By Greg Maki
Zakk Wylde has been universally acknowledged and accepted as a guitar god for years, decades even. So how is it that in 2021, nearly 35 years after he skyrocketed to worldwide fame by joining Ozzy Osbourne’s band, he has churned out an album with what might be his most impressive display of guitar heroics to date?
Black Label Society has had a, shall we say, fluid lineup since Wylde assembled its first incarnation in 1998. However, the current roster—which, in addition to Zakk on vocals and guitar, features bassist John “J.D.” DeServio, drummer Jeff Fabb and guitarist Dario Lorina—has been together since 2014, making it the most stable assemblage of musicians the band has ever known. That shows on “Doom Crew Inc.,” the 11th BLS studio album and the first time Wylde has invited the band’s second guitarist into the studio with him.
As adept on the keys as he is on the six-string, Lorina has been Black Label Society’s secret weapon in the live setting for these past seven and a half years, and his inclusion in the recording makes it feel more like a fully realized band than it has at any point since its inception. I don’t know for sure who’s playing what, but just take a listen to the dueling solos on “Set You Free,” the album’s opener and first single. A similar attack appears throughout most of the record’s 12 tracks, along with harmonies and unisons, giving it a much different feel than not just the whole of the BLS back catalog but virtually all of Wylde’s recorded output. (Keep in mind that he’s never played with a second guitarist in Ozzy’s band, live or in studio.)
This increased focus on the instrumentation gives a whole new energy to the band, even as most of the tracks employ mid- to slower tempos. There’s enthusiasm and creativity here that lead to songs running a little longer than usual—only one clocks in at under four minutes, while two top the six and a half minute mark. After cranking out a series of BLS albums in the mid-2000s that felt a bit rushed, Zakk is taking his time these days. (“Doom Crew Inc.” is just the third BLS studio album since 2010.) That extra time rears its head in more sophisticated arrangements while sacrificing none of the typical BLS crunch or the heartfelt nature of its more relaxed tunes.
Evolution for an established artist is always a tricky proposition. Move too far from your signature sound and you risk alienating your core fan base. Remain stagnant and people will complain about every album sounding the same (unless you’re AC/DC). With “Doom Crew Inc.,” Zakk and Black Label Society have found a perfect balance, keeping all the elements that have made him and the band so beloved while adding to them and building the sound into something that’s just a little bit more. And it features what might be the best BLS song to date, “Gospel of Lies,” an extra-Sabbathy slab of doom and gloom that’s a better example of what I’m describing than anything I could ever write.
MNRK Music Group – November 26, 2021
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