Sound — 9
Thanks to prior commitments like Ozzy Osbourne's Black Rain, four years have passed since Zakk Wylde has unleashed an all new collection of pinch-harmonic goodness via Black Label Society. While the previous BLS release Skullage was lacking in some areas, the newest release Order of the Black proves that Wylde still can dish out stellar riffs every once in awhile with a fresh twist. Let's not go as far as to say that there is much out of character on Order of the Black, but the arrangements do tend to have some surprises along the way. To top it all off, there is one highly intriguing instrumental that doesn't feature Wylde's trusty electric or piano. The CD begins with a down-tuned, infectious number called Crazy Horse, which just oozes a tight groove. Wylde's trademark vocal style is always the connecting line between each BLS song, and the Aaaahhh yeaaahhh that he utters in each chorus makes Crazy Horse easily memorable. Even more intriguing is the following track Overlord, which begins with some delicious use of the wah. The song even takes an interesting turn smack dab in the middle when the tempo is sped up, eventually returning to its original slower groove. Other highlights include the Hendrix-like intro of Black Sunday and the pinch harmonic extravaganza in Riders of the Damned. Order of the Black has its fare share of what you might call standard Zakk Wylde balladry. The guitar master is fond of switching to his piano for the more heartfelt, mellow numbers, and the newest release is no different. The up-tempo tracks do seem to have a bit more of a distinctive quality in terms of the musical foundation, but at the same time you get the impression that Wylde is indeed speaking from the heart as soon as he sits down to play the keys. The most unexpected surprise comes with Chupacabra. What sounds like it is tailor-made to be a furious metal piece is actually more of a flamenco offering. The instrumental is certainly rooted in classical guitar methods, but it's more spastic than most acoustic pieces you might hear. It's short and sweet in the end, but it's engaging from beginning to finish.
Lyrics — 8
Wylde's lyrics tend to fall into two different categories as usual: the heavier music accompanied by gritty, often bigger-than-life themes and the ballads being more introspective. Whether he is declaring himself to be a Crazy Horse or discussing otherworldly topics like those in War of Heaven, Wylde at the very least delves into unique ideas that don't get tossed around on every album. The songwriter pens his most honest, personal content in the ballads, however, so that ends up being the biggest payoff lyrically speaking.
Overall Impression — 8
Black Label Society often tends to be hit or miss with their albums, so you never know what Wylde might have up his sleeve. Thankfully, Order of the Black features a much larger selection of memorable riffs and interesting arrangements in general. Wylde is mixing the compositions up with varied tempos and musical sections in general. While Chupacabra is a slightly frantic approach to classical/flamenco guitar, it's still one of the most fascinating tracks on the CD. In fact, it might just be a preview of the unexpected territory that Wylde will be exploring in the future.