Sound — 7
Zakk Wylde is the muscled Norse god of the guitar playing world, mostly highly regarded for his early work as the guitarist for the "Prince of Darkness" Ozzy Osbourne throughout the late 1980s through the late 2000s, picking up the lead of the late Randy Rhoads and the underrated Jake E. Lee through his own blistering approach heavily centered on scaling solos and his frequent yet masterful use of pinch harmonics. When Wylde set out on his own path in 1998 as the frontman, lead vocalist and guitarist for Black Label Society, he continued to pave his way through vicious hard rock with overtones of heavy, sludge and groove metal. It here that Wylde has remained since departing from Osbourne in 2009, however only the most diehard rock advocates seem to recall and celebrate the early moments where Zakk demonstrated his abilities in the southern rock and metal terrain.
His first work as the main man in the band Pride & Glory showed a bold departure from the predominantly metal works with Osbourne, while incorporating banjo, harmonica and mandolin playing among a collection of tracks that showcased an alternative side to the engaging performer. This was especially true in the case of Wylde's 1996 solo debut "Book of Shadows," an album which progressed upon the foundation of the one-off Pride & Glory in regard to it's southern and folk rock character highlighted by reflective lyrics and invasive acoustic guitar work. There's a reason why "Book of Shadows" has developed a sort of cult following over the years and why Wylde himself had expressed interest in recording a follow-up over the past several years; fast forward two decades since the release of his first solo album, and Zakk stands confident with a bonafide sequel that offers much of the same familiar qualities that made the original effort so standout.
Fans of Black Label Society and the original "Book of Shadows" title will find comfort among the fourteen tracks found here; there are plenty of similarities to be found between that body of work, seeing as Zakk is still obtains the emotive voice and skillset on the six strings. The main difference here is that this record recalls more of an influence from The Allman Brothers and likeminded company, as far as the overall atmosphere and particular emphasis on unplugged guitar and vocal hooks. There aren't too many high octane moments to be found throughout here; in fact, it's largely a reflective and intimate performance that would be better suited for an evening of unwinding compared to grabbing a copy of "The Blessed Hellride" for a late night road trip. This is well evident beginning with the opening track "Autumn Changes," a song that's supported by light organ playing, articulate acoustic and deep brooding vocals courtesy of Wylde.
Tracks such as "Tears of December" and "Lost Prayer" convey this sense of longing that one might anticipate from their titles, as one would also with "Sorrowed Regrets" and "Useless Apologies," so while the atmosphere doesn't change as the album progresses it does allow for one consistent listening experience that's repeatedly highlighted by the actual musicianship, especially Wylde's ability to knock out a solo - whether that's a winding arrangement or a more familiar shred that breaks apart from the laidback surroundings. There are common ties of bitterness, anger, sadness and heartbreak all through the course of the record that clocks in at just over an hour, which leads to the impression that "Book of Shadows II" was just as a therapeutic release for Wylde as it was a welcome development for his longtime listeners.
Lyrics — 7
Wylde's voice is largely centered in a deep lower register which many have compared to that of his longtime collaborator Ozzy Osbourne, which has made for more than the occasional vigorous Black Sabbath cover in Wylde's live performances. We find a similar breed of lyrical execution on "Book of Shadows II," however there's more often than not less intensity placed behind the delivery and more of a clean tone during tracks like the aforementioned "Autumn Changes" and "Harbors of Pity." This helps to convey that feel of washing sadness that Wylde seems to be going for over the course of the album, and those vocals help to compliment the melancholic harmonies that decorate this sophomore solo effort.
Overall Impression — 7
Zakk Wylde chose to stand tall with "Book of Shadows II," a full fledged, unapologetic follow-up to his 1996 acoustic southern rock solo album that manages to deliver a perhaps even more convincing platter of heartfelt compositions that reveal another side to this innovative heavy metal musician. This is a move that Wylde has hinted towards for some time and to see the end result trail away from other disappointing album "sequels" and instead offer a rewarding listen is well appreciated here.