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Black Rain - Zakk Wylde = Same general story. - 58%

hells_unicorn, June 25th, 2010

It is said that there is nothing new under the sun, but apparently Ozzy decided to take this mantra a little too literally in the past few years. Sure, there are nuances that can be found here and there between his various studio offerings since “No More Tears”. Perhaps a little more keyboards here, perhaps a heavier, muddier guitar sound there; but the overriding formula of sludgy rock, heavily restrained by the confines of modernity, continues to dominate the Ozzman’s musical paradigm. This model, although it can vary pretty strongly in overall quality, imposes a glass ceiling somewhere between the upper reaches of mediocrity and the lower realms of quality songwriting that Ozzy has yet to be able to break through.

The replacement of longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde with famed Mystic Prophecy, Firewind, Dream Evil, and Nightrage axe man Gus G. has done little to change the overall character of Ozzy’s studio offerings, as the Greek born shredder can boast of a very adaptive and versatile approach to the instrument. The only thing that really jumps out as a huge difference in the guitar presentation here is a somewhat chunkier, but still fairly muddy rhythm tone and a lead approach that goes easier on the scream harmonics and generally complements the arrangement rather than fighting it. Even the token ballad “Life Won’t Wait”, which has a strong “See You On The Other Side” character to it, is blessed with a set of somewhat fancy leads that manage not to be so flamboyantly in your face.

But for all of slightly improved areas and general consistency in Ozzy’s newest lineup of support musicians, “Scream” doesn’t really succeed in much apart from coasting on right where “Black Rain” left off. Only a couple songs on here really make any waves apart from the standard, by the book, modern rock formula with some doom metal smatterings that have been present from the past 15 years or so. “Let It Die” throws in a fair number of remembered elements from Sabbath’s early 70s glory days, complete with a direct homage riff to “Children Of The Grave” just after the guitar solo section, and pretty well succeeds in being both catchy and hard hitting. “Diggin’ Me Down” also reaches into the past a bit with an acoustic intro that distantly resembles a number of acoustic intros during the Rhandy Rhoads era of Ozzy’s career, meshed in with plenty of slow trudging, muddy sludge out of the current model that Osbourne has been playing off of.

Having said all of that, the bulk of the contents on here generally range from formulaic rock to annoying quasi-grunge drivel. “Let Me Hear You Scream” is a somewhat more animated and more riff happy version of “I Don’t Wanna Stop” with Ozzy making a half-hearted attempt at sounding aggressive. It’s catchy enough, but it wears thin pretty quick and becomes interchangeable with a number of songs put out here and there since “No More Tears”. Beyond this, most of this stuff simply sees Gus and company continuing the tired mixture of tinny sounding clean sections and droning, effects heavy mud piles that could almost be mistaken for Godsmack or Machine Head about 6 years ago. “Soul Sucker” stands out in being a near 100% throwback to Ozzy’s most decrepit creation “Down To Earth”, but more than half of the contents on here can be seen as referring back to that era and simply pumping a measured amount of energy and flash in to give it a little more appeal.

In the end, perhaps newness can still be found in the approach that one takes towards mixing and matching all of the established methods of song creation, but there isn’t really much of that to be found here. The only thing that I really got out of this album is yet another confirmation of why I prefer Gus G. as a player to Zakk Wylde. There isn’t really a recommendation that can be given here apart from those who enjoyed “Black Rain”, and rabid Ozzy completists are encouraged to seek this well below full price. Instead of titling this album “Scream”, Ozzy might have done well to call it “Coast” or maybe “Stagnate”, if for nothing else than the sheer sake of full disclosure.