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Black Label Society - "Shot to Hell" (CD)

Black Label Society - "Shot to Hell" CD cover image

"Shot to Hell" track listing:

1. Concrete Jungle
2. Black Mass Reverends
3. Blacked Out World
4. The Last Goodbye
5. Give Yourself To Me
6. Nothing's The Same
7. Hell is High
8. New Religion
9. Sick Of It All
10. Faith Is Blind
11. Blood Is Thicker Than Water
12. Devil's Dime
13. Lead Me To Your Door

Reviewed by on January 1, 2007

"Zakk Wylde has now become the world's greatest living guitar player."

As if the thunderous hammer of Thor was swung full arc in Valhalla, The Hall of the Slain, coming down to shatter this ever troubled earth into a million pieces, Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society has singularly redefined the world of heavy metal music as we've come to know it with this purely masterful follow-up to last year's classic "Mafia." Produced by the guitar great himself, executive produced by Michael Beinhorn and mixed by Randy Staub for Roadrunner Records, "Shot To Hell" is oft times lighter with a more poignant delivery than previous BLS efforts, yet nevertheless a totally mercurial rock n roll album for the ages that has some of the most incendiary guitar ripping this reviewer has ever heard in thirty years of listening to the past greats like Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Rhoads, Van Halen, Ray Vaughan, Vai, Satriani and Abbott, clearly making him now one of rock history's top ten greatest ever to hit the six strings. And unlike most reviewers of this album this year who have flat out denounced "Shot To Hell", I have seen eight out of those ten guitar giants perform live in person.

The first three tracks 'Concrete Jungle,' 'Black Mass Reverends' and 'Blacked Out World' alone stand as Wylde's greatest studio creations outside of his work with former Black Sabbath lead singer, Ozzy Osbourne. The riffs are hellafied heavy, dripping with Wylde's trademark down the road, country-ish vocal stylings. Each of these tracks has been filled to the brim with one intense hook and memorable chorus after the other, all combined with lyrics that even John Lennon himself would be impressed by. A clearcut example from the opening hellion 'Concrete Jungle': "The freaks in the streets, the nuns with the shotguns, the graves by your side, survival of the fittest, and there ain't no pity, no one gets out alive." In a world of heavy music dominated by mere gutteral grunts and completely incoherent screams, Zakk Wylde shows all of us that great metal songwriting is not about how evil and outright disturbing you sound. Moreover, his utter genius spews forth in its greatest manner at a point in his legendary career when he could have easily just done what he's done before. Therein lies his utter dominance in musical thinking for he decided to take that pressure and throwback at us something that had never been done before: true depth and pure emotional dynamics in song content. How any critical music reviewer can sit back and lambaste this more fully rounded-out product is more puzzling than the literal corporate 'red tape' that bogs rock n roll music down today.

Track four, 'The Last Goodbye,' is a singularly soul-inspiring heartwrencher of a ballad that Elton John and Bernie Taupin wish they could write today. And even more mind boggling is the fact that the song was given to us by someone you would least expect it from - a former roofer born in New Jersey with what any musical literate would equate to having as quite the limited classical training background. Wylde's boldness in effort here itself makes the final result one of absolute sweeping triumph that when looked under this proper light will prove to be much more compelling to the listener in the years to come. Looking closely again at the lyrics here provides one with his seemingly tortured observance of the pursuit of happiness and love in life: "Take me down this road, just to see the smile on your face, take me down this road, all that is and all that was can't be replaced."

Wylde's newly innovated 'Deep Metal' musical expression, an approach that W Axl Rose should be credited for as the initial architect of its foundation with GnR's "Use Your Illusion I & II" albums, here continues with flourishing dominance throughout the next set of stunners 'Give Yourself To Me,' 'Nothing's The Same' and the more Ozzy-inspired 'Hell Is High.' The piano opener on 'New Religion' is totally moving and perfectly placed for the sheer rock n roll guitar explosion that follows it. With all due respect to the late great Dimebag Darrell, there simply has not been a master this in command of the straight ahead heavy riff since Sabbath's Tony Iommi. The pitch perfect and simply fury-laced, demon-harmonic soloing that erupts next is just another case example of why Zakk Wylde has now become the world's greatest living guitar player.

The next track 'Sick Of It All' is easily the more laid back in tempo when matched up against everything heard before it but again is more impressively structured than any other rock song I've heard this year clear across the board. 'Faith Is Blind' takes us back to that earlier BLS 'Let's slam some beers, get rowdy and start a bar fight' sound that he's become so well known for and the vocal work here is at its most impressive. 'Blood Is Thicker Than Water' steps up next and is an absolute ode to Wylde's obvious love of country music meets the leather clad rocker's sensibility, previously done by the likes of The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The short guitar solo here dances in the most chaotic of manners like roiling flamework across a sudued landscape.

And as if all of this wasn't enough, Zakk Wylde decides to show that even in his latter age that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank by pulling out, hands down, rock n roll's most 'in your face' ass-kicking song of 2006 with track twelve's 'Devil's Dime.' The only complaint I have is that it's not three times longer in duration. The guitar solo here is so breathtaking in its sonic brilliance that I couldn't even try and describe it to someone if you held a gun to my head. It is that good. The final track 'Lead Me To Your Door,' I will admit, is not the album's greatest achievement but what it does is work as the whole album has done all the way up to this point along with the artistic genius that created it, on its very own terms.

Highs: Taking in this entire masterpiece in its whole is one great big high in and of itself.

Lows: If I would actually try and say there was low point to this album, I'd be as good at lying as our President.

Bottom line: This is heavy metal's best album of 2006.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)