Black Label Society was formed in May of ’98. Since then there have been many transitions to the line up, but the current one stands; Zakk Wylde on vocals and everything else except drums, Nick Catanese on guitar, James Lomenzo on bass, and Craig Nunenmacher on drums. Mafia marks the 8th release from Black Label Society since its birth. If you are one of the unfortunates to not know or hear any of BLS then you desperately need to be brought up to speed. BLS is a band of broad musical play. They range from crunchy metal all the way to slow piano ballads and sprinkle it all with a southern rock feel as well as amazing shredding technique. BLS’s latest release, Mafia, is now in stores and available for your listening pleasure. I’ve been nothing less than impressed with BLS’s previous albums; therefore the bar is already set sky high for this new release. Without further adieu, I now jump into Mafia.
First, I would like to describe the CD packaging and contents. The CD cover sports the band name, Black Label Society, with the “L” in Label being a hand gun. A picture of a skeleton’s hand holds a puppet handle and strings carry the word “Mafia”, as if the skeleton were controlling the mafia. Inside are the CD and the booklet. The CD has an image on it of a skeleton dressed in mafia clothing (top hat, striped suit) holding a Tommy gun and aiming it at something in the distance. The booklet is laid out in the form of an old time newspaper. The date on the newspaper is March 29, 1931. Each song has its own column, as if you were reading a newspaper. Lyrics are displayed; thank you, and song information. Also inside is a reference to Dimebag Darrell. On the back of the CD case is the track listing and another image of a skeleton gangster. The CD package and contents are well laid out and the art is very skilled.
1. Fire It Up: This track is easily one of the coolest cuts on the album. The song begins with harmonics fading in and out which eventually leads to a solid drum line and the harmonics being rhythmic to the drum. There’s also a low bass line in the background that gives this intro good feel and a peek into what beat this song will carry. The guitar finally blasts its way in and the harmonics on Zakk’s voice lead the charge. The guitar has a crystal clear and crunchy feel. The beat is solid and you just can’t help but nod your head and tap your foot. Crank the volume up a few notches and this song will get you in the mood to break shit and become a menace. This song is definitely feel good music. The lyrics “Fire it up, let the engines roll…” are everything any metal lover and car enthusiast could ask to hear about in a song. Mid-song is one of Zakk’s popular solos, and this solo is by no means lacking anything. After the great solo the harmonics return and the beat continues its crunchy stomp as the song begins to fade out and end. Absolutely nothing wrong with this track.
2. What’s In You: This song is a catchy one. Slightly less heavy than traditional BLS, it still carries a melodic tune with a touch of crunch in each chorus. Zakk’s unique voice graces the song and he gives another great guitar solo performance near the end of the song. Another all around great track.
3. Suicide Messiah: This is the first single off the album. If you’ve heard anything from this new album then it is probably this song. This was the first song I heard before the album dropped and it only made me more anxious to get the album. This song sports the classic BLS crunchy metal riffs and infused skillful drum lines. In BLS format, there is a badass Zakk solo mid-song with much shredding and skillfully timed drum play. The song seems to end, but then fades back in with a low guitar plucking its way through your ears and what sounds like a gong being struck by a mallet. The metal guitar works its way back in and begins some great shredding as the songs fades away to its end.
4. Forever Down: This song begins with a piano and right when you think it’s going to be a slow and soft song the guitar wails in and the beat begins its stampede. Another great metal track with hard hitting riffs and crunchy metal. In typical Zakk fashion, there’s a mean guitar shredding solo in the song that gives the song that extra pimp style. Good song.
5. In This River: This is a slow song dominated by the play of a piano. There is a guitar slowly wailing in the background as Zakk sings depressing lyrics. The song is very nice and laid back as well as sad. This song is part of what sets BLS apart from most other metal bands. It proves they can make great music other than just metal and they can do it very well. Zakk has a great voice and the uses of non traditional metal instruments are skillfully played to a melodic tune. A great track and definitely among the top 5 best on the album.
6. You Must Be Blind: This is a different sound than most of the other tracks from the album. Don’t fret though, change can be good. The heavy crunch of the distorted guitars is still there but another element is thrown in. There’s an electronica sound behind the chorus that gives the song an industrial feel. The tune is catchy but the song is not one of my favorites.
7. Death March: This is a cool track. It has a spooky Halloween sound in it that reminds me of one of those Halloween ornaments that make sound and shake when you get near them. The song is slower paced and the chorus is a build up of energy as Zakk screams through it. Good track.
8. Dr. Octavia: Nothing but a guitar solo here. Zakk shows off his skill in manipulating the guitar to sounding as he feels it should.
9. Say What You Will: Fast paced and full of great riffs and guitar wails. The song itself is mediocre and doesn’t appeal to me on a great level.
10. Too Tough To Die: This track is fueled by a heavy bass line and a dark feel is added through low guitars and lyrics. The tune is cool as hell and the beat is worthy of a good head nod motion. A piece of advice would be to play this song louder than usual. You get the feel of the bass better that way. Great lyrics and instrumentals all around. Top 5 track indeed.
11. Electric Hellfire: Littered with good guitar wails, great guitar solo, and interesting vocals, the song still doesn’t appeal to me It lacks something that pushes most BLS songs over that “badass” barrier.
12. Spread Your Wings: Great song. The intro is lengthy but adds great build up to the actual meat of the song. The intro is comprised of what sounds like a maraca shaking in rhythm and is soon joined by drums and a guitar slowly dancing together in rhythm. This all leads into a sudden attack of heavy guitars and furious drum play. Zakk screams out his lyrics and the song is nothing less than awesome. The chorus politely tramples your eardrums as you move your entire body to the crunchy beat. Unfortunately the song ends and you’re left wanting to hit the backtrack button on your CD player. Easily a top 3 song.
13. Been A Long Time: This is a good song with good differences. It begins slowly with a lot of guitar and drum breaks as well as Zakk displaying good vocal range. Eventually all instruments come full force and the beat shreds the silence. Back to the guitar and drum breaks and then full force instrumentals again. The song repeats in this sequence with the exception of a sweet guitar solo mid song.
14. Dirt On The Grave: This song is a strong contender for the best song on the entire album. It’s a slow song featuring piano play and a penetrating guitar wail to back it. Zakk sings beautifully on this track and it all fits together so well. Mid song is a medley of guitar work ranging from a Flamenco-esque shredding session to a melodic string picking solo. The lyrics are brilliantly sung and the instrumentals perfectly executed. This track is BLS on top of their game when it comes to the slower side of their music.
15. I Never Dreamed (Bonus track): This is a great composition as well. A slow song, piano driven, with guitars backing and Zakk singing perfectly to the tune. What I gather from the lyrics is that this song was written to Zakk’s wife. The lyrics talk about Zakk’s father teaching him the finer points of growing up and meeting a nice girl. Then the lyrics go into being hurt by a woman and wanting that said woman back in his life as well. The song is very nice and well done.
In a nutshell, this album is a great compilation of the traditional BLS that we’ve come to know and love. The great metal is there, the slow ballads are there, the badass instrumentals and guitar solos, shredding, vocals, and everything in between. The bar that was set is now raised and on a scale of 1-badass this album ranks among the badasses of metal. In my opinion Zakk Wylde is a fucking genius and no one can stop him from achieving everything he deserves. Do yourself a favor and buy Mafia ASAP.