Black Label Society: Zakk Wylde (vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, mini-Moog synthesizer, talk box, voice box, bass guitar); Barry "Lord" Conley (piano, synthesizer, mini-Moog synthesizer); Harry Conley, Eddie Mapp (mini-Moog synthesizer); James Lomenzo (bass guitar); Craig Nunemacher (drums).
Seven albums in seven years. Sounds like a recipe for increasingly lousy music. For many bands it would be, but for Black Label Society, it's merely a testament to this band's talent and love of music. Their latest album Mafia is so strong it makes the whole seven in seven thing sound like a strange joke.
Founded by former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society delivers no-frills, guitar-driven hard rock that is both emotional and headbang-inducing. Fans of Ozzy will easily enjoy this, as his former axeman carries a good amount of Ozzy influence, mainly in the vocals. But there is enough to make Wylde and his band stand out on their own, as Mafia is a distinct yet back-to-basics rock album.
So many tracks on Mafia are worthy of being cranked to high volumes. From the opener Fire It Up to Been a Long Time, heavy rock fills this album to the brim. Some songs exhibit a gritty toughness such as Say What You Will and What's In You". Other songs such as Electric Hellfire ( "You're gonna meet Jesus if you're messing with me" ) and first single Suicide Messiah ( "Crawl through the flames that eat your flesh" ) display in both message and delivery a darker side worthy of the skeletal images that adorn every BLS album cover.
Though Wylde is the centerpiece of the band, the other members are not to be overlooked. Nick Catanese (guitar), Craig Nunenmacher (drums), and James Lomenzo (bass) - along with some guests - provide a great deal of the heaviness that makes this album so enjoyable. For example, You Must Be Blind starts off great, but it's when the rest of the band enters that this song really takes off. Every member lends a hand in making this fierce, stomping number one of the album's best. But of course, Zakk Wylde is still the star of the show. For evidence, just check out the sweet, minute-long guitar solo that makes up the entirety of Dr. Octavia.
In addition to the guitar, another driving force on this album is the piano. In its first appearance, it's used to create an eerie intro to the otherwise hard-rocking Forever Down. But immediately after that, the piano sticks around for all of In This River, a beautifully somber hymn about loss (as is the heavier Too Tough to Die) that exudes emotion while easily getting stuck in your head for days. The piano returns for the album's final two tracks. First is Dirt on the Grave, a haunting song made even darker by the piano. Lastly, an untitled track takes us out with a heartfelt, Guns 'N' Roses-like breakup song, culminating with one last excellent guitar solo.
Seven albums in as many years is a tall order for most artists Ė even if one is live (I donít think that takes away from their productivity level). Obviously quality is more important than quantity. I'm sure Wylde knows that, but I'm also sure he knows he has the talent and drive to pull off both. Here's looking forward to the next seven.