Black Label Society – Doom Crew Inc. (Album Review)

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Few modern acts have the zeal of the doom-trooping brotherhood of fans following Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society. It is in homage to this brotherhood that the band names its 2021 release, “Doom Crew, Inc.” From the road crew to the faithful fans, walking the line dangerously close to skirting MC territory, the whole circus makes for one big “Doom Crew” family, and this record is a big vat of that love, distilled down into one celebratory and salutary shot of whiskey.

Larger-than-life heavy metal country-boy viking Zakk Wylde, recently once again drafted into service by Ozzy “the boss” Osbourne, takes a break from the Ozzman to put down this record with what has become the dependable lineup of the band in the last few years. Jeff Fabb and J.D. DeServio hold down the rhythm section on drums and bass respectively, and Dario Lorina continues to capably fill the “Evil Twin” shoes left behind by Nick Catanese on second guitar.

The band has had a certain creative trajectory from about 2005’s “Mafia” through 2018’s “Grimmest Hits.” Where albums like “Hellride” and “Mafia” seemed to prioritize hard and heavy high-impact thrashing, the subsequent albums seem to have stripped away some of the effects, energy, and post-production to get back to basics and focus a bit more on old-school riff-based classic rock and metal, in the vein of Zep, Sabbath, and a bit of early Rainbow. This new release claims to continue this evolution, so let’s dig in and see what’s under the hood.

The first track, “Set You Free,” opens with a perfectly-executed clean steel-string acoustic section by Zakk, before heavy mid-tempo chugging kicks in, with the entire band joined in. Zakk’s vocals retain much of that Ozzy-era Sabbath timbre and execution, albeit without the studio effects we hear on albums like “Mafia.” Halfway in, we are treated to a well-done multi-track harmonized guitar section before Zakk busts out a wah-laden solo punctuated with his usual vibrato pinch harmonics and blistering palm-muted arpeggios. “Destroy and Conquer” is nothing but riffs and grooves right out of the 1975 Black Sabbath playbook, and that’s not a negative at all. The guitar tone is dirty and sludgy, more Iommi in its nature than the quasi- Jake E. Lee approach we would hear from Wylde in “No Rest for the Wicked” and “No More Tears.” The leads on this one actually almost dip into the feel of what Blackmore was doing in Dio-era Rainbow on the darker, heavier songs.

The third track, “You Made Me Want to Live,” eases in gently, if ominously, with a dark, minor, swirling chord progression, dripping with flange/phase modulation effects, before chunking away with a slow steady high gain chord pattern. Even aside from tastefully structured guitar lead tradeoffs, the song makes for an interesting counterpoint of uplifting lyrics and dark musicality. “Forever and a Day” is a refreshing departure in the form of a McCartney-esque ballad, perhaps in the same vein as BLS’s prior “In This River,” although this is a more guitar-based composition as opposed to the piano structure of “River.” The adagio tempo serves the song well for the first two minutes, and even when high gain Les Paul lead comes in a couple minutes, it does not clash with the unplugged song texture, even when a bit more metal attitude comes into play. It is a bit more like Slash’s first lead in “November Rain,” and only serves to elevate the feeling the song emotes.

Some other highlights include “Ruins,” with its layers of amazing vocal harmonies delivered a cappella, juxtaposed against slamming riffs and burning guitar leads. If “Forsaken” was any more lumbering and heavy it might as well be chained to an anvil and sinking to the bottom of the Hudson. Of course, just because we had a guitar-oriented ballad earlier does not mean pianos make no appearance. “Love Reign Down” (no relation to The Who) is a tender piano piece (with a touch of organ) which again makes appropriate and tasteful use of guitar which is fairly clean as it is brought into the composition, but grows in gain and intensity to further lift the song and give it a crescendo. Naturally, at this point, a return to heaviness is required, and our substitute teacher Mister Wylde asks us to take out our Book of Sabbath and open it to the “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” chapter for a pop-quiz on heavy doom riffing. “Gospel of Lies” is an essential part of the lesson plan, offering classic riff structure and great Zakk leads. “Farewell Ballad” tips the scales and makes this album an interesting blend of heavy and balladic, although at least this one seems to be the most electric of the ballads on this album, giving some variety after the piano and acoustic guitars used elsewhere on the record.

While “Doom Crew Inc.” does carry forward the trajectory of the last 15 years of BLS albums, it does so with enough variety of songwriting style and instrumental texture to keep the album from being predictable, while still remaining quintessentially Black Label Society. While it may not top essential albums like “Mafia” with the fans, it is an important part of the overall BLS discography landscape, demonstrating Zakk stretching his boundaries and giving the fans something which is certainly a good album by almost any account. The mix, production and finish are raw and real, yet clean and another win for Zakk’s home recording studio. The album has real heart, and should be enjoyed by Black Label fans and the metal world at large. Pick this one up Black Friday, online or at your favorite record shop.

Released By: MNRK Heavy
Release Date: November 26th, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • / Bass

“Doom Crew Inc.” track listing:

  1. Set You Free
  2. Destroy & Conquer
  3. You Made Me Want to Live
  4. Forever and a Day
  5. End of Days
  6. Ruins
  7. Forsaken
  8. Love Reign Down
  9. Gospel of Lies
  10. Shelter Me
  11. Gather all my Sins
  12. Farewell Ballad

Order “Doom Crew Inc.” here.

8.0 Great

Zakk Wylde and the boys of the Black Label Society have gone back to basics, dug deep and delivered an album rooted in the golden age of classic metal, and full of soul and variety. As the name indicates, “Doom Crew” is a genuine love letter to the fans of BLS

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 7
  • Production 8.5
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