Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath and the Art Of the Non-Denial Denial

Inside the furor over yesterday's Black Sabbath reunion news

tony iommi black sabbath
Steve Thorne/Getty Images
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath.
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Yesterday was a confusing day for Black Sabbath fans. In the morning, a new interview with Tony Iommi in the Birmingham Mirror hit in which he said that the original line-up of Black Sabbath was reuniting for a new album and tour. "It's all been very hush-hush," he said. "Ozzy's been the worst at holding it back…We're really looking forward to it and I think the stuff we're writing is really good. It's more back to the old original stuff."

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This unleashed a flood of stories. We called Ozzy Osbourne's people for comment. They didn't deny anything, but refused to comment for now. Shortly after our own story went up, word came out that Tony Iommi's manager was claiming that the guitarist hadn't spoken to the paper since June. He didn't say the quotes were fabricated or inaccurate in any way.  Then Iommi put out his own statement. Here it is in full:

 "I'm saddened that a Birmingham journalist whom I trusted has chosen this point in time to take a conversation we had back in June and make it sound like we spoke yesterday about a Black Sabbath reunion.

At the time I was supporting the Home of Metal exhibition and was merely speculating, shooting the breeze, on something all of us get asked constantly, "Are you getting back together?"

Thanks to the internet it's gone round the world as some sort of "official" statement on my part, absolute nonsense.  I hope he's enjoyed his moment of glory, he won't have another at my expense.

To my old pals, Ozzy, Geezer and Bill, sorry about this, I should have known better.

All the best, Tony"

This appeared to throw cold water on the whole thing. Headlines started popping up like "Iommi Denies Sabbath Reunion." The only thing is, he did no such thing. In fact, his statement is the most perfect non-denial denial we've ever seen. He lashes out at the journalist for making the quotes seem new. He said they were "shooting the breeze" and he apologizes to his bandmates. He uses the term "absolute nonsense." He doesn't say that Black Sabbath aren't recording a new album and planning a tour. He doesn't say the quotes were fabricated out or out of context. He basically just says he's angry that the truth came out earlier than he wanted. 

British journalist Andy Coleman spoke to Iommi at the Home of Metal exhibition in June. Both sides agree on that. After discussing the event, Coleman clearly asked about the future of Black Sabbath. Iommi may have thought his comments were off the record, and they definitely didn't appear in Coleman's original article. Over the past two months, there have been rumors that Black Sabbath were recording an album. I heard them myself, but didn't have nearly enough confirmation to file a story. Then two days ago, Metaltalk.net posted a story that Black Sabbath were rehearsing for a world tour. 

It seems likely that post is what inspired Coleman to file his story yesterday. Iommi's manager Ralph Baker spoke to Coleman yesterday for a follow-up piece in the Birmingham Mail. He admits that Iommi never says the story is untrue. "We haven’t got anything in place," Baker said.  "He’s not denying that the guys have been talking but there’s nothing in the way that’s been implied in the statements that you made. He made them to you in June and he felt that he made them to you off-the-record.”

Sometimes interviews hit a weird place where you exhaust the central topic and get into chit-chat with the artist. They may think what's being said is off the record, but they don't explicitly state that and the tape recorder is still running. That's often where they get into trouble, and is probably what happened here. I e-mailed Coleman to get his side of the story, but he wasn't willing to explain the circumstances of the June interview. "We're letting the stories speak for themselves at the moment," he wrote.

Tony Iommi has a memoir coming out in November. He will almost certainly go on an extensive promotional tour in the weeks leading up to the release. Every journalist is going to ask about the reunion. It puts him in a pretty awkward place. One imagines that Ozzy and Sharon weren't pleased the news hit yesterday either. Iommi had every incentive to dial it back, and he did a masterful job with that statement.  If this whole heavy metal guitar thing doesn't work out, Iommi has a bright future as a political consultant.