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Hell Yeah! Zakk Wylde and Co. return with their newest album of beer-swilling, riff-heavy, pissed-off rock metal. I’ll admit that I’ve found the previous Black Label offerings to be inconsistent at best, suffering from a general lack of focus and ideas, but THE BLESSED HELLRIDE smokes from beginning to end.
“Stoned and Drunk” breaks the 45-minute Hellride wide open with it’s dirty melody, cutting groove, and the raw, filthy vocal delivery by Zakk Wylde. This track is 100% pure metal, and certainly ranks as the best song that I have heard so far this year. It is also the perfect track to lead off the album as it is fairly typical of the sound and quality of what is to come. Unfortunately, the worst track of the album follows directly after the best. “Doomsday Jesus” is a shitty track overall, plagued by the same Pantera-isms that slagged previous BLS works. C’mon Zakk, the proto-simians of Pantera do a much better job of taking that sound and sucking; leave it to professionals. Thankfully, “Doomsday Jesus” is the exception on the album, and the ride ahead is all good quality.
“Stillborn” is the radio single of the album, and features a gratuitous appearance by Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. This track has a good groove to it, with almost an Alice in Chains feel in a few places, and while Ozzy’s vocals add nothing to the track, they do not detract, either. Perhaps this is because Zakk’s vocals throughout the album sound even more like Ozzy than ever. “Suffering Overdue” is a track of pure sludge and doom, walking the thin edge over the Pantera side of things. The album’s title track is quite an interesting number, dropping the usual heavy riffs for a laid-back, bluesy, acoustic number that can only be described as most hella cool. It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the album thus far, but Zakk pulls it off flawlessly. “Funeral Bell” is the complete opposite, wasting no time as it opens with an angry, kick-you-in-the-teeth chugging riff.. This one’s another of my favourites. If you’re looking for an old Black Sabbath-inspired trick, check out the doomy “Final Solution.” Zakk pulls off an Ozzy impression better than Ozzy himself could do nowadays. “Destruction Overdrive” reminds me quite a bit of “Funeral Bell” with Zakk’s trademark tight, intense riffs laid down in force. I feel that this track also features Zakk’s strongest vocal performance on the album. The last three tracks mellow a bit while Zakk kicks up the blues before the album closes with “Dead Meadow.” Driven by piano, this one’s even stranger and more out of place than the title track. I guess it works, as it is a completely different ending to the album.
There has never been any occasion to question Zakk’s technical skill or flair for powerful riffs, but Zakk Wylde really honed his songwriting skills for THE BLESSED HELLRIDE. Here, we see a greater focus and cohesion in style. The true beauty of this album is its genuine nature. This is no glossy, over-produced phony album, just pure, gritty, no bullshit metal. THE BLESSED HELLRIDE ought to come with a warning sticker plastered on the front: WARNING: This album meant to be enjoyed with mass quantities of cold beer and char-grilled red meat.
It just fits that way.
(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, May, 2003)
Since the release of 1999's Sonic Brew, Black Label Society has been Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde's platform to demonstrate how real metal should sound. Aside from Pantera's Dimebag Darrell, Zakk is perhaps the premier guitar god of the last decade and a half. He also is one of the most gifted guitarists to ever pick up the instrument in a world where similar sounding rap-metal riffs and senseless lyrics reign supreme.
It appears to me that with every Black Label album that's released, Zakk improves his back-breaking riffs and his squealing, pinch harmonic fueled, Eddie Van Halen like guitar solos. And solos are rare gems in todays rock world. Zakk reached his peak with Black Labels previous release, 1919 Eternal(the title is a tribute to his father, a WW II veteran). The production quality, song writing, and Zakk's singing voice had all improved greatly, as the riffs on the album were originally written for use on Ozzy Osbourne's Down To Earth album.
With The Blessed Hellride, Zakk has improved yet again. This is even better than 1919 Eternal as it is the most melodic, musical and mature metal record I've heard in years. Zakk even mixes musical styles here. The down to earth title track is acoustic guitar driven with a clean guitar solo. And if that isn't enough, "Dead Meadow" is somewhat of a return to his Book of Shadows days with the use of a piano and a voice Zakk hasn't used since the first Black Label record. It's just nothing short of amazing. But the album still crushes with Sabbath-esque guitar riffs, just listen to "Suffering Overdue" and "Final Sollution". The album even features the single "Stillborn", a song about dead love which features, Ozzy, Zakk's mentor on backing Vocals. As a matter fact, Zakk's voice has gotten so much clearer, that if you listen to Final Solution and We Live No More, you'll think Ozzy's singing. This is a classic record for Zakk. Let's hope it just gets better from here. SDMF!!
The follow up to 2002's 1919 Eternal was always going to have to be something special. Whilst 1919 Eternal was indeed a solid metal album, jam packed full of bludgeoning riffs and Zakk being more pissed off than ever, it did get rather bland in places. However as I found out on it's release date, The Blessed Hellride is anything BUT a bland affair.
This is probably the Black Label Society's most mature release to date. It covers most aspects of Zakk's career, the down right heavy nature of "The Funeral Bell", the almost radio rock and unbelievably catchy "Stillborn" (with guest vocals from Ozzy), the country rock affair of the title track and Dead Meadow, and the pure down tuned heavy metal groove of "Suffering Overdue" - this CD has all Zakk-isms rolled into one. Zakk's voice is very surprising, sounding powerful and pissed off one moment to sorrowful and heart felt in the albums mellow points. The guitar solos are blinding (would you ever expect anything else?) and the riffs are slightly more similar to the Stronger Than Death era only a little easier going.
Zakk Wylde is an absolute legend, and this album only prooves it. In my opinion it's easily album of the year upto now, and it's just what I was looking for. Black Sabbath worshiping, heavy yet tasteful and down right groovy heavy metal.