Tony Iommi - Guitar Heroes A-Z

Question: Who is heavier than Tony Iommi? Answer: No one. He’s the guy that terrified us all with his liberal use of the tritone (the devil’s interval—yikes!) in the tune “Black Sabbath” and the dude who taught generations of kids the dirge-like Aeolian mode with his classic “Iron Man” riff. But what truly makes Iommi the heaviest of the heavy is his uncanny ability to work in major key licks in predominantly minor tunes.

Nowhere is Iommi’s talent for this better displayed than in his awesome (and heavy as hell) guitar work in Sabbath’s eloquent anti-war screed “War Pigs.” In the intro, he leans on the major 3 of the E chord, G#. When the up-tempo power chords kick in, he trills between the same note and the minor 3, G, further blurring the distinction between major and minor.

It’s in the song’s solo that Iommi really works his major/minor magic. The phrase below combines several Iommisms and will kill on “War Pigs” as well as on most any other heavy tune in the key of E. It starts with a slinky E Mixolydian figure. (Note that some of the Ds are open and some are fretted, which adds clang and keeps the lick from sounding too pretty.) The first ending features an Iommi-approved speed-of-light trill between E and D, while the second ending trills G (notated enharmonically as F##) to G#.

After lulling listeners into this false sense of major-key security, do what Tony would do and blaze away in the twelfth-position E minor pentatonic box. Arranging a solo with this light/dark contrast makes it ten times more powerful when you finally return to the minor tonality—the place where, in the words of Tom Morello (also a master of this concept), “true heaviness lives.”