Friday, September 6, 2002

Interview: Zakk Wylde

This year, Ozzfest begins and ends with guitarist Zakk Wylde.

His band Black Label Society opens the main stage of the festival, then after a couple of hours to catch his breath and kick back a few beers, he'll join metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne to close the show. Wylde will be joined by Ozzy bassist Robert Trujillo in his double duty.

"Basically, we'll go out to open the main stage with Black Label and beat the living hell out of it," says Wylde. "Then, whatever's left, we'll come back with Ozzy and finish it off. Then we'll go backstage and have a few beers."

That take-no-prisoners attitude is what drives Wylde and Black Label Society, whose previous albums have included "Sonic Brew," "Stronger than Death" and "Alcohol-Fueled Brewtality Live." Their latest, "1919 Eternal," was released in March. The album is not only filled with attitude, but also shows respect for the band's roots.

It begins with the album's title. Originally called "Deathcore War Machine Eternal," Wylde says that title was nixed in the wake of Sept. 11. Instead, Wylde chose to honor his father, a World War II veteran, who was born in 1919.

Wylde says his father embodies the ideals of Black Label Society, which go much deeper than the alcohol-fueled angst of many of the band's songs.

"Thanks for instilling in me everything that you are - strength, determination, perseverance, family and honor," reads the dedication in the album cover. That, says Wylde, is what the band's attitude is all about.

"He's where it all began," Wylde says. "He was on the beach at Normandy on D-Day. He's 82 years old, and he still works five nights a week. He's pretty much the architect of Black Label."

Another man Wylde has a deep respect for is Ozzy, his partner in crime since the late 1980s. While Wylde enjoys singing, as well as the complete control he has over the Black Label Society product, he's not about to relinquish his position with Ozzy.

"You know your role," he says. "It's just like when you go back to your parents' house, you don't kick your feet up on the furniture. This is Ozzy's house."

Though Wylde focuses on different aspects of the music when playing with Ozzy, he has no problem making the switch from his own music to working with Osbourne.

"As far as I'm concerned, it all falls from the same tree," he says. "Have Ozzy sing on a Black Label record, and it's the new Ozzy album."

And is life with the Osbournes as crazy as the MTV series?

"Totally," Wylde says. "There's no acting there. They probably cut out some of the really insane stuff. He could have been a comedian if he hadn't decided to be the greatest frontman of all time."

Aside from his music, Wylde is also pursuing some acting work. He made his debut in last year's "Rock Star," though he admits his role as a guitar player in a rock band wasn't a real stretch.

"They said, `Zakk, just come down, play guitar all day, lift weights, drink beer and fire a 12-gauge shotgun," he says with a laugh. "And I said, `you're going to pay me for this?'"

He's been approached about appearing on the HBO prison drama "Oz." There's nothing definite yet, but Wylde says he'd be interested.

He's also looking into starting his own Black Label micro-brew, which he thinks will go over well with the band's fans. And he's about to begin breeding rottweillers.

Wylde makes it clear that these extracurricular activities will always be secondary to his music - and don't expect that to take a commercial turn any time soon, either.

"I'm really satisfied with what I'm doing," he says. "It's not like I'm selling 15 million copies, but I can make a living at what I'm doing - and I'm making the music I want to make."

When Ozzfest ends next week, Wylde will head out for a short headlining tour with Black Label Society. Beyond that, he says it depends on how Ozzy wants to play it.

"My wife just bought another house, so I'll probably be touring until I'm about 126. They'll just have to stuff me with new organs and send me back out," he jokes. "If Ozz wants to take a break, I'll keep touring with Black Label Society. If he wants to get going on another record, we'll do that. We'll just have to wait and see."

Interview: Mushroomhead

An odd band deserves an odd name. At least that's what Mushroomhead drummer and founding member Skinny thinks. He says fans all have their own unique interpretations of the name, and that's part of the band's mystique.

"That's one of those questions that's got a million different answers," Skinny says. "I always thought it was a cool name for a band. It has a lot of references and doesn't really pinpoint any. It was just one of those names we had, like if someone did something silly, you'd say `nice job, mushroomhead.' I just thought that it would make a great band name, so I used it."

The band, decked out in their trademark masks and makeup, is currently tearing up the second stage of Ozzfest with an odd blend of metal and art rock, laced with just a touch of hip-hop.

Even though Mushroomhead got started in 1992, their image often brings comparisons to one of today's biggest masked bands Slipknot. Skinny says that anyone who looks past the masks and listens to the music will realize there's no relation.

"We've been doing this for so long, and we've gotten comparisons all along," he says. "When we first started we were compared to Mr. Bungle and Gwar, then Manson, now Slipknot and Mudvayne, so we're used to it. People will be shallow, but the one thing I always tell people is don't judge the book by its cover. We're doing our own thing."

Skinny says Mushroomhead first donned the masks because they all belonged to other bands. They wanted to do something new and didn't want people to draw conclusions about what the music should sound like based on who the band members were.

"We put the masks on to hide our identities," he says. "If people didn't know who we were, it put more focus on the music."

Their brand of music is a little different from the current crop of heavy rock acts. Mushroomhead's major label debut "XX" provides new fans a retrospective of the band's 10-year career, pulling together some of their favorite songs from three independently-released albums. While it captures the energy of today's scene, there are also some strange twists and turns.

"We're strange dudes, man," says Skinny. "Ultimately, we don't want to sound like anyone. We want to sound like us. We purposely try to throw monkey wrenches in the machine all the time just to see what happens."

The eight-piece band's creative edge comes from a diverse membership, Skinny says. He thinks having a band twice the size of most other metal acts is a great advantage.

"Having a lot of members is what shapes (our music)," he says. "You get a lot of opinions, you get a lot of input, you get a lot of good ideas - sometimes too many good ideas. That's what makes us us - being able to syphon through all of the ideas and pick the good ones versus the bad ones."

While "XX" showcases diverse sounds, Mushroomhead's Ozzfest set puts the focus squarely on the heavier tunes.

"It's very high energy - screaming," Skinny says. "On Ozzfest, we only get 20 minutes, so we play the hard hitters and just knock 'em out."

He says the fan reaction at Ozzfest has been great so far, and they hope to land a larger slot on the tour next year - hopefully in support of an album of new material in June.

"Ozzfest is definitely a place where we need to be," Skinny says. "Our goals right now are to get in the studio over the winter, record the new record, get back out on the road and try to get on Ozzfest next year."

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Review: In Flames, "Reroute to Remain"

Fans of In Flames may be a little surprised when the band unleashes its eighth studio album, "Reroute to Remain: Fourteen Songs of Conscious Madness," in the United States on Sept. 3.

In Flames, one of the innovators of extreme metal's Gothenburg sound, takes a slight turn on its newest release. The result is the band's most complex and mature album to date.

"Reroute to Remain" doesn't feature any individual songs quite as catchy as "Pinball Map" or "Satellites and Astronauts" from the band's breakthrough 2000 album "Clayman." But overall, their latest offering is much more satisfying than that release - and that's saying something.

Like all good metal, most of the songs on the album are built on solid guitar riffs. There's plenty of good old-fashioned heavy rock to be found. The title track is a Sabbath-inspired slugfest, while on "Drifter," the band thrashes like Metallica in their prime.

But In Flames' other influences also show during the course of the album. There's a hardcore punk feel to the opening riff of "System" and industrial influence invades several songs, especially in the vocal department.

Hanging over the whole album like a pall is a dark and brooding goth mood. Almost every song on the album has bleak moments of reflective melody that owe more to the Cure than to Slayer.

Most surprising may be the folk influence that shows up on "Dawn of a New Day" and especially "Metaphor." The violin work and arrangement on the latter gives it the feel of something you'd hear at a European country fair.

We also get to hear more of Anders Friden's voice on this album. While there are still enough insane snarls to satisfy the band's longtime fans, in the quieter moments, he lets his true voice shine through, and that's not a bad thing. It lends deeper emotion to songs like "Metaphor," and also makes for some nice harmonies in the heavier songs, putting the listener in mind of the art rock bands of the 1970s.

"Reroute to Remain" is a little different, but it's also better. In Flames has offered up its richest tapestry of sound to date - one woven with threads not found in the average extreme metal mix. Sometimes growth is good - in this case, very good.

Get "Reroute to Remain."