Black Label Society - _The Blessed Hellride_
(Spitfire / Eagle Rock, 2003)
by: Jackie Smit (7 out of 10)
Whether your opinion of the man and his many painstakingly documented booze-fuelled antics is that of unreserved adulation or nonchalant disdain, let it at least be said of Zakk Wylde that apart from the odd guest-appearance, he has thus far relatively avoided using his day-job as six-stringer for that Osbourne guy to peddle Black Label Society to the masses. Then again, BLS was never meant for the mainstream. As appealing as its southern fried boogie metal could potentially be to the less-enlightened listener, it is a labour of love that was written by Wylde for Wylde -- if you want to join the party, feel free; if not, fuck off. Unsurprisingly then, _The Blessed Hellride_ provides little in the way of intellectual food for thought, and certainly tracks like opener "Stoned & Drunk" aren't meant to provoke any semblance of furious political debate. Even so, there's an undeniable charm to Zakk Wylde and his drunken Hallford-esque rants. Perhaps it's the organic crunch of a track like "Suffering Overdue" -- sounding almost as though Wylde simply picked up his guitar and let the music flow in any direction it chose -- or the soulful acoustic nod to New Orleans sludgers Down of the title track; but in a world of manufactured styles, conveyor belt music and base-level reality TV, there's few things the world needs more than the unapologetic honesty of a band like Black Label Society. Which isn't to say that this is a masterpiece -- far from it: it's often let down by a very lean production, and there are times when at the very least, it sounds as though Zakk is seriously treading water musically. But then again, one is doubtful that perfection was ever the point of this exercise.

(article published 15/8/2003)

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