Released: 2006, Roadrunner Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Anyone looking towards Black Label Society for a stylistic change (or any other musical surprise, for that matter) gave up several years ago, but for those who get their fix from the band’s ten-ton riffs, impressively-delivered solos and swamp-thick vocals will feel equally satisfied on album number seven, SHOT TO HELL. Black Label Society’s mid-tempo grooves are chock full of Zakk Wylde’s trademarked pinch harmonics and guitar stomps. However, SHOT TO HELL also sees the band head further into slower, more introspective territory than ever with several ballads awash in strings and Wylde’s haunting piano. The death of close friend, Pantera/Damageplan guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, clearly resonates through the thirteen tracks on The band continues playing musical chairs with record labels, too, this time taking Roadrunner Records for a spin after only one venture on Artemis Records, 2005’s MAFIA. As they have been since 1998’s SONIC BREW, fans of Wylde will be happy with the familiarity of another brilliantly-played album from Black Label Society on SHOT TO HELL.
The centerpiece of any Black Label Society album is, of course, the guitar heroics of Zakk Wylde. Right off the bat, “Concrete Jungle” swoops in with a fuzzy talk-box intro before launching into a hefty riff backed by the rock-solid bass of John DeServio. “Black Mass Reverends” and “Blacked Out World” continue the swath of heavy metal thunder with thick, chugging riffs, shredding solos, copious amounts of pinch harmonics and other eyebrow-raising distortion and effects tricks. Continuing on in the vein of MAFIA’s “In This River” finds tracks like “The Last Goodbye,” “Nothing’s The Same” and “Sick of It All” touching on the band’s slower, more pensive side. On most Black Label Society releases, there has been a ballad featured (and all of HANGOVER MUSIC, VOL. VI devoted to quieter songs) but with no less than four here, it is immediately apparent that the death of Dimebag Darrell still haunts Wylde and he expresses himself openly in the lyrics of these tracks. Wylde extends himself on the piano here more than ever, with a beautiful intro to “New Religion” and “The Last Goodbye” being one of the best songs the band has ever recorded. On songs like “Nothing’s The Same,” it is also clear how much Wylde is developing as a vocalist. HANGOVER MUSIC, VOL. VI, as well as his pre-Black Label Society work on albums like BOOK OF SHADOWS, displayed Wylde’s rough, bluesy croon but he has honed it to a much smoother, easier-on-the-ears instrument than the harsh croak he once possessed. “Sick of It All” features harmony vocals that are almost R&B-flavored in their soulful smoothness and actually had me thinking they were from a female, not the gruff Wylde.
Wylde is one of the most prolific artists in heavy music. Black Label Society has released seven studio albums since 1999 and while SHOT TO HELL is yet another commendable entry in the band’s catalog, there are moments of familiarity that creep in. The main riff of “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” sounds a bit too similar to that of “Crazy Or High” from HANGOVER MUSIC, VOL. VI and the opening verse of “Concrete Jungle” sounds eerily close to “Sex Type Thing” by Stone Temple Pilots. Wylde has never been an innovator of riffs so much as delivered them in a stylistic and heavy way and it maybe time to sit back and recharge the batteries a bit. Also, the last four tracks really don’t measure up to the rest of the album. “Faith Is Blind” and “Devil’s Dime” are speedy shuffles that don’t go anywhere and the other two tracks are further trips down a road of melancholy. Pity that the final quarter of an otherwise superb album simply falls apart.
SHOT TO HELL offers no surprises, is exactly what fans look for in a Black Label Society album and will offer a few new inclusions into the band’s already punishing live set. For seven albums, this same formula has served Zakk Wylde well and, like AC/DC, it is a comfort knowing pretty much what to expect before even hearing a note. That being said, Black Label Society is nowhere near the household name AC/DC is and until Wylde churns out his BACK IN BLACK, that probably won’t change, either. Still, while Wylde waits for Ozzy Osbourne to get a new album together, the wheels on the Black Label machine keep turning down a familiar and comforting road.
KILLER KUTS: “”Concrete Jungle,” “Black Mass Reverends,” “Blacked Out World,” “The Last Goodbye,” “New Religion,” “Sick of It All”