Black Label Society
The Blessed Hellride
~reviewed by Eric Rasmussen
Stoner rock is a peculiar genre, particularly when Zakk Wylde is the man interpreting it. Known best for his work as Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist, Wylde has also done some interesting solo projects, along with full-on beer fueled rockin' via Black Label Society (BLS). Today we're going to look at the rockin'. The first and only time I saw BLS live, I didn't realize that Zakk Wylde was the guitarist/singer. I thought "now there's a crazy man." Wylde stood tall with his signature black and white spiral guitar, and he was yelling in a manner that led me to believe fire ants had invaded his socks. He looked to be a Harley riding kind of man that wanders around in search of gigs and beer. His music with Black Label Society is kinda like that. All fire ants, Harleys, and beer.
I'm not a big fan of stoner rock, but for the most part Zakk Wylde gets groovy and keeps the music enjoyable. The first song opens with a dramatically themed riff that demands attention - but then the lyrics kick in and start going on about lots of drinking and smoking. Truthfully, I still don't know what to make of the combination. Zakk Wylde blasts through fiery solos ("Stoned and Drunk"), rocks out with Ozzy ("Stillborn"), and uses piano and bluesy guitar to show his soft side ("Dead Meadow"). BLS songs come across as just short of what Wylde is clearly capable of. It's nice that he can play down to earth music, and his guitar technique has improved, but when will he challenge himself musically?
I'd like to see him go all out to create a real metal album with intelligent lyrics, varied riffing and, most importantly, more feeling besides "I like beer." For The Blessed Hellride, Wylde simply visited his local recording studio, camped there for some six weeks, and without any prior planning, made this CD (really, the press sheet said so! Except for the bit about camping. And I don't really know if the studio was local). All the songs are suitably jammin' and probably quite cool in a live setting, but most of them fail to rise above the "beer drinkin' head banging" rating on Depth of Entertainment rock measures.
If you're a strict Ozzy fan looking to explore Zakk Wylde's other endeavors, don't be fooled by the hit single "Stillborn", featuring Ozzy on vocals. The rest of the CD has Wylde singing like he belongs in Monster Magnet, and occasionally doing his own Ozzy impressions - but the focus is clearly on cars, drugs and rock 'n' roll (apparently the preferred motif for metal men who don't feel it necessary to advertise their sexuality). For everyone else: give it a listen if you like your rock hard and groovy, and you might just find yourself enjoying Black Label Society's straightforward and fun romp through abandoned race tracks, biker bars, and smoke-filled concert venues.
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