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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.