Tony Iommi has been hailed as the godfather of heavy metal for his role with Black Sabbath, the British group he cofounded in 1968.
But the 68-year-old guitarist has just debuted his first composition since Black Sabbath announced their breakup, and it’s anything but metal.
In fact, it’s religious.
“It’s something we have started from scratch,” Iommi tells the Birmingham Mail, “a completely new piece of music unlike anything I have done before.”
Titled “How Good It Is,” the five-minute-long track is inspired by Psalm 133. It had its premiere at the Birmingham Cathedral in his hometown of Birmingham, England, last night, January 5, before a specially invited audience.
Iommi composed the dark chorale piece with the Very Reverend Catherine Ogle, the Dean of Birmingham. It was written for the choir of Birmingham Cathedral and features cellist George Shilling along with Iommi, who performs acoustic guitar on the piece.
“They’re a fantastic choir but the guitar player’s crap!” he says modestly.
The divide between heavy metal and chorale music is vast, but as Iommi explains, there is nothing ironic about a longtime Black Sabbath member writing music for the church. For that matter, he has professed his belief in God, saying he’s a non-church-going Catholic.
“People used to think we were Satanists, but we weren’t,” he says. “The songs were the opposite—they were all about the dangers of Black Magic.”
In September 2015, 47 years after they formed, Sabbath announced they would break up following one final world tour. Titled The End, the jaunt wraps up at the Genting Arena in Birmingham on February 2 and February 4.
Iommi wrote “How Good It Is” during breaks from the tour, saying he wanted to “give something back” to his home city. After writing the music and recording a demo, he sent it to Ogle, who then wrote the words, based on Psalm 133, which praises brotherly unity under God and the blessings of eternal life.
“Then we recorded the choir inside the Cathedral, which has gorgeous acoustics,” Iommi says. “The whole process took around nine months because I was out on Black Sabbath’s final tour, and there were lots of things happening at the Cathedral, where work was being done.”
This isn’t his first musical activity outside of Black Sabbath. In 2014, Iommi wrote soundtrack music for the long-running CBS drama CSI. More recently, he has mentored young guitarists on Guitar Star, a British TV series produced by Sky Arts.
Beyond music, his life has been anything but quiet in recent years. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012 and underwent successful treatment. In August 2016, he announced his cancer is in remission.
“I will still be making music, and I have a number of interesting offers and projects that I will look at in good time,” he says. “I would like to do some film soundtrack work, maybe something else for TV, and I would like to resume my mentoring work.”
You can hear “How Good It Is” streaming below.