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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.