Released: 2005, Spitfire Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Zakk Wylde’s emergence from relative obscurity to becoming the latest six-string whiz in Ozzy Osbourne’s band to his own solo projects has been an interesting one at that. Wylde has remained true to Osbourne for 17 years, always being there for tours and recording sessions, while still creating his own body of work away from the big-ticket draw. Early work such as the bluesy PRIDE & GLORY to the acoustic bliss of BOOK OF SHADOWS showed another side of Wylde away from Osbourne’s increasingly spotty studio releases. When Black Label Society first emerged as an entity in 1998 with the punishing SONIC BREW release, it was time for yet another angle of Wylde’s talents. Seven years into Black Label Society’s existence, a move from Spitfire Records brought the closing of a chapter to the band and a new one beginning with Artemis Records. To fulfill outstanding contractual obligations, Spitfire has put together KINGS OF DAMNATION 98-04, a 72-minute, 19-track collection encompassing not only all of the Black Label Society releases, but also touching on BOOK OF SHADOWS and PRIDE & GLORY and throwing in two unreleased tracks for good measure.
This can hardly be called a “greatest hits” since Black Label Society never had any “hits” to speak of but the chosen cuts are good ones. Also, having some of the material (albeit only four songs) from PRIDE & GLORY and BOOK OF SHADOWS is great to have all on one disc. Most noticeable is the transformation of Wylde’s beer-soaked voice to a much cleaner croon on the pre-Black Label Society tracks. The banjo and steel guitar provide a swampy groove on PRIDE & GLORY’s “Losing Your Mind” but Wylde’s southern rock vocals echo those of bands like The Allman Brothers and .38 Special. Even a newer cut such as the title track of 2003’s THE BLESSED HELLRIDE exemplifies the influence of southern rock on Wylde, with its similarities to The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” What doesn’t bode so well for the tracks taken from 2004’s HANGOVER MUSIC VOL. 6 is that when placed alongside the vastly superior material on the similarly-themed BOOK OF SHADOWS, Wylde’s voice sounds weak and uneven. “Between Heaven & Hell” could be taken straight off of a Neil Young album like HARVEST but “Crazy or High” seems forced when hitting the softer side of things. On a more positive note, Wylde’s shift of gears to the brutally heavy tones of SONIC BREW’s “Bored To Tears” pack more of a wallop when following a track like “Sold My Soul,” so this is kind of a double-edged sword in the context presented here. Three instrumentals provide a taste of Wylde’s undisputed prowess when unleashed with only a six-string, however the inclusion of both “TAZ” and “Takillya” becomes a bit redundant since they are nearly identical flamenco-tinged acoustic shred-fests. “Stillborn” (featuring Osbourne on harmony vocals), “Bleed For Me,” “Demise of Sanity” and “Counterfeit God” feature Wylde’s signature pinch harmonics and some of his best solos, so the guitar geeks will be in full glee at the material here. “Genocide Junkies” and “Funeral Bell,” two prominent cuts from the Black Label Society setlist are curiously absent, but for the most part, the five main Spitfire BLS releases are given fair treatment. As for the two unreleased tracks (the label has carefully avoided referring to them simply as “new”), “Doomsday Inc.” is the better of the two. Wylde provides some great shrieks and melodic clean vocals to offset his usual gruff delivery and the foreboding chorus definitely is among the darker tracks he has laid down. The other, “SDMF” (“Strength Determination Merciless Forever”), is a plodding track that features some sizzling guitar work but offers little else.
As Zakk Wylde writes in the liner notes, “This is just the motherfuckin’ beginning” and with MAFIA, the band’s Artemis debut charting well and containing strong material, Wylde’s statement appears to be true. An amicable parting seemed to be the case between Black Label Society and Spitfire Records, so KINGS OF DAMNATION 98-04 is essentially the end of one chapter and sets Wylde free to embark on the next one. His devoted fanbase will have most of these songs already and the two unreleased tracks are hardly worth ponying up $15 to own but for those who only know as Wylde as “that skinny kid from Ozzy’s videos,” this collection is an excellent introduction to the work of one of metal’s most revered guitarists and most prolific artists.