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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)