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Black Label Society have become something of a household name for those who hold heavy metal in high regard. Naturally, some are bigger fans of this group than others, I myself have been a fan of BLS for years now. The thing that always had me coming back to this band was Zakk Wylde's guitar abilities, which he is no doubt a gifted axeman but he also knows how to write a memorable riff. On Black Label Society's debut, Wylde isn't a particularly astounding songwriter nor vocalist (some would argue he still isn't) but this album is no doubt a fun time to be had.
I've always liked BLS because they are always a fun band, throwing in those memorable and catchy riffs and Wylde's no holds barred lyrics about booze and the lifestyle his profession carries. "Sonic Brew" is still what you'd expect from this band, though as other reviewers have mentioned, the sound quality is quite different from later releases. The sound this album builds does bring some words to mind, like "thick" and "sludgey," or perhaps most accurately "thick sludgey concrete pouring out of my speakers." This works to some degree, though it does put some fans of later BLS off a bit as it is unexpected after hearing something like "The Blessed Hellride," which is more crunching than sludgey.
Wylde's influences here are still connected in some ways to his Pride & Glory days. I do not view this as a negative, as it leads "Sonic Brew" to be a varied album as opposed to the non-stop riff assault that later albums can become which can lead to same-sounding songs and monotony ("Mafia," anyone?) Instead, you get a transitional album for Zakk, which works on most levels and keeps the listener entertained particularly those who are fans of Pride & Glory or BLS, or in my case, a fan of both bands.
"Sonic Brew"'s latching to the Pride & Glory days are clearly heard across this album, as even hard rockers like "Born to Lose" brings to mind "Horse Called War" in some ways. "Spoke in the Wheel" and some sections of "Beneath the Tree" are also examples of this. None of this takes away from the listening experience, and I dare say it actually enhances it. I wouldn't rank "Sonic Brew" on the same level as "1919 Eternal," but this comes more from the song quality than the Southern influences, as this album is more varied than "1919 Eternal" is.
We have a mixture of songs here, the first song of which are the harder, more fist-pumping moments that BLS is good for. "Bored to Tears" is probably the most well known song here and begins with one of those trademark introductions of random sounds and noise, the way "Bleed for Me," "Fire It Up" and the like all begin BLS albums. It proceeds to be a purely fun rocker one that any fan of this group will take a liking to. Other songs in this vein are "Born to Lose" and "Lost My Better Half," the latter of which wasn't on the original pressing but was added for the American release. It establishes itself as a heavy stomper, a foreshadowing song of the way this band would go in the future, dropping all Southern influences by the time "1919 Eternal" was released. "Mother Mary" also fits here in some ways, as does the ending "The Beginning...At Last," both of which are good to get some heads moving and perhaps even fists flying. "Hey You" is a fun song as well, and is one of the catchiest songs on this album and maybe that BLS ever recorded.
Like alot of things Black Label Society's name is attached to, we do have a few misses on this album. While decent enough, both "Black Pearl" and "World of Trouble" are a bit tedious on repeat listens. Those sound effects on the latter song are absolutely annoying as time goes on. "The Rose Petalled Garden" might also fit here, but its got enough going for it to save it from being a lackluster tune. In my opinion, the included cover of "No More Tears" also fits here, as Wylde's voice is just not suited for this song. Maybe I'm looking too much into it, but I just can't sit through that song more than once and usually end up skipping it. Still, you get fifteen tracks on this album and only four of them are anything I'd consider skipping. That's eleven good songs, far more than you'll get with most modern rock bands today (or artists of any genre for that matter.)
"Sonic Brew" establishes itself as a worthwhile listen to fans of Black Label Society and its style of care free, alcohol glorifying metal that relies on the altar of the mighty riff. Its not a great album, and unfortunately I feel that while BLS has recorded some incredible songs in their time, they havn't put forth a full length album that could be classified as "great" or "essential." I definitely enjoy what I hear on this album, the thick sound to it only adds another enjoyable element to "Sonic Brew" when you're rocking out to "Bored to Tears" or "Born to Lose." I'd rank this below "1919 Eternal" in terms of quality, but it arises above most other BLS efforts because it contains a good variety of songs, something this band has lacked for some time now. I can't give this a very high rating simply because of the quality of the material I'm hearing, but its still pretty damn good. Potential buyers should seek to scoop it up for about $10, exactly what I paid for it in good condition and I feel pretty satisfied with what I got.
This record was Zakk'a metal comeback, and it was a huge success. This record has a thick tone for both the bass and guitar and is groovy all the way through. And of course we can never forget about those infamous Zakk squeals which run rampant on this album.
"Bored to Tears" kicks things off with what is now now considered a BLS classic. This track examplifies the mood of the album. The riffs are catchy, the rythm is groovy, the vocals make you want to drink beer and the whole sound just makes you want to headbang. One also mustn't forget that since this is a Zakk Wylde record, the solos are also due to be good. "Born to Lose" is another straight up rocker with a sing along quality to it, while "Mother Mary" has an intro that can easily inspire a moshpit. "T.A.Z." is a short acoustic shred fest where Zakk goes all out and displays he not only has chops on a Les Paul. But to me the highlight of the album has to be the softly spoken "Spoke in the Wheel".
This song delivers as much amotion as the rest of the record but channels it in a different direction. This is acoustic bliss and has soft melodies that make you stop and think and appreciate the diversity that Zakk can accomplish. Some really good acoustic playing accompanied by emotional and soft vocals make this track very special and memorable. The album finishes on a high note with "The Beginning...At Last" which a barn burner of a track, and the Ozzy cover(on which he actually played) "No More Tears" is also very cool.
This album is fun to listen to. It rocks you hard and rocks you gently at times. If you're looking for a beefy tone with a solid rythm and some excellent guitar work, you've come to the right society.
Thick is the word I would chose if I had to sum this album in one word. Heavy, yes. Crunchy, yes. Sludgy, yes. But Thick covers all the basses, because when you combine Zakk Wyldes ultra-beefy guitar tone, a penetrating bass sound and smashing drums, you get this satanically thick sound that seems so fall out of your speakers into giant metallic chunks.
This album has a good variety of tunes. You get the groove-based rockers like "Bored To Tears", which has an unforgettable main riff and a blistering solo, and the start-stop strut of "The Rose Petalled Garden", which is a very haunting song, which you will pick up on early with Zakks lingering, eerie chords (Think "Call of Ktulu" by Metallica). You get the songs that are just brutal ass-beatings like "Lost My Better Half" (Simple, heavy as fuck and catchy as hell - not to mention that absolutley insane guitar solo) and Mother Mary (This song will make you want to fight. The bass riff is amazing, and those infamous Wylde-squels are dominant throughout the song). You also get two acoustic songs - One a shred-fest instrumental entitled "T.A.Z." which is takes a spanish-guitar motif, and the other a heart-wrenching ballad entitled "Spoke in the Wheel", in which Zakk sings very much like Layne Staley (from Alice in Chains fame).
So you get a good variety of tunes, but are they all memorable? Most are, but there are one or two duds. The first two songs, "Bored to Tears" and "The Rose Petalled Garden", absolutley rock and tear your head off. "Hey You (Batch of Lies)" is also very good, but not in the brutal, ass-beating way that the first two were. It's more a doom-ish, haunting rocker. "Born To Loose" goes back to the ass beating with riffs, riffs, solos, and did I mention riffs? Then we run into the first dud, "Peddlers of Death" - this song just kind of plods along with annoying scratchy guitar noises and no real sense of direction. It sounds promising, but it really never goes anywere, and is very skippable. "Mother Mary", like I said, just absolutley rips. "Beneath the Tree" is an eerie song, with a pulsating bass line and a similar drumbeat. "Low Down" - fuck yes. This is what BLS is about, beating the shit out of you with riffs, and amazing you with solos. The rest of the album is great, up until the end.
The lyrics are pretty good. Don't expect lyrical genius, but you do get a pretty nice set of lyrics cooked up by Mr. Wylde. He is particullary good at expressing anger, and feeling the need to beat somones ass.
Overall, this is a killer debut. Unfortunetly, not all BLS' future releases will prove to be as good, but this album is great, and definetly worth picking up. I highly reccomend it.
After more than two years of touring in support of his 1996 solo acoustic record, Book of Shadows, Zakk Wylde reunited with his mentor, Ozzy Osbourne for a few gigs in Australia on 1998. Along for the ride was Mike Inez and Randy Castillo. After those few shows, they were all let go with no reason. But it didn't matter because Zakk suddenly felt the urge to put the acoustic away, and break out the ol' Les Paul and Marshall again. It was through this that Black Label Society was born. A year later, Zakk released it's debut, Sonic Brew. From the opeing pulses of "Bored To Tears" to his heavy-as-hell cover of Ozzy's "No More Tears", this album announces that Zakk is home! His tunes are, as the booklet says, "full-bodied" and for most of the songs, he keeps his guitar standard tuned but drops the lowest string. He would do this on every Black Label release to date. His solos are mostly scale to scale to scale. But the guy deserves credit because aside from the fact that he can rip your face off anyday, as songs such as the absolutely gorgeous "Spoke In The Wheel" and "Beneath The Tree" would suggest, he's struggling here to get out of Book of Shadows mode. This is Zakk slowly returning to metallic form. And the beer drinking, weight lifting, hell raising fun just gets better...
Key Tracks: Bored To Tears, Beneath The Tree, Low Dow, Spoke In The Wheel, The Beginning...At Last, No More Tears
I’ve been a fan of Zakk Wylde since I first heard him on Ozzy’s No Rest For The Wicked. While I did enjoy his work in Ozzy’s band I knew that Ozzy’s hard on for ballads and inconsistent song writing held back Zakk Wylde’s potential for creating some kickass Metal. I remember when I first heard “Mother Mary” and “Born To Lose” from Sonic Brew… at first I didn’t realize who it was but the thick guitar sound and hard rock based riffs really caught my attention. When I found out that it was Zakk Wylde’s own band I was very excited and once I picked up Sonic Brew, I was not disappointed.
Sonic Brew, simply stated, is laced with alcohol induced, heavy riffage that has both blues and hard rock roots. The overall sound is undeniably metal, but this type of Metal should appeal to hard rock fans as well. In-between the riffs are plenty of solos, Zakk Wylde style of course. If you liked Wylde’s solos in Ozzy, then you’ll love them here, however, if you didn’t like them before, I’m not sure that Sonic Brew will change your mind, even though they do fit very well with the music. Many people have complained about Wylde’s vocals, though I don’t see any major problems with them. The gruff style keeps with the theme induced by the music and some excellent melodies and hooks are found in most songs, especially on the chorus of “Hey You (Batch Of Lies)”.
Most tracks are up-tempo rockers, but some slower songs appear. The slower songs are semi-successful, certainly “Spoke In The Wheel” is a lot more enjoyable than almost all of Ozzy’s ballads, mostly thanks to Wylde’s competent acoustic ability, also clearly displayed in the instrumental “T.A.Z.”. Even though all the songs have well defined riffs most follow a very similar song structure that is a little too typical and doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. While only a minor drawback, it also can’t be overlooked.
The production is also a main highlight on Sonic Brew. As mentioned, the guitars are very thick and have a quite the buzz to them, as does the bass. The result can best be described as “full-bodied” as stated by Wylde himself in the linear notes. Speaking of the linear notes, they are enjoyable to read as Wylde gives a, usually funny, description of each song. He tries his best to relate each song to some form of beer related topic, and he mostly succeeds. The booklet is humorous, to say the least. Overall, this CD perhaps won’t appeal to everyone, as I know many listeners have issue with the vocals. My only complaint with the vocals is that Wylde uses a vocal effects that gives his voice a little distortion just a little too often for my tastes. Other than that, and the all-too-common song structures, Sonic Brew is a mostly varied, but always enjoyable CD that is a nice change of pace from more typical speedy, brutal, and or necro Metal. As a bonus, there is a solid rendition of Ozzy's "No More Tears" on certain releases.
Song Hightlights: Born To Lose, Mother Mary, Low Down, Hey You (Batch Of Lies), The Rose Petalled Garden, Bored To Tears, World Of Trouble, and No More Tears