The newfound energy here probably stems just as much from taking a needed break as from the turmoil of the last few years. In the early part of the decade, Wylde was pumping out a new Black Label Society record every year, and no matter how prolific you are, there’s only so long you can keep that up and continue to produce good music.
That was particularly evident on his last outing, the aforementioned Shot to Hell, which had a couple of good songs and a whole lot of uninspired filler. Order of the Black, on the other hand, recaptures the energy of some of his earlier efforts, reminding me of a cross between my personal favorite BLS record, Stronger than Death, and The Blessed Hellride.
The blazing first single from the record, “Parade of the Dead,” sets the tone. It’s fast, loud, aggressive and Wylde shreds all over it. As with that song, there aren’t many surprises on the record. On the faster songs, Wylde plugs in, cranks up and goes crazy, and that’s pretty much what fans were hoping for. There are no misses among the heavier songs on the record, but there are some definite highlights. “Black Sunday” opens with a shred lick from Wylde, and his vocals on the tune sound like a little more countrified version of Sabotage-era Ozzy. The song also has one of the most addictive chorus melodies on the record. “Overlord” finds Zakk working out the wah pedal on an opening lick that could have been pulled straight from a 1970s porn soundtrack, but when the heaviness kicks in it has a solid grounding in Black Sabbath.
“Godspeed Hellbound” delivers a driving hard rock opening before dropping into a nice galloping open riff for the verses. “Southern Dissolution” gives us a plodding beast of a southern groove, akin to some of BLS’ earlier material, and “War of Heaven” opens with a dark intro that reminds me, surprisingly, a little bit of a Slayer intro.
There’s the obligatory acoustic shredfest with “Chupacabra,” and since this is Zakk Wylde, you also expect a few soulful ballads. For the most part, I usually enjoy his softer work (I may be one of the few folks who is a huge fan of Hangover Music). Here, he goes to that well perhaps a bit too often with four of them. The best of the bunch is the piano-driven piece “Darkest Days,” which plays like a cross between Elton John and the Allman Brothers. “Time Waits for No One” and “January” are both just OK, with the latter sounding like something that belonged on his solo record Book of Shadows. The final ballad, “Shallow Grave,” is interesting on the dark verses, but the U2 build-up on the chorus is just a bit too commercial for my tastes.
But the ballads are just the sideshow here. The strength of Order of the Black is in the fact that, despite his newfound sobriety, Wylde has, at least musically, returned to the berserker madman ways that made fans love him in the first place. To be honest, I’m actually glad that the Ozzy anchor is gone and he can now focus his full attention on Black Label Society. This member of the Louisiana Chapter is ready to crank up Order of the Black and raise a glass to Zakk Wylde back on track and rocking his ass off.
Get Order of the Black