When musical heavyweights join forces on collaborative projects, the outcome is often times a watered-down version of their respective bands’ previous efforts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for the purists among us it’s usually somewhat disappointing, as we’re accustomed to the genuine article. This is precisely why the infamous mid ’90s Iommi/Hughes pairing is so fascinating: It is completely unlike the classic Black Sabbath or Deep Purple that aficionados are familiar with.
Originally recorded in 1996, then revisited and completed in 2004, The DEP Sessions showcases Iommi and Hughes in different (albeit complimentary) lights than what fans have grown used to; so much so that I needed to double check the CD insert to make sure of what I was listening to. From the album opener, “Gone”, I was convinced I was enjoying a lost Soundgarden track. Soundgarden!? Wait just a moment, exactly who influenced who?
Similarly, “From Another World” finds Hughes sounding as if he were cutting vocals for 1994’s Superunknown. Although he lacks the shrillness of Chris Cornell’s paint-peeling shriek, Hughes ably rides the alternating waves of Iommi’s acoustic and electric magic. If he could hit the high notes the way Cornell could, Soundgarden might have a future
An even bigger surprise comes by way of “Don’t You Tell Me”, which is a ringer for vintage Living Colour. What!? Yes, I was shocked to, but Iommi’s textured riffing is reminiscent of Vernon Reid’s thrash gymnastics, while Hughes sounds eerily like Corey Glover.
The fourth track, “Don’t Drag the River”, begins cautiously enough, but soon grows into a measured metal workout, deftly incorporating a blend of Iommi’s fluid playing with Hughes surprisingly smooth vocals balancing on the shifting tempos.
On “Fine”, Hughes once again morphs into Glover, with the song bearing a subtle hint of “Open Letter (To a Landlord)” from Living Colour’s brilliant 1988 debut Vivid. Strangely, this song evidences how well Hughes’ voice has aged after his tenure with Deep Purple, as he has better command of his vocal range than he did twenty years prior.
“Time Is the Healer” and “I’m Not the Same Man” offer the album’s densest riffing and vocal flourishes, with the former harkening back to the trademark Sabbath sound. Even Iommi and Hughes revisiting their roots can’t completely erase the Soundgarden traces, however, as the latter track has more than a passing resemblance to “Spoonman” with a healthy dose of speed metal crunch.
The CD closer “It Falls Through Me” is the most generic of the included tracks, although Iommi’s chiming guitar can hardly be classified as ordinary. The song has the standard metal fingerprints all over it, but may be closest to an early Rainbow offering.
Although The DEP Sessions lacks the ponderous gloom of classic Sabbath, as well as the accelerated heaviness of Purple’s best, the eight tracks work perfectly together. As to the overwhelmingly similarities to Soundgarden and Living Colour, it may simply be a sonic coincidence, but one that gives the album an interesting change of pace. For those whose hearts are set on the Iommi/Hughes signature sound, they might be initially be disappointed, but after a few spins the CD should resonate quite nicely. At the very least, these two important figures in the annals of hard rock show that the passage of time has not dampened their spirits or abilities to pen and play fresh material.