Sound — 9
The Black Label Society has returned with another helping of immaculate riffs on Shot To Hell, but this time Zakk Wylde's piano skills are almost showcased as much as his guitar virtuosity. The band's new CD still sounds very much like classic BLS faire, but there does seem to be as much attention given to tackling ballads as the hard rock tracks. It's both surprising and admirable the amount of time Wylde allots to his softer side on his first release with Roadrunner Records. While writing ballads is nothing new to BLS (vocalist/guitarist/pianist Wylde, bassist John JD DeServio, drummer Craig Nunenmacher, and live guitar player Nick Catanese), Shot To Hell features almost as many ballads are there metal tracks. To hear a gruff guy like Wylde completely unafraid to show his ability to write a thought-provoking and musically original ballad is a breath of fresh air. The man could easily rely on his guitar god status, but he continues to explore new instruments. For steadfast fans of BLS's metal side, don't worry. Wylde provides a healthy dose of his Signature Crybaby Wah pedal and pinch harmonics that carry most of the songs. Of the harder selections, a standout track is the opener, Concrete Jungle. Wylde definitely has an ability to start off a record with a quiet, building intensity. Concrete Jungle also shows off the contrast that Wylde has in his voice, from his low, sneering style to his higher-pitched growls. The general format of the songs does not vary too greatly with the band's heavier tracks, but Wylde's passionate delivery will satisfy any die-hard BLS fan. What will be interesting is those same fans' reaction to the increasing number of ballads. Nothing's The Same actually is reminiscent of Guns N' Roses' November Rain in it's construction, which fans may or may not embrace. The piano-based song has what sounds like a huge string section -- which probably is synthesized, but still works at creating an epic-like feel. When you don't think the ballads and the metal songs quite mesh, then you get to New Religion which starts off as a pure piano ballad and is suddenly transformed into one of the best, not to mention hardest-rocking songs on the CD. The primary problem with Shot To Hell is that often times the songs feel too much the same. The metal songs keep to a similar format, just as the ballads do. While New Religion definitely stands out with it's hybrid ballad-metal construction, some of the songs lack that same distinction. That being said, Wylde is one of the most talented guitarists in music today and it's enjoyable simply listening to what new sounds, effects, or techniques that he comes up with in each song.
Lyrics — 8
Most of the lyrics on the heavier songs on Shot To Hell have the same gritty feel as the music, which fits rather well. The first track Concrete Jungle has a beautifully dark introduction to the record. Wylde sings, No one gets out, get ready to die again, and later goes on to say, In the concrete jungle it's a world of the damned; won't you step inside and you'll understand. Listeners might have a difficult time deciphering some of the lyrics through Wylde's vocals, but they should be able to make out enough of the words to know the basic theme of each song. While the rocks songs don't necessarily have lyrics that surpass the perfection of each guitar riff that Wylde cranks out, they do have a rugged quality that adds a little meat to the overall compositions. Some listeners might find these lyrics a bit clich in the rock world, but Wylde's music works extremely well with songs that delve into the darker side of life. In extreme contrast are the lyrics are those in, of course, the ballads. Very much in reflection of the music, the words to the ballads are just as heartfelt and soft-spoken. In Nothing's The Same Wylde sings, All the faces I've once knew now are gone; Days turn into years roaming on. The introspective theme will likely connect with plenty of listeners, while at the same time showing depth to Wylde's lyric-writing skills.
Overall Impression — 9
If you've been a fan of Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society, you will likely still adore them after listening to Shot To Hell. The band has a sound that can easily be distinguished from any other band, and that in itself is a blessing among today's music offerings. Check out Blacked Out World, which has a solo that is played at a lightening speed by Wylde. Another highlight is the intro of Faith Is Blind, with a guitar intro that takes on a machine-gun like feel. While the album does not quite hit the level that Mafia did, it has it's own impressive qualities. Describing Shot To Hell merely as the word mature wouldn't do it justice. It's more of a gutsy choice by Wylde, who most fans expect to conquer each song with his riffs and solos. The album chronicles how Wylde expresses his talent -- whether through piano, keyboards, guitar, vocals, you name it -- and the musician's evolution is pretty amazing. So just when you've taken a look at the odd cover art with nuns playing a sinister game of pool and aren't sure if BLS is making the best choices, don't fret too much. Wylde is a man who is entitled to make one little cover art slip-up -- especially after almost 20 years of making jaws drop with one guitar lick.