Two full decades after the release of 1986's underestimated Seventh Star album, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and journeyman vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, etc.) decided the time had come for them to work together once again. Ensconcing themselves in Birmingham's DEP Studios, the duo composed and recorded eight tracks for release, but when Iommi was suddenly called into action with a re-formed and regularly touring original Sabbath, the work in progress was abandoned, filed away, and then, naturally, quickly bootlegged under the imaginative title of Eighth Star. Thus the tracks would remain for eight full years, until Iommi and Hughes finally reconvened to tidy them up with the help of keyboardists Don Airey and Geoff Nicholls, have Jimmy Copley re-record the drum tracks originally laid down by erstwhile Judas Priest man Dave Holland (since jailed for child abuse!), and give them an official release as The 1996 DEP Sessions. Now, with all that explaining out of the way, the very high caliber of songwriting on display here makes it immediately clear that Iommi and Hughes had little difficulty in rekindling the fires of their original collaboration. As was the case 10 years before, heavy metal is inevitably the norm but certainly not the rule guiding these sessions, and the looser, more experimental vibe generated by the likes of "Don't You Tell Me," "Fine," and the quite soulful "Don't Drag the River" (featuring Kansas-sized vocal harmonies to boot) only confirms the notion that Seventh Star should have been credited as an Iommi solo effort, as was originally intended. As for those unequivocally monolithic Sabbath-like power chords driving more traditional Iommi fare such as "Gone" and "Time Is the Healer," unbiased listeners will note that Hughes' gargantuan pipes bring out a sense of drama within the guitarist's creations that, with all due respect, Ozzy's limited range simply cannot. And even though there's nothing here that compares with Seventh Star's beautifully tender "No Stranger to Love" for sheer commercial appeal, both of The DEP Sessions' semi-ballads, the desperately regretful "From Another World" (featuring some rare acoustic work from Iommi) and the bittersweet "It Falls Through Me," definitely qualify as highlights. And as for those naughty but understandably curious listeners who scored the Eighth Star bootleg in the first place, they will find a few differences here (altered song titles, the omission of the Hughes solo cut "Shakin' My Wings," and a tweaked riff in "Don't You Tell Me" so as to differentiate it from that of "Black Oblivion," as heard on Iommi's 2001 solo album) to go with the far superior sound quality. Once again, it may wind up overlooked, but most experts will agree that this is a historic and highly recommended release for serious metalheads.
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia