Album Review

Black Label Society, Order of the Black

Release Date: August 10, 2010

It seems that many musicians are plagued with public doubt when they decide (or need) to get sober. Some believe that the quality of music will suffer once the artist gets clean, as if they will forfeit their original creativity and flare. In the case of newly sober Zakk Wylde, not only can he still shred the daylights out of his arsenal of Gibson guitars, his new album with Black Label Society, Order of the Black, is arguably the most creative and intriguing release of the band’s catalogue. Zakk Wyle has endured many changes since BLS’s last studio effort, 2006’s Shot to Hell. After suffering a blood clot and a scare with pancreatitis, Wylde stopped throwing back beers for his health. He also parted ways with Ozzy Osbourne, focusing all of his attention on BLS. These changes have definitely yielded one hell of an album.

Recorded in Wylde’s home studio, Order of the Black mixes the typical heavy metal brutality that BLS are best known for with shades of hard rock, piano-driven ballads, and infectious vocal melodies. Let’s take a look at the tracks.

The record opens with “Crazy Horse,” a crunchy and energetic song that reminds listeners that Black Label Society haven’t lost an ounce of their heaviness. Wide pinch harmonics, dexterous riffs, and a blistering guitar solo make this song an ideal opener. Sonically, the production is outstanding. The bass and drums are crisp and punchy, welcoming newcomers John DeServio on bass and Evanescence drummer, Will Hunt.

Onward to “Overlord,” one of the album’s strongest and most surprising tracks. A warm, wah guitar riff, reminiscent of Hendrix, introduces the song until the band kicks in with a hard-rocking riff that repeats for the majority of the track. This song is less metal than usual, but it still kicks ass. Wylde allows his soaring voice to lead this track, reminding us that he is also an extremely versatile and capable lead singer. This song could easily find its way into the world of rock radio. A tinge of humor ends the track, with Zakk nasally whining, “she is my overloooooorrrrd!” At first, one would ponder why this strange chant is included on the record, but it shows that Wylde doesn’t take himself too seriously and sends the message that Black Label Society is all about having a great time and celebrating the joy of heavy music.

“Parade of the Dead,” the album’s first single, is pure energy. Infectious melodies and a frantic looseness make his track a standout. “Parade of the Dead” leads into “Darkest Days” the record’s first piano ballad. A solid track with an emotionally melodic guitar solo, “Darkest Days” introduces Order of the Black’s softer side.

“Southern Dissolution” and “Black Sunday,” with an introduction saluting shredders like Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, return to formula and keep up the pace. Metalheads will soak up the onslaught of Wylde’s palm-muted riffs and flashy pentatonic solos. “Godspeed Hellbound” is the heaviest song on the record with a remarkable performance from Will Hunt on drums.  “War of Heaven” begins with a creepy guitar intro with a chorus effect- very Alice in Chains. Again, a badass song that effortlessly blends hard rock, metal, southern rock and grunge without sounding forced.

“Chupacabra” continues Zakk’s tradition of including short acoustic masturbatory displays of his ability to shred. “Chupacabra” is awfully similar to “Taz,” “Takillya” and “Speedball” from previous records, but it’s all in the name of fun.

The only downside to Order of the Black is the placement of the ballads, which interrupt the flow of the record. Two songs of metal, followed by a ballad, two songs of metal, ballad, repeat. The slower songs aren’t bad by any means, and Wylde is expanding his songwriting abilities. Perhaps these songs would have been better suited for another volume of Hangover Music, and some slower-tempo metal tunes would have been more effective on Order of the Black. “Time Waits for No One” displays Zakk’s admiration of Elton John, and “Darkest Days” ventures into Nickelback and Guns N’ Roses territory. “Shallow Grave” is rather generic and indie-sounding. Well-written pop songs are not quite my cup of Darjeeling, but I imagine that many people will enjoy Zakk’s enthusiasm for piano-driven ballads. These songs might turn off some metal fans, but there is potential for crossover hits that could further expand Zakk Wylde’s society. The album closes with the slow acoustic track, “January.” The string ensemble nods to the Beatles’s “Yesterday.”

Overall, this album is an organic showcase of Black Label Society’s impressive musicianship and energetic spirit. There is something to be enjoyed by everyone here and the majority of these songs will translate well live. Black Label Society will tour this fall with Finnish metallers, Children of Bodom, on the nationwide Bezerkus tour. Check them out!

Order of the Black is a promising return for Black Label Society. Zakk Wylde has proven his staying power, boldly showing that he does not need Ozzy, or booze, to solidify his status as one of the greatest contemporary guitarists on the scene today.

Standout Tracks: “Overlord,” “Southern Dissolution,” “Parade of the Dead,” “Black Sunday”

Overall Rating: 8.5/10