Released: 2010, Roadrunner Records
It's taken the better part of two decades worth of disappointment to come to this conclusion but I think may like the idea of Zakk Wylde more than the reality his recorded work has been able to deliver. Virtuoso guitar flair notwithstanding, Wylde' beer-swilling Alpha Male persona is a perfect antithesis to flock of pretend tough guys currently littering the metal scene parading around in their Viking costumes or, worse, the pre-teen jeans that they're still barely able to fill out. To me, Zakk represents the brash, the bold, the bad ass - so much of why I originally fell in love with bands like Pantera or Metallica to begin with. Unfortunately, Black Label Society has rarely managed to piece together a record where at least three quarters of it wasn't a steaming pile of raw sewage. Add to that the sincere but no less cringe-worthy video to Dimebag-tribute, "In This River", and I can't help but feel compelled to approach ORDER OF THE BLACK with a fair old dollop of skepticism.
Now sober and probably still negotiating his severance package from Ozzy Osbourne Inc., there's a definite sense from the outset that Wylde has something to prove, for the first three tracks on Black Label Society's eighth opus, he and his cohorts manage to string together the most consistently solid series of songs in the band's history. That is - until the insipid balladry of "Darkest Days" takes a steamy piss on the fires of album's momentum. But no matter - surely, this is a one-off? We're listening to heavy metal record after all. Wrong. Another three surprisingly sharp and on-target odes to headbanging follow and just when you're ready to dust off the old blow-up air guitar, "Time Waits For No One" rears its head like a broken colostomy bag to make you question your faith in all things unholy.
And so on and on it goes. ORDER OF THE BLACK is undoubtedly the finest collection of songs to boast the Black Label iron cross. But did we really need five ballads, Zakk? I'm as big a fan of "The Blessed Hellride" as the next guy, but with the slight exception of "January" these suck so bad that I'm dumbstruck as to how they could come from the same man who wrote "Godspeed Hellbound". Then again, maybe I'm better off keeping my gap shut and using the SKIP button for what it was meant to be. There's certainly more than enough to be excited about here and let's be frank - Ozzy and Gus G wouldn't in a million years be capable of something this evocative if it bit them in the ass.