Tony Iommi and Rob Halford on the past, present and future of metal
Tony Iommi. Rob Halford. Two men who have done more to define heavy metal than anyone else in its 50-year history. We unite the two legends for the first time ever to discuss the music we love
The Dark Lord can’t remember exactly when he first met The Metal God, but it was a long, long time ago. “Blimey, it’s been years,” says Tony Iommi, the man who, as guitarist with Black Sabbath, invented heavy metal virtually single-handedly. “Must have been the late 60s or early 70s.”
Next to him, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford isn’t much use. “Yeah, it was around the time I joined Priest, which was in 1971,” says the man who created the image and the sound of the definitive metal frontman. “Or maybe just after.” He mock-grimaces. “I dunno. I’m trying to forget just how long ago.”
We’ll forgive them the vagueness of memory and simply revel in the fact that these two undisputed icons of heavy metal are sitting inches from one another, directly in front of Hammer, in the annex of a converted abbey just outside Warwick.
It’s an amusingly cosy setting for two men who, between them, have notched up close to a century on the front line. Even more important than that is the fact that without them and their respective bands, Hammer wouldn’t be here at all. And, frankly, neither would you.
It’s no overstatement to say that Iommi was there at the birth of metal. The chords that usher in the eponymous opening track from Sabbath’s self-titled debut album – 48 years young this year – are still the wellspring from which everything that followed has flowed.
Priest are no less important in metal’s evolution. They took Sabbath’s blueprint and reimagined it as an unstoppable juggernaut encased in steel, studs and leather, cranking the drama to near-operatic levels. Everything you love about the genre – the sound, the volume, the atmosphere, the image – can be traced back to Black Sabbath or Judas Priest. Or, more likely, both.
These two visionaries have met many times over the years. They greeted each other on arrival with the kind of warm smiles and warmer hugs you’d expect from people who have known each other for close to half a century. Rob addresses his counterpart as “Tone”. Tony nods sagely as Rob recounts the ups and downs of his own career.
But this is the very first time they’ve sat down to be interviewed and photographed together, and as such it represents a truly historical moment. It’s fitting that it’s happening here in the West Midlands, just a few dozen miles away from Birmingham, the very city where metal’s own Big Bang took place.