It’s been a big year for Zakk Wylde, including medical issues and the loss of his full-time gig with Ozzy Osbourne. It’s not really surprising that the new CD, Order of the Black
, is more coherent than any he’s done before. Oh, they’ve always been good, and they’ve always brought us mortal guitar players to tears, but this time, they feel like the sort of album you make with your main gig, full of different styles, different feels, and a lot of focus. The opening song, "Crazy Horse," has probably the coolest use of a flanger since "Unchained" (and, he uses the EVH signature pedal in "Unchained" mode, so it’s easy for his tech to set up). Track two, "Overlord," starts with a subdued riff before kicking in, in all its fury. Its testosterone fuelled boast "I am your overlord/everything above and below" only add to the humor when at the end he sings in a music hall style "She is my overlord." It is touches like this that make the album feel more cohesive to me. Track three is my favorite on the album. It’s a bit faster, with a typical Zakk meets Tony Iommi riff, "Parade of the Dead." Except Tony never used pinch harmonics to such good effect. The next track is a piano ballad. There’s four ballads on the CD, five if you bought the Aussie special edition, which has a cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on it and only one of those is guitar based. A lot of people have complained about this, but I think it’s a strength. Hangover Music
is still one of the best BLS CDs in my view, and the light and shade of some decent ballads (and these are good songs, not Def Leppard style pap), only makes the album stronger, and the heavy songs so much better when they come. "Black Sunday" is next, and its half-time chorus is especially crushing. Up next is "Southern Dissolution," followed by the next ballad, "Time Waits for No One." The sentiments are perhaps a little awkward, but the song is still excellent, building to a strong finish.
"Godspeed Hellbound" is next: it’s one of the songs he’s doing live at the moment. Once again, a typical BLS song, with the addition of double bass drumming making it especially heavy in the intro before it opens up to a strong groove that is, again very reminiscent of Black Sabbath. The band proceeds to drive the riff into your skull for four and a half minutes. "War of Heaven" starts with a slower riff that sounds kind of Slayer-esque to me, in that it’s very discordant. From there it’s a slower, riff- based song. You guess which early heavy metal band it sounds like. "Shallow Grave" is the next ballad, complete with strings. I am told that Zakk had been telling people that he’s influenced by Elton John. Listening to this, I think he wasn’t joking. "Chupactra" is a super fast solo piece on nylon string, reminiscent in that way of Van Halen’s "Spanish Fly." If I could play half as fast as that, I’d be happy, but I have to say that it’s a fun listen once or twice, but not especially musical. "Riders of the Damned" has us back in classic BLS territory, before "January" takes us to the only guitar based ballad on the CD. "Can’t Find My Way Home" is, I guess, the Japanese bonus track, because that’s what the last track on my MP3 rip of my CD is called, but it’s actually "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," which I think was a gutsy choice for a bonus track on a CD from a man who calls his fans "bezerkers."
I suspect that some people will not like the addition of piano to the BLS world, but those who do will find this album to be a lot stronger than the ones we’ve enjoyed before. If Zakk can continue to deliver albums of this strength, then I think his future sans Ozzy is assured.