Black Label Society - Shot To Hell -
Roadrunner Records 2006
Running Time: 44:11
I'll admit to being on the wagon, as it were, from 2003's The Blessed Hellride until now. Not that I've ever patently disliked a Black Label Society album, but between the day job, the night job, and the sudden influx of free money that came to me when I sold my soul to this business of metal that year, BLS sadly became a casualty. Suddenly What I Had To Listen To took precedence over What I Wanted To Hear. Sure, I'd snatch ...Hellride or even Mafia out of the racks from time to time, but with nothing like regularity. Well, now that Shot To Hell's kicked my ass, I've not only fallen
off the wagon, but again happily embraced life as a SDMF.
The main riff of "Concrete Jungle" lashes you to the tracks, barreling down with all the force and fire of an oncoming train. Black Label Society's been through its ups and downs like most any band today, but never have they sounded so together, so focused in bringing the rock and leaving the stragglers behind rubbing their broken jaw, and wondering what hit them. The sledgehammer crush of "Black Mass Reverends" finds Craig Nunenmacher (ex/current (?) Crowbar) giving a bit of extra NOLA heft to BLS, blending effortlessly with John Deservio's bass rumblings. Lest I forget to mention, there's a lead guitarist on Shot To Hell as well. His name's Zakk Wylde, and while he's never been able to scrape the ceiling or plummet to subterranean depths with his vocals, his guitar does all the true singing needed. Not to down the man, especially since the music and vocals fit together so well. Hell, Jim Dandy was one of the '70s most recognizable vocalists, and the man couldn't sing a lick. BLS has always been more about character anyway, and Shot To Hell has it by the truckload. On first listens, it becomes clear that Wylde is still growing not only as a guitarist, but as a songwriter. While Hangover Music Vol. VI was almost too ballad-friendly, BLS wisely waits until "The Last Goodbye" to fall into reverie. With heartfelt piano and viciously emotive leadwork, "The Last Goodbye" will stand as one of the best songs Marshall Tucker Band never wrote. None of the members strain for attention, muscling their way to the front of the tune, resulting in a tasteful mix. Martial drumming ushers in an impressively executed solo - even by Wylde's standards - just before the final chorus. Hellacious low end and staggering stomp are the order of the day for "Give Yourself To Me", clipped vocals feeding the urgency during the verse, then doubling up with the chorus riff. When the lead break hits, it shatters, wailing like an opera singer, venomous as an Inland Taipan. It's maybe too soon to lean back into another ballad, but it's hard to fault the man when the material is as good as "Nothing's The Same". Wylde takes (and I've given him my share in print) a good bit of flack for slowing things down markedly over the last album or so, but Shot To Hell is pushing me further into the side of acceptance. It's called dynamics, and so what if the old guard doesn't get an album chock full of "Troubled Times" redux. This is some good shit, and worthy to stand under the BLS banner, especially when the quartet's still able to churn out degenerate anthems like the inebriated chugfest
"Hell Is High". It does seem by this point that BLS is latching onto a formula, which can be dangerous for a band on a new label, regardless of who's in said band. "New Religion" is every bit as good as the previous slower numbers, though, distanced from them by being a good bit more orchestrated. And here's where BLS wins; just when you feel things are becoming predictable, the two minute mark finds the band exploding in cathartic flame, giving vent to some of Zakk's best leadwork on the album. Uncredited backing vocals make the unexpectedly mellow "Sick Of It All" stand out, Wylde wisely keeping most of the songs short, coming in, saying his piece, then getting out with minimum flash and fanfare. "Faith Is Blind" is BLS at their most volatile, careening down the track at somewhere between really fuckin' fast and warp speed, the rhythm section powering alcohol-fuelled riffage. This is the album where Nick Catanese establishes himself as one of the most reliable rhythm guitarists on a major label in recent memory, playing it blue collar all the way, and giving Zakk someone solid to bounce the rolling Southern rock of "Blood Is Thicker Than Water" off of. Sure to be a barnburner in the live setting, "Devil's Dime" is easily the most traditionally metal track on Shot To Hell, the stellar production ensuring that every musician is on equal footing in the mix, yet still managing to sound open and loose. Ending with "Lead Me To Your Door", ripping leads join '70s-drenched piano courtesy of Mr. Wylde, cementing the somber resignation that everything is, indeed, shot to Hell.
Like some twisted hybrid of Black Album Metallica and Sabbath being taken to task by Black Oak Arkansas, Black Label Society has never been about more than blues, bruises, and Beck's. It's a role they've enthusiastically embraced, and God bless them for it.