Review Summary: Zakk Wylde shows that not everything is about booze and rock n' roll.
When someone mentions the name "Zakk Wylde" there is generally one of two thoughts that cross some ones mind. Some may think of Ozzy Osbourne's late guitarist with the boyish good looks and chops that rival the best of them. Some of the younger crowd may think of the outspoken, weight lifting, heavy drinkin, guitar shredding mad man that is the face behind successful modern rock band, Black Label Society. Then there is a small sample that may remember the Zakk Wylde of the mid-nineties, the man responsible for the fun southern rock group Pride & Glory, and of course the album Book of Shadows.
Those familiar with Zakk Wylde’s previous and more recent works will know within a few seconds of the albums opening track, “Between Heaven and Hell,” that this album is a bit of a departure from his regular sound. Zakk Wylde, handling most of the instrumentation on the album, quickly shows off his harmonica skills with a simple but pleasant lick over rather cheerful acoustic guitar strumming. The song continues with Wylde doing gospel-like vocals and harmonies in the chorus. This more or less sets the tone for the whole album, with the exception of a few songs, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Most songs here are done with acoustic guitar or piano, and often featuring electric leads. The bass, played by James LoMenzo is never hidden in the mix and compliments the music very well, often holding down the rhythm while at the same time adding some flare. Drums, handled by Joe Vitale, are rather simplistic, but well placed fills and grooves add to the overall experience. Songs like “Way Beyond Empty” or “Sold My Soul” really show off the rhythm section’s skill and their ability to add to the song, not steal it.
As far as singing is concerned, Zakk’s vocal style works surprisingly well, and it’s nice to remember a time when he didn’t think that he could sing like Ozzy. These are arguably some of Zakk’s strongest vocals that I’ve heard. Ranging from the bluesy “What You're Look'n For,” to the diva like wails at the end of “Dead as Yesterday,” Zakk shows the listener that he can in fact sing, and that he is damn good at it.
Now, of course, there is one standard that holds true for every Zakk Wylde song ever, and that is the guitar solo. While his solos on this record are not quite the best, it is a breath of fresh air from his stale million-notes-per-second shredding as of recently. Though some face-melting moments make an appearance, most of the solos here tend to bit a bit bluesier and creative – at least by Zakk Wylde standards. Unfortunately, a lot of them lack the feeling or emotion that a lot of other guitar players succeed at, which I think really would have benefited each song individually.
Speaking of emotion, despite the lack thereof in the guitar solos, the songs themselves are rather full of it. Lyrically, the album tends to revolve around faith, love, relationships, and loss. One of the more somber songs on the album, “Too Numb to Cry” is about a loved one who is no longer who they used to be and Zakk Wylde basically wondering what happened. And yes, Zakk Wylde does talk about crying on this record.
I guess one of the biggest gripes with the album could be the weak songwriting, whereas most songs follow a formalistic - verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus – which personally I do not have a problem with. With the amount of diversity shown and the surprisingly engaging music you find yourself more caught up in the moment than the actual songwriting.
In closing, this is a very strong and underrated album, and in my opinion Zakk Wylde’s best work. Fans of Black Label Society or Ozzy Osbourne might get discouraged at the lack of “macho,” but for the rest of us, Book of Shadows is great listen for those who want to be put into a great mood. If you have not heard it, I suggest that you give it a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised.