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Sunday, May 10, 2009

CD/DVD Review: Black Label Society - Skullage

Black Label Society - Skullage CD/DVD
2009 Eagle Rock Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Zakk Wylde is one in a million. At this point to be considered Ozzy Osbourne's most prolific and longest-standing guitarist (with all due respect to the immortal Randy Rhodes who likely would be canonized with Jimi Hendrix at this point had he lived), Wylde is no longer the stringy-haired kid with everything to prove to the rock community. Long playing by his own rules as the ultimate roughneck celebrity with fingertips graced by God and a bird's nest comprising his chin, Zakk Wylde is a beer-guzzling, iron-pumping, truck-bogging, guitar and piano ravaging gunslinger whose persona outside of the Osbourne castle makes him worthy of character study in his own right.

It's only been four years since Zakk's Black Label Society handed out a best-of compliation, Kings of Damnation '98 - '04 and between then and now two studio albums Mafia and Shot to Hell. One might be tempted to cry foul at Wylde for dumping another compendium on his fans, particularly with material hoisted from his successful Mafia album.

On the other hand, when you smartly jack up a new hits proposition with a bonus DVD filled with live footage, a hilarious ridealong in the days of life with the man himself, promo videos and the presentation of an acoustic performance named "Slightly Amped: Live in Lehigh Valley" done in support of Black Label Society's The Blessed Hellride album, there's your buying power for forking out duckets for another BLS anthology.

It also helps Wylde tastefully repeats only two selections between Kings of Damnation and Skullage, which are both unavoidable as they represent Black Label Society's two best-known tracks "Bleed For Me" and "Stillborn." Whereas Kings of Damnation hijacks a few choice cuts from Wylde's first exterior project Pride and Glory, Skullage likewise grabs a different cut from that era in Wylde's career to open with, an agreeably laidback Hendrix-soaked ditty, "Machine Gun Man."

Skullage absorbs three of its cuts from Mafia, "Fire it Up," "Suicide Messiah" and Wylde's sentimental ode to the late Dimebag Darrell, "In This River." He also dips back to The Blessed Hellride with "Stillborn" and the string-wailing "Doomsday Jesus." Tacking on a couple of Stronger Than Death tunes, "13 Years of Grief" and "All For You" and surprisingly only one from Shot to Hell, "New Religion," Skullage isn't particularly comprehensive but it's nice and meaty on its own accord. Rather than pad Skullage with more studio tracks, Wylde throws on three of the audio versions from the "Slightly Amped" performance, "The Blessed Hellride," "Spoke in the Wheel" and "Stillborn."

Naturally it's the DVD portion of Skullage which gets the polish treatment (even though four pieces are previously-released matertial) as you get five of Black Label Society's promo clips as well as snippets from previously-released BLS live videos, Doom Troopin': European Invasion and Boozed, Bronzed & Broken-Boned. If you've never seen the latter, this is your chance to see Robert Trujillo of Metallica and Suicidal Tendencies lumbering behind the bass with Zakk Wylde and his longtime rhythm partner Nick Catanese.

Aside from the "Slightly Amped" section of the Skullage DVD, the biggest highlight is the "Welcome to the Compound" feature which allows Zakk Wylde to cut up for his fans and bring them into his songwriting mindset. On the one side we see the sensitive Zakk Wylde who professes himself before God on top of a dusty desert mesa and who who also shares his thoughts of the last moments he'd interacted with his friend Dimebag Darrell. This is the Zakk Wylde who takes you into his living room and plays the gorgeous intro to "New Religion" on his piano--which has a Gothic cross as his proverbial candelabra, Liberace be damned. On the other hand, we see a Zakk Wylde playfully dicking with his macho image before his fans. In one moment, he's surrounded by pinup girls and pulling on a longneck between reps in his garage gym. In another, he's plugged in and screeching delicious distortion with masculine savagery.

Out-of-nowhere, however, comes Wylde's twisted sense of humor, in which he's pissing on plants in his backyard, jokingly admitting his "dark place" comes from atop a toilet with no lights on and he's running around in a dress and playing with dollies. His biceps rage in these hilarious segues as saying "I dare you to say something!"

In all, Skullage is guilty only of being too-soon filler product as Wylde and company currently write the next BLS album. It would've been a graver offense had Wylde not jumbled up this songlist to differ from his last retrospective. The fact he lets his guard down for his followers--whether said tomfoolery is a serious part of his personality or whether Wylde is merely hamming it up for a laugh--makes Skullage a fun bit of raging brew-ha-ha.

Rating: ****


JB Martell said...

Never a BLS fan before because I was scared to listen to it and ruin my image of Wylde, but after taking the plunge and listening to the broad range of sounds on this album I am hooked. Zakk is an even bigger Guitar Hero now.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

JB, I agree. BLS has given Zakk a chance to show off his chops (in addition to the many side ventures you can find him in these days) than in Ozzy's band. Certainly Ozzy let him cut loose, but the songs are tailored to be straight-nosed songs, as are BLS' tunes, very ordered, structured and mostly tuneful. However, Zakk gets to edge up just a bit more in BLS, which is why I'll always recommend them as a listen. Thanks for dropping in!

Anonymous said...

black label society is such a horrible band, dude can play guitar but hasn't written a good song since like...ever

Martin said...

I don't think BLS shows off his skills anymore than Ozzy at all. A lot of Ozzy's albums have songs that would fit right in with the BLS discography.