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Black Label Society - "Order Of The Black" (CD)

Black Label Society - "Order Of The Black" CD cover image

"Order Of The Black" track listing:

1. Crazy Horse
2. Overlord
3. Parade Of The Dead
4. Darkest Days
5. Black Sunday
6. Southern Dissolution
7. Time Waits For No One
8. Godspeed Hellbound
9. War Of Heaven
10. Shallow Grave
11. Cupacatra
12. Riders Of The Damned
13. January

Reviewed by on August 19, 2010

"The first single, 'Parade Of The Dead,' was aptly chosen as such. It's the perfect highlight of Zakk Wylde's increased focus, with one of the best riffs he's written, a dynamite chorus and a much better solo than he's come up with in a long time."

By any measure, Black Label Society guitarist and singer Zakk Wylde has had a rough couple of years. He was sacked from Ozzy Osbourne's band, had health issues, which included life-threatening blood clots, dealt with a drinking problem and suffered the death of a close family member. Thus it is that Black Label Society's latest, "Order Of The Black," serves as a reminder of the old truism that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. This album is easily Wylde's best outing as a singer, guitarist and songwriter since 2003's "The Blessed Hellride."

I'm not sure whether it was Wylde's drinking or his divided attention between Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne, but the last two Black Label Society outings, "Mafia" and "Shot To Hell" suffered from a lack of focus. The riffs and lyrics were all by-the-numbers, with "Shot To Hell" especially having a phoned-in feel.

Four years and all those tragedies later, Wylde and his bandmates come roaring back with the opening notes of "Crazy Horse," which instantly tell you this is going to be a harder-rocking affair than the last few discs. Some of the credit for that has to go to the band's new drummer, Will Hunt (who previously played in Evanescence), who displays a more deft touch than previous Black Label Society drummer Craig Nunenmacher did. Hunt's work on tracks like "Godspeed Hellbound" gives them a heaviness that hasn't been there for the band since at least "1919 Eternal."

Then, there's the main event, Wylde's riffs and solos. The first single, "Parade Of The Dead," was aptly chosen as such. It's the perfect highlight of Zakk Wylde's increased focus, with one of the best riffs he's written, a dynamite chorus and a much better solo than he's come up with in a long time. Tracks like "Black Sunday," "Godspeed Hellbound" and the slower "Riders Of The Damned" are similarly great, with "Riders" having a great piano interlude that livens things up.

One of the things that adds texture to Black Label Society is the occasional piano ballad. This one features three of them, with the string-laden "Shallow Grave" standing out. "Darkest Days" and "Time Waits For No One," on the other hand, are pretty interchangeable.

On the downside, there are a couple tracks, including "Overlord" and "War Of Heaven," which flirt with the phoned-in feel of "Shot To Hell." "Overlord," in particular, has an overly simple riff, with Hunt's drums playing straight eighth notes for much of it.

Also, it's worth mentioning that Wylde's lyrics still often seem to have been written with the aid of a "Heavy Metal Lyrics For Dummies" manual. "Parade Of The Dead" has "machines that must be fed," and "War Of Heaven" talks of the "wings of the fallen." It's almost jarring when Wylde enters more personal territory on the album's acoustic closer "January," written about the death of his father, as he says that "I feel that January's cold will never disappear."

All in all, though, this album seems to represent an artistic rebirth for Zakk Wylde. With "Order Of The Black," Black Label Society seems to have gotten its house back in order.

Highs: "Parade Of The Dead," "Shallow Grave," "January" and "Godspeed Hellbound"

Lows: "Overlord" and "War Of Heaven"

Bottom line: A return to form that mostly shakes off the by-the-numbers approach of the last couple Black Label Society discs.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 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)