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I always try to stick by the principle that an album can only really be criticised with the context of what it's trying to achieve. It's not fair to bash something for not being something it's not trying to be in the first place. You can't criticise a Cannibal Corpse album for not having enough melody. You can't criticise a Rhapsody album for being too epic and grand. You can't criticise a Reverend Bizarre album for not being thrashy enough. If something achieves exactly what it sets out to do then it is, by definition, a success.
However, this must of course be tempered. Maybe a 2 Pac album is only setting out to be a worthless pile of steaming shite in the first place, but that doesn't mean it should be praised for succeeding. An album's ambitions must be taken into account in an overall context.
So, with this in mind, let's turn to the album in question here: Black Label Society's "Hangover Music Vol. VI". My initial reaction to this album was one of hostility: each time a new track started I groaned as I realise I would have to wait yet longer for any real metal and kicking riffs, as I have come to expect from BLS. But this isn't really fair: this album could be criticised massively if it was trying to be wild and powerful heavy metal, but it's not. Instead, it's trying to be something softer, more laid back. There's still metal, but not particularly heavy metal. As the title suggests, this is the sort you stick on when you've got a stonking hangover and need something with a bit of bite, but something you can relax to.
In this sense, it succeeds perfectly, because it's trying to be a southern rock album full of acoustic, chilled-out numbers and Zakk's trademark awesome solos. The sort you'll nod your head to slowly rather than headbang frantically with. But nevertheless, this album -does- get boring after a while. I won't slate it, because Zakk's doing something different, but as an album it lacks punch. Maybe it's just my personal taste, but I kept waiting for the riffs to really kick in, and persistently being disappointed. Here's how it went:
Crazy or High: "Hmmm, not bad, not bad."
Queen of Sorrow: "Ah, a more slow beat track like Bridge to Cross, fair enough. I'm good with that."
Steppin' Stone: "Another one? Hmmm, oh well."
Yesterday, Tomorrow, Today: "Piano? Is this a Beatles tribute album?"
Won't Find it Here: "Oh god not more of this stuff!"
And so on. It's not that I mind an album full of mellower stuff, but rather that that's pretty much -all- there is here. Tracks like House of Doom crank the guitars up a bit, but are still ultimately half-power ballads more focused on gentle strumming than metal riffs.
Such an album isn't inherently bad or anything, and I can appreciate Zakk doing something different at least. But it doesn't work so well for me, just a sprinkling of his more traditional stuff would've been nice. On the plus side though, it does show off how well he can do this sort of thing, as when these acoustic tracks work, boy do they work. Steppin' Stone and Queen of Sorrow are among his best. But it gets dull after a while.
In summary, don't come to this album, as I did, expecting roaring vocals and mid-fast crunching riffs, because you will be bitterly disappointed. Instead, come to it when it's a rainy day outside, when you feel like something more mellow with a southern lint. If that sort of thing is for you, go for it. If not, do what I will: keep a handful of songs from the album, dump the rest because it just gets too much all taken together.
I am a big fan of BLS and I almost always enjoy their softer songs as much as the heavy tracks, but this record is difficult to listen to from one end to another. The playing is great, as Zakk once again proves that as amazing of a shredder as he si, he can sit down and play acoustic guitar with anyone. The problem with this record is that it is simply too long.
If they could have put about ten or eleven songs I think this would be a much easier record to digest. The problem is not in the songwriting, seeing as how all the tracks are well crafted and arranged, but rather in the lack of diversity within the tracks.
There are some great songs though, don't get me wrong. The opener "Crazy or High" is great and has a fantastic chorus as well as some great lead playing from the Wylde man. "Steppin Stone" is also good as is "House of Doom" and "Damage is Done". Some of these songs have killer hooks and some great playing, not to mention some very good vocal performances from Zakk, but it simply becomes a bit stagnant towards the end.
The record has some great songs, but is not a great RECORD. There are moments where you want to hear that crunchy rythm tone and those ferocious vocals, but you don't.
These songs are more in the Book of Shadows vein, which may suit some fans just fine, but I simply thought this release lacked a bit of diversity.
Just the other day, there was a small group of metal heads sitting down, pondering one simple question. "What if there were a rock band that immitated the "Beatles", but added a metal twist to it? Would that sound actually take off? Where would it lead them, and what the hell monstrous offspring would it inspire?" This question has been kicked about many times, but no real answer was found. Today, that small unformal discussion panel got a taste of just what that would sound like.
What the hell does that small story have to do with this review? Everything. Hangover Music Vol. VI is the latest album by "Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society", and it is definately one of those obscure releases that might slip through a metal maniacs radar. The two singles off the album, 'House Of Doom' and 'Damage Is Done' set the mood exactly with the album. The amazing riffwork on 'House Of Doom' portrays about one third of the faster songs on the album, and 'Damage Is Done' represents the other two thirds of the album, which are sort of slower songs.
Many of the songs are pretty depressing as well. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the fact is most of this album is a depression ride. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that the album is brilliant. The answer to the aforementioned question may somehow lie in here.
When you first put in the CD, you are greeted by the usual hard rock guitar riffs and head banging songs that many fans are accustomed to. But, soon after, starting with 'Queen Of Sorrow', you are greeted with various power ballad-esque songs that will make you want to hold you lighter up into the air. But that isn't all. Through the album, mixed with the few faster songs are tracks that will make you feel as though you are listening to a heavier White Album by the "Beatles" or a song inspired by "Elton John".
And the amazing guitar riffs are fluent through the album. Many of the songs might be slower, but many are also progressively heavier guitar-wise with amazing solos adorning the album. So, if you do not like either of the two mentioned above, you'll still love the album for the sheer guitar work and heavy bass sounds (which, in 'Crazy Or High' actually caused the stereo's speaker's to fall from the wall from the vibrations).
So, all in all, the album is amazing. From depressing songs that make you want to curl up and wheep, to the classic rock that "Zakk" himself is known to make, this album is definately worth your time. Not only does it give a brief example to the question many deeply educated music fans, and many musically knowledgable metal heads, have, but it also makes for an amazing release that is perfect for what it's title depicts. This album should definately be set in your radar, and picked up immediately.
One of the benefits of working at a college radio station is I get to take home CDs to review them. Then, I get to burn a copy for the station and keep the original, as is the case with this. Yeah, it's that cool. So, I have an assignment for all you SDMFers out there. Listen to "Spoke In The Wheel", "T.A.Z", "Like A Bird", "Bridge To Cross", "Speedball", "The Blessed Hellride", and especially "Dead Meadow". Listen to them closely. You did? Good, because they are all somewhat like a sign a what was to come, especially with "Dead Meadow". This CD is absolutely nothing like what we all were predicting. This is not at all the Book of Shadows-meets-Pride and Glory album we were expecting. This album is unique in it's own right. Neither Metal or really Rock, this album has the ability to grab your attention from the opening moments of "Crazy or High". From there is perhaps the most emotionally draining experience since Book of Shadows. The sound is so warm. The electric guitars are so strong yet the acoustics are so soft. Add to that shockingly great vocal harmonies and some vintage synth washed here and there, it's almost as if Zakk Wylde was going for something right out of the mid 70s. Think Eagles meets Zeppelin at their most moderate, ah, the wonders of analog production. But underneath the music and overall wonderful production, themes of Drug Addiction, Abuse, Grief and Loss, and finding inner strength either darken or lighten such songs as "Steppin' Stone", "She Deserves A Free Ride (Val's Song)", "Damage is Done", "Fear" and the heavily depressing "Layne", a tribute to the late Alice In Chains frontman. Also on this record is a bare bones piano-and-vocal rendition of Procol Harum's classic "Whiter Shade of Pale" which almost leaves something to the imagination, especially when, if you listen closely with headphones, you can hear very faint drumming by Craig Nunenmacher. If there's one thing to say about this CD, it's that for these reasons, BLS have finally made their masterpiece, Zakk's second overall. It's the heaviest and darkest BLS record yet. And not because of guitar tones, although that could attribute to it, but because Hangover Music Vol. 6 shows that heavy is also a feeling, a though, an attitude.