Listen To The New Black Sabbath Album Now!

13Head over to the Black Sabbath artist page on iTunes to stream the 8-track regular version of their new album 13 right now! It’s incredible – lots of great guitar playing, killer Geezer Butler riffage, and Ozzy is in fine form. It’s a very dark album – y’know how Sabbath Bloody Sabbath kinda sounded like ‘Yay! We’re young and we have drugs and groupies and everything’s going to be awesome forever!’? Well this one is kind of like ‘Oh… we’re old now and we know what comes next…’ So it’s a bit of a downer. But in a good way. If you can’t be bothered wading through iTunes, go here then click View In iTunes to go straight there. 13 is out on June 11, and you can order 13 [Deluxe Edition] from Amazon and other retailers – it has three extra songs.

Rockschool Introduces New Hot Rock Guitar Books

RockschoolPRESS RELEASE: Rockschool’s best selling Hot Rock Guitar series has just been expanded with the launch of the new Grades 4 and 5 books. The acclaimed Hot Rock range brings you eight classic tracks in a variety of music genres giving you a choice of musical styles to play. The new books include songs from some of the most respected, best selling and famous bands on the planet and are an excellent tool for the ‘Free Choice Pieces’ in graded exams. Each massive new book comes complete with edited exam versions of eight classic rock songs drawn from a range of musical styles. Read More …

Cool Video Alert: Stone Sour – Children Of The Grave

House-of-Gold-Bones-Pt.-2Stone Sour have done it: they’ve covered the most perfect Black Sabbath song for them to possibly cover, Children Of The Grave from 1971’s Master of Reality. Check it out in the YouTube video below. There’s a soft spot in my twisted black heart for a good Black Sabbath cover, and I wrote an article about it for Gibson.com a while ago which you can see here. Particularly noteworthy is Type O Negative’s take on the song Black Sabbath, which they play even slower than the doomingly plodding original. Nobody but Type O could get away with a stunt like that. By the way, you can read my interview with Corey Taylor and Josh Rand here. We talked about Stone Sour’s House of Gold and Bones project and of course plenty of nerdy guitar stuff.  Read More …

LESSON: How to sound like Tony Iommi

With the recent release of The Devil You Know, the new album by Heaven & Hell (otherwise known as Mob Rules-era Black Sabbath) it seems a perfect time to look at the monstrous tones of one Tony Iommi. Iommi’s pioneering rhythm guitar style defined heavy metal, but while today’s players follow Iommi’s example by tuning down, they tend to use heavy strings and sometimes even baritone guitars to keep everything sounding tight and punchy. But even in Sabbath’s early days Iommi used the lightest strings he could find, and this was out if necessity rather than choice. At age 19 an industrial accident robbed the lefty of the tips of his right middle and ring fingers. While what was left of his fingers were healing, Iommi could only use his index and pinky fingers for fretting – which placed the classic root/fifth power chord and minor pentatonic scale shapes right under his fingertips, if you’ll pardon the pun. Iommi eventually fashioned leather ‘thimbles’ to replace the missing fingertips, but to further aid his weakened fingers in things like bending and hammer-ons he started tuning down. And down. And down. The combination of light strings and downtuning added a darkness and warmth that you just can’t get with a standard tuning or with downtuned heavy guage strings.

CLICK HERE to buy The Devil You Know from Amazon.com.

When it comes to rhythm you’ll want to use a relatively low gain sound for early Sabbath. Don’t let the overall heaviness of the band fool ya: much of the low end weight is created by not by Iommi himself but by the combination and interaction of Iommi and bass player Geezer Butler. Contrary to modern metal convention, if you’re going for an early Sabbath sound you should favour the neck pickup for your rhythm tone, and as much as possible play chords on the E and A strings instead of switching to higher strings. If played the way Iommi does it, the Iron Man riff should take you up to the 15th fret on the low E. Remember it’s often what you play and how you play it, not where the knobs are set. Back in the day Tony used a treble booster to nudge his amp further into overdrive. If you want to go this classic route, check out the Roger Mayer Concorde +.

Another important but overlooked aspect of Iommi’s sound is the use of parallel effects. The two best examples of this are the solo of ‘Paranoid’ and the rhythm guitars of ‘Killing Yourself To Live.’ In the ‘Paranoid’ solo, the signal is panned left and right, with the straight guitar on the left and the same performance fed through a ring modulator effect on the other. The result is a fuzzy, slightly seasick sound which adds to the doominess and uneasiness of the song’s subject matter. If you just listen to the right speaker it kind of sounds like a bee has flown up to a microphone and started scatting the solo, but when it’s combined with the regular unaffected sound it’s totally killer.

In ‘Killing Yourself To Live’ (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath), Iommi used a modulation effect (it’s hard to tell what it is because it’s at very high speed bit it could be an early phaser) to add a bubbly warble to some – but not all – of the rhythm guitars. In this case it would have been achieved by overdubbing an extra track (panned to the left speaker) with the effect engaged, but you can achieve the same effect by splitting your signal chain and adding the effect to one stream while leaving the other untouched. Check out the PDF on Robert Keeley’s website for schematics of a true bypass buffer/parallel looper mixing unit that will allow you to achieve this with a single amp, or use a pedal with stereo outputs early in the chain so you can split the signal off to two amps and apply the pahaser to only one signal. By the way, you can hear a similar effect on ‘Atom And Evil,’ the opening track of The Devil You Know. The effected guitar is playing a different riff to the main double-tracked guitars, but the overall result is similar to ‘Killing Yourself To Live.’

These days Iommi has his own signature Laney head (the GH100TI, pictured left), Gibson and Epiphone SG guitars, and Gibson humbucking pickup. The Iommi pickup is one of the highest output passive humbuckers you’ll find, so if you’re trying to recreate his later tones you’ll need to do some serious boosting with a pedal to get the same kind of effect on your amp’s preamp stage.

CLICK HERE to buy the Epiphone Tony Iommi Signature G-400 Electric Guitar from Music123 for $599.

REVIEW: Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know

Roadrunner (Worldwide), Rhino (US) Victor (Japan)

Q: When is Black Sabbath not Black Sabbath? A: When it’s Heaven & Hell. And even then … it’s still Black Sabbath. For the small handful of folks who have been living in a cave, under a rock or perhaps dwelling in a festering dungeon of misery in a barren, foggy and forsaken land time forgot, or something, Heaven & Hell is Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules-era line-up, trading under a new name so as to avoid confusion with the Ozzy-led incarnation of the band, which is still a going concern at least on paper. It’s not known even by the band members if or when the mighty Sabbath will reactivate (and I’m sure that largely depends on when they can fit in rehearsal between Osbourne photo opportunities and Botox appointments) but in the meantime, there’s Heaven & Hell.

CLICK HERE to buy The Devil You Know from Amazon.com.

Any assumption that Heaven & Hell’s The Devil You Know is a consolation prize pending new activity by Black Sabbath is crushingly put to rest within the first 5 seconds of album opener ‘Atom and Evil.’ After an opening drum salvo from Vinnie Appice, a lumbering, demonic Iommi riff lurches forward. If you listen with headphones you’ll hear a distant shimmery overdub which recalls the high-speed phaser sound of ‘Killing Yourself to Live’ from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It’s a subtle reminder of Sabbath’s past, but don’t go looking to read too much into it because The Devil You Know is not a depository for sly back catalogue references. Oh, you’ll be able to tell from a cursory ear-glance that it’s Iommi, Butler, Dio and Appice, but even though the lyrical direction may lean towards themes explored on the line-up’s last studio album, Dehumanizer, there’s more than enough distinction to keep The Devil You Know from being Dehumanizer 2: Electric Boogaloo.

‘Atom and Evil’ has that dark, plodding tempo that made Dehumanizer’s ‘Letters From Earth,’ yet the orchestration is a little richer, Geezer Butler’s bass tone is more up-front (especially in the second verse), and Iommi’s double-tracked rhythm guitars sizzle and burn, no doubt the result of his extremely high output Gibson Tony Iommi humbuckers. I don’t know if my perception is influenced by the fire-and-brimstone look of the album cover, but compared to Dehumanizer, Iommi’s tone on The Devil You Know generally feels warmer and more organic than the often cold menace of its predecessor.

‘Fear’ picks up the pace a little but two songs in we’re still nowhere near the tempo of ‘Neon Knights’ or ‘The Mob Rules.’ Some darkly supportive vocal harmonies and considered use of backwards reverb ratchet up the menace level in Dio’s voice, which is as powerful and commanding as ever, despite his advancing years. Though Dio doesn’t quite reach for the high notes like he once did, and seems to sing in a lower register overall, it fits the material and adds yet more weight to his delivery. Oh and while I’m singling out individual band members, Vinny Appice’s drum sound is incredible, with just the right mix of ambience and directness. His playing sits so deeply within the pocket that sometimes your ear is drawn away from him, until he throws in a particular fill or accent – there are some great ones in ‘Atom and Evil’ – to kick the song up to another level.

For me, as brutals as this sounds, the key distinction between Ozzy-Sabbath and Dio-Sabbath is one of evil. In their classic 70s output, the band seemed to be stalked and tormented by darkness and doom, while Dio-led Sabbath seems to be in control and command of it. This really hits home with the single ‘Bible Black,’ which starts with a classic Iommi acoustic figure underneath a sombre blues-inspired lead line. A minute and a half into the song, the doom and menace kick in – perhaps recalling ‘Children of the Sea’ from the Heaven & Hell album, but with a little more power and drive. In this tale of an evil bible that leads its reader to commit vicious misdeeds, Dio sounds determined and powerful, sinking his teeth into the character of the protagonist with a sort of demonic relish that Ozzy could only reserve for bats and doves.

‘Double The Pain’ almost sounds like an Iommi-led attempt at covering Alice In Chains’ ‘We Die Young.’ Four songs in and we’ve started to reach the faster tempos that this line-up has always done so well. Of course it wouldn’t be Iommi without more of those famous, evil, snaking riffs, and this track includes a killer half-time line. I’m not sure if it’s in part an in-joke – double the pain, double the length of the bar of music – but it sure sounds cool. ‘Rock and Roll Angel’ has an almost psychedelic opening riff which is quickly pushed aside for a chugging, heavy groove not a million miles removed from Zakk Wylde’s rhythm playing in Black Label Society. Geezer’s tone has a kind of growl which is especially effective in the pre-chorus sections, where Butler and Iommi seem to swap their respective support and leadership roles. Such interplay is all over the album, and it serves as a reminder that while Iommi is the chief riff writer, Butler is absolutely indispensable and perfectly capable of leading the charge.

‘Turn of the Screw’ kinda reminds me of Tony Martin-era Sabbath, with a Butler-led verse riff that recalls that line-up’s criminally overlooked Cross Purposes album. It’s not one of the album’s stronger cuts, yet the band is very tight and they navigate the song’s twists, turns and time shifts with ease. ‘Eating The Cannibals’ is the album’s fastest cut, a high-energy call-to-action about holding big business fat-cats accountable for the current economic state of affairs. A few reviewers have said it’s this album’s ‘TV Crimes,’ and the tempo is similar, but the mood is more smart-ass and revolutionary than the cautionary, accusatory tone of that Dehumanizer track. Oh and Iommi lets rip with a blazing solo that kinda sounds like he’s been spending a lot of time around Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine. Little lead guitar interjections in the following verse are also a nice touch, then we’re given another wild solo. Iommi’s lead playing is in fine form indeed on this album, and it’s great to hear him really stretch out. The intro riff to ‘Follow the Tears’ is possibly the darkest, creepiest moment on the album, moving from ‘threatening’ to ‘menacing’ to all-out oppressive by the time the drums come in. This one is going to be a killer live, and it’s amazing to think that 40 years after ‘Black Sabbath’ the song, Iommi is still writing riffs of this quality, and playing them with such conviction.

‘Neverwhere’ is another fast-paced track which once again has a slight Tony Martin-era feel (astute listeners might recognise a few common intervals with ‘Glory Ride’ from Eternal Idol). It’s one of the few moments on the CD that isn’t particularly stand-out, but at the same time it provides a welcome up-tempo break from all the stomping, lumbering doom that characterises most of the album. Finally there’s ‘Breaking Into Heaven,’ which bookends the collection with a similar (actually about 10bpm slower) tempo as ‘Atom and Evil.’ A monster, anthemic chorus gives way to repeated lashings of doom riffage, before the tempo picks up for a bluesy, double-stop-accented guitar solo. After a return to the slow doom, The Devil You Know finally fades out on a single chord which, rather than signalling the end of the album and saying ‘There, that’s over and done with,’ seems to say ‘To be continued…’

Man, I hope it is.

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Gibson Tony Iommi Guitar Pickup BlackThe Gibson Tony Iommi Guitar Pickup is the same humbucker that Tony Iommi uses in his Signature Gibson SG to give Black Sabbath its legendary sound. Unique pickup design delivers heavy punch, balanced lows, blistering mids, and razor-edged highs. Patented magnet configuration and special wire winding ensure maximum sustain; wax and epoxy potting prevent unwanted feedback. Gibson uses 4-conductor wiring in the Tommy Iommi Pickup to make it adaptable for any desired wiring design.

LESSON: 5 Singers You Should Totally Steal From

One of the coolest techniques for expanding your guitar style is to copy other instruments – this is why you’ll sometimes find articles on I Heart Guitar about keyboard players, f’rinstance – but there’s probably no more expressive instrument than the human voice. When I was in high school one of my favourite things in the world was to chuck my bag in the corner, crank up my amp and play along with the vocal melody to David Bowie’s ‘A Small Plot Of Land’ from his ‘1.Outside’ album. It’s a pretty obscure track and you’ll probably have to dig pretty deep into iTunes to find it, but it’s well worth it, not only for Bowie’s killer phrasing and some very atmospheric Brian Eno production, but also for Reeves Gabrels’s really out-there guitar playing.

However I think the reason I became so entranced with this particular song as a guitar exercise was because the vocal melody included a lot of sustained notes, as well as a few small phrases with quieter dynamics than the rest, and a few notes that sort of drifted over the bar lines and behind the beat. It taught me a lot about leaving space in a melody, and about applying progressively wide vibrato over the course of a note, instead of the same level of vibrato over the whole thing.

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So with this in mind, here’s a countdown of five other songs that I’ve found are good for copying vocal phrasing:

5. Black Sabbath – Changes.

Ozzy’s phrasing is relatively straightforward and is a good starting point for this technique. He tends to stick quite faithfully to the pulse of the song rather than messing about with the rhythm too much, and a lot of his melodies seem to be based on pentatonic scales. In Changes, there’s a lot of space between each phrase, and there are a few notes that he slides, which you can choose to mimic either by sliding from fret to fret or by bending.

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4. Led Zeppelin – We’re Gonna Groove.

This is a good one for trying to get underneath some very staccato rhythms. Plant tends to hold the same note for a steady stream of words at a few points in this song, and it’s a challenge to use different pick attack, vibrato and slide techniques on guitar to make up for the fact that you’re playing the same note over and over again. A vocalist can get away with this a lot easier because they can change the word, but a guitarist has to be a little more resourceful.

CLICK HERE to buy the Led Zeppelin – Complete Studio Recordings box set from Amazon.com.

3. Alanis Morrissette – You Oughta Know.

I know, I know, this might seem like an odd choice, but y’know that thing Alanis used to do (she seemed to grow out of it after a few years) where she would finish a line and her voice would kind of jump to a high (and sometimes out of key) note? This can translate quite well to guitar, especially if you use it to go to a note that’s actually in the key of the song. You can use various techniques to hit these extra notes: harmonics, tapping, or, under the right circumstances, feedback. Find a spot near your amp where you get the same feedback note whenever you take your hands off the guitar, and soon you’ll be able to conjure that note at will.

CLICK HERE to buy Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill from Amazon.com.

2. Living Colour – Ignorance Is Bliss.

While the melody itself isn’t particularly crazy, this one is a little more out-there in terms of phrasing, with Corey Glover often holding a note until the last possible beat before dropping down to another note for the next syllable. There are also some very tricky vocal slides which translate really well to bends. You’ll also have to tackle the same “What the hell do I do when the vocalist sings different words using the same note?” issue as ‘We’re Gonna Groove’ in the ‘Ignorance is no excuse’ section.

CLICK HERE to buy Living Colour’s Stain from Amazon.com.

1. Devin Townsend Band – Storm.

Devin’s metal screams and growls are some of the best in the biz, but his melodic singing is particularly amazing. This song features some great phrasing where he finishes each line with a note which slides down while he also applies vibrato. This technique is very tricky but for those with whammy bar-equipped guitars there are two ways to accomplish it: either apply the vibrato with your fretting hand and drop the pitch with the whammy bar, or slide the note down the neck with your fretting hand while using the bar to achieve the vibrato. Devin ends the song with an octave-higher, slightly on the edge restatement of the verse melody, and it’s here that the sheer range and emotion of his voice is in full flight. Check out the bit from 3:40 to 3:50. It’s extremely difficult to copy on guitar, as he slides from one note to another, and then to another, all on the same word, but such full-on pitch manipulation is very rewarding when you get it right, and these skills can then be applied to your own material.

CLICK HERE to buy the Devin Townsend Band’s Accelerated Evolution from Amazon.com.