Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Review: Black Label Society, "Hangover Music, Vol. 6"

If there's one man in the world of heavy rock that seems able to do no wrong, it's Zakk Wylde.

From the heavier sound he brought to Ozzy Osbourne's band in the late 1980s to Southern rock with Pride and Glory to his acoustic solo debut to the bone-crunching Sabbath-inspired riffs he lays down with Black Label Society, Wylde has rarely made a misstep. Now comes his sixth outing with BLS, the aptly titled "Hangover Music." If the first five Black Label albums have been the wildest, loudest and craziest party you've ever attended, then this album is definitely the morning after.

On "Hangover Music," Wylde revisits the acoustic stylings of his 1996 album "Book of Shadows." And why not? Over the years, his slow songs have been some of his best. They seem to fit his vocal style well.

"Hangover Music" is a bit grungier and uses more electricity than "Shadows," which was almost completely acoustic. But the trick to this album is in how he uses the electric guitars, not as a crutch, but sparingly to create mood and atmosphere - and of course, to kick out some blistering solos.

Even in a semi-acoustic setting, though, Wylde is still served better by the more upbeat numbers. The CCR-meets-Sabbath stomp of "House of Doom" is a perfect example of Wylde in his element and at the top of his game, and the album-opener, "Crazy or High," is simply one of the best songs the band has written.

Wylde and Co. hit rough waters when they slip into Elton John mode on "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," but fare better when they slide into an Alice in Chains groove on "Layne." Wylde shows off his piano skills on "Damage is Done" and the jazzy chords on "No Other" are a nice surprise.

Overall, the album shows that you don't have to plug in to be heavy. But as much as I like the more laid back side of Zakk, I still think he needs to plug back in as soon as possible. The metal world needs him at full intensity.

Get "Hangover Music."

Review: Anthrax, "Music of Mass Destruction"

Though he's been in the band longer than any other singer, Anthrax is just now getting around to a live album and DVD with John Bush. It was well worth the wait.

In addition to showcasing the band's live show with Bush, it also gives fans the chance to see one of the last Anthrax shows with original bassist Frank Bello, who recently parted ways with the band.

On "Music of Mass Destruction," 'Thrax rips through a collection of songs both new and old with incredible energy.

There are a few stumbling points along the way. "Bring the Noise" really doesn't work without Public Enemy involved, and I still think Bush isn't up to some of the older material because it doesn't really fit his style. That being said, I have to give him credit for the ones he belts out better than the original. "Be All, End All" sounds great with Bush on vocals, and even the classic "I Am the Law" takes on a gruffer, more powerful sound.

Of course, when they rip out newer songs like "Inside Out," "Refuse to be Denied" and "Safe Home," Bush is in his element and the performances are tight all around.

Anthrax also throws out a couple of surprises, going way back to the band's debut album for the bonus track "Metal Thrashing Mad" and whipping out a cover of Metallica's "Whiplash." There's also a nice treat for comics fans on the DVD as artist Alex Ross chats about designing the cover for this album, as well as the band's stellar 2003 release "We've Come For You All." He also talks comics with drummer Charlie Benante and shows off some of his personal collection of memorabilia.

Having had the pleasure of seeing Anthrax live, I know this doesn't compare to the real energy, but it's close - a must-have for thrash fans.

Get "Music of Mass Destruction."