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Black Label Society | Blessed Hellride | review | rock | Lollipop

Black Label Society

The Blessed Hellride (Spitfire)
by Brian Varney

After hearing friends rave about Black Label Society's albums but being underwhelmed when actually encountering them, I can finally say, with the release of The Blessed Hellride, that I get it. What an absolute mother of an album. After a stopgap live album and a tentative step in the wrong direction with last year's 1919 Eternal, Zakk Wylde has solidified his concept of this band and produced - mindful of his own strengths and weaknesses - 11 songs which celebrate the former and banish the latter.

The most important thing is the quality of the songs themselves. Zakk can now hold his head high and call himself a songwriter, because there ain't a dud in this whole batch. Most of 'em are meat-and-potatoes rockers, heavy on the meat, which, to be honest, have always been my least favorite moments on previous BLS releases. Not that I don't like rockers (banish the thought!), but I've always been a bit annoyed by Zakk's incessant pinch harmonics (which are still used at least once every three seconds here, but I'm not especially bothered by them this time) and his vocals, a problem which I can happily report has been rectified here. I don't know quite what the difference is, but Zakk's vocals are wonderfully suited to these songs, his suddenly powerful, soulful roar coming more from the gut than from the throat.

There's also a generous portion of slow, acoustic-based stuff, which have in the past accounted for nearly all of my favorite BLS moments. For whatever reason, Wylde's vocals and songwriting skills have always seemed better suited to quieter, melancholy-soaked material. The most noteworthy slow song on The Blessed Hellride is the Skynyrd-worthy title track, the kinda summertime track screaming to be heard from a car stereo while flying down a dirt road in the country.

I remember listening to "Like a Bird" from the bonus studio disc that came with the live album and thinking "Anyone who can write a song like this has the potential to do great things." With The Blessed Hellride, Wylde has proven my instincts to be correct, producing the best music of his career thus far.
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