Zakk Wylde – also known as “Father Zakk” – is one of those guitarists that needs no introduction whatsoever. Since bursting into the metal scene as Ozzy Osbourne’s main axe-slinger in 1989 with the excellent “No Rest for the Wicked” album, Zakk has forged a tremendously successful career, not only as the six-string cavalier and part-time sideman for The Prince of Darkness, but also as the singer, main songwriter and founder of his own heavy metal band Black Label Society, a long-lasting home for his ferocious metal picking with 10 studio albums under their name. Currently trekking through North America, Zakk and his comrades have again brought together a diverse and brutal tour package, one that demonstrated to be a sweaty, macabre and vicious combination.
The night openers were New Yorkers Prong, one of those bands that deserves way more recognition than what they have sowed (and despite this might sound like a cliché, it’s the out-and-out truth here). The trio, fronted by guitarist/vocalist Tommy Victor – Prong‘s sole constant member – emerged out of the early 90’s thrash-metal landscape and carved a niche all of their own with their minimalist urban take of the genre. They appeared on stage with a hungry-for-blood attitude, and blasted their way through a boisterous 8-songs set-list, effortlessly combining utterly frantic and unrelenting thrash & groove metal with industrial nuances. Victor and restless bassist Jason Christopher moved continually left and right exchanging colossal guitar riffs and huge bass licks, while drummer Aaron Rossi surgically punished the skins in the back. The main core of their songs came off their first three, and critically acclaimed studio album “Beg to Differ,” “Prove You Wrong,” and a personal favorite “Cleansing.” Cuts like “Broken Piece,” “Whose Fist is This Anyway?” and the classic “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck,” were chanted by the ravenous crowd, and I bet that more than one of those in the audience felt compelled to take a closer look at Prong’s catalogue after witnessing their raw and infectious live energy.
Test / Disbelief / Beg to Differ / Cut-Rate / Broken Peace / Whose Fist Is This Anyway? / Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck / However It May End
PRONG PICTURE GALLERY
Next-up were Florida’s own death-metal forefathers – and one of the most successful bands in the sub-genre, – the mighty Obituary. If you have ever been to an Obituary show before, you know what to expect, and if you haven’t, you better get ready beforehand. The Tampa quintet led by the Tardy brothers and rhythm guitarist Trevor Peres, has never believed in trends, evolution, short hair or gimmicks. Theirs is a pure exercise in relentlessness, but in Obituary’s own way: they can play at breakneck speed, but within the same song, guitarists Ken Andrews and Peres slow the tempo down to dirge-like levels at a moment’s notice, all the while keeping the music heavy as hell thanks to down-tuned guitars and the snarling, inhuman vocals of John Tardy, augmented by the doomy and eerie attack of death-metal everyone’s favorite bassist Terry Butler.
Playing in their own turf, their set was a true exercise in pulverizing and deafening metal, the same style they pioneered with their landmark debut “Slowly We Rot,” a record that became the template of the death-metal sub-genre, influencing an entire legion of other bands. Opening the proceedings was the riff-monster “Redneck Stomp,” and from there on the mosh-pit became literally unstoppable, the bodies clashing in the semi-darkness only broken by flashes of red and green lights and smoke coming from the depth of hell. “Sentence Day” and “A Lesson in Vengeance,” (both from their latest self-titled album) upped the ante a notch, but the best was yet to arrive. After dropping the groovy, rhythm giant that is “Visions in my Head,” they jumped on the time machine and headed back to the early 90s, dusting off a triple “Cause of Death” punch of “Chopped in Half,” “Turned Inside Out” and their own rendition of Celtic Frost “Circle of the Tyrants”, transporting me to my high school days. Tardy’s vocals sounded as grueling and otherworldly as they did at the time (in an album that epitomized the Morrisound Studios sound with Scott Burns at the helm) with tempos shifting between blazing speed, mid-grooves and grinding doom and more progressive & technical passages peppered with creepy ambient soundscapes. With the crowd frantically screaming for more they followed with one of my favorites ever, the downright riff-extravaganza of “I’m in Pain” before closing off in the best possible way with the ghastly and pummeling death-metal hymn that is “Slowly We Rot.” You can never go wrong with Obituary, there’s an overall atmosphere of renewed life in the band, and I only hope they continue perform and record for as long as I’m alive.
Snortin’ Whiskey (Pat Travers Band song played over PA) / Redneck Stomp / Sentence Day / A Lesson in Vengeance / Visions in My Head / Chopped in Half / Turned Inside Out / Deadly Intentions / Circle of the Tyrants (Celtic Frost cover) / Straight to Hell / I’m in Pain / Slowly We Rot
OBITUARY PICTURE GALLERY
The smell of sweat and leather hung thick in the air, and anticipation hummed as a black curtain bearing the seal of Black Label Society rippled. Green and red lights began to flash, splashing across the fabric in brilliant bursts of color. Then came the first taste of the headlining set, all but drowned out beneath a sea of thunderous applause: the hearty strains of “Bleed for Me,” taken from the album “1919 Eternal.” A familiar silhouette could be spotted wielding a guitar behind the curtain as the throes of chaos mounted. When it finally dropped the din reached its peak, and Zakk Wylde was finally front-and-center in the throng of strobing lights, his fingers working away and hair surrounding him in a fluid halo.
Even after more than twenty years of shredding on stage under the BLS label, somehow Wylde has managed to make the Doom Trooping Over North America tour louder and larger than ever before. Wylde’s reveal showed him wearing his omnipresent kilt and cutoff vest as he shredded away on his signature bull’s eye guitar. And when it finally came time to belt out those opening words, he did so by stepping up to a mic stand fashioned out of skulls. Every ounce a showman, Wylde’s other feats of the night included taking up a double-neck guitar for “The Blessed Hellride” and manning the piano for “Spoke in the River.” The song selection drew fearlessly from all corners of the band’s discography, dredging up old favorites alongside new anthems, and not once slowing down in enthusiasm.
The current iteration of Black Label Society has remained steadfast since 2014, with drummer Jeff Fabb joining permanently following the release of “Catacombs of the Black Vatican.” Their on-stage chemistry gave Wylde most of the limelight, but it was well worth paying attention to the masterful execution of guitarist Dario Lorina. Although his character was still somewhat reserved, he gave the crowd committed attention as he made his way through the most demanding parts of the set, including the rip-roaring “Overlord.” And in the songs where Wylde stepped away from the guitar, it was Lorina left to fill his shoes in the lead on strings.
Whatever Black Label Society has in sheer grit, they must have twice over in shampoo. The long-haired performers hung their heads low and head-banged to the resounding drum, trusting drummer Fabb to perform with machine-like precision. As the set-list shifted from aggressive anthems to ballads and back again, Wylde led the way with the grace of a seasoned performer. It was a show amplified by production to match: speed was complemented by strobes in bright greens and yellows, while more slow-tempo rockers were treated to deep hues of red and purple. This allowed for the audience to become completely consumed by the magic onstage, rapt when Wylde and Lorina engaged in a spirited guitar duel, and then jumping with frenzy throughout “Suicide Messiah.” There was no song more appropriate to close out the metal feast of the night than the classic and iconic “Stillborn.” And though that song is undoubtedly part of Wylde’s every heartbeat, he breathed new life into every note.
A fabulous stage performance by all-three acts in what tours to be wide-ranging roller-coaster of metal the Doom Trooping Over North America tour is unquestionably a thrill ride from start to finish. Do yourself a huge favor and check out the remaining dates, and don’t forget that Black Label Society’s upcoming studio album “Doom Crew Inc.” drops this November 26th.
BLACK LABEL SOCIETY Set-list:
Whole Lotta Sabbath (Played over PA) / Bleed for Me / Demise of Sanity / Overlord / Heart of Darkness / A Love Unreal / The Blessed Hellride / Spoke in the Wheel / In This River / Trampled Down Below / Destruction Overdrive / Set You Free / Fire It Up / Guitar Solo (with “Smoke on the Water” jam) / Suicide Messiah (with “Black Sabbath” outro) / Stillborn