d have a hairdryer next to his kit to dry it whenever there was a break. The thing packed up and he got my Tech, Mike, to repair it and was really pleased when it came back and tested it, no problem. We took a break and while he was gone I couldn’t resist filling it up with talcum powder. Back to work and sure enough, Vinny picks up the dryer, but this time ‘poof ’, instead of a black-haired drummer dressed in a black T-shirt there was now a white apparition! Being Vinny he took it in good spirit.
I find when you’re coming up with the riffs and you’ve got the right people around you to put them together, it can go very quickly. There’s actually no reason why we couldn’t have played everything in one day, because we were doing that at rehearsal. It’s just that you get into that thing where you think, we’ll do a track a day. And then you’d want to do a guitar overdub, or Ronnie would want to do an extra vocal, and a track would take a couple of days. I could have saved an absolute fortune working this fast in the past, but you can’t work that way with everybody. It takes a certain combination of people to be able to do it.
The Devil You Know was released in April 2009. Listening to it, you can hear we were really inspired and had a great time making it, and therefore it was nice to see that it was received incredibly well. The critics were raving, some calling it the best metal album of the year. In America it debuted at No. 8 in the Billboard album charts. I’d been at it for forty years and it hadn’t always been smooth sailing, but The Devil You Know was another high point. I couldn’t wait to tour the album and take the show on the road once again.
We started off in South America, playing big crowds that were always wild. The European summer festivals were really good and Wacken was especially great. The crowd was fantastic and it was very well organised. We filmed it for the Neon Nights – Live at Wacken DVD that came out in November 2010. I was very pleased with the way that turned out and I’m really glad we did it because it was Ronnie’s last filmed show.
The Sonisphere Festival in Knebworth was the last gig we played on this side of the Atlantic. It just pissed down with rain when we walked on and it stopped when we came off. Bloody marvellous that was. But even so, that was a good gig as well.
We spent August in America, with Coheed and Cambria supporting us. On the 29th we had our last show at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I was thinking, why are we playing there? It’s such a small place! But it was looked on as a nice little gig to finish up with, and it was all right. It had been such a great tour that we didn’t want it to end.
But it did.
The House of Blues turned out to be our last gig ever.