Stronger Than Death

Black Label Society

Spitfire Records, 2000

http://www.blacklabelsociety.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/25/2000

" Put it this way, you know how Black Flag kills roaches dead? Well, Black Label kills fucking cheese pop bands dead!" - Zakk Wylde

Bold words, little man -- not surprising, seeing how you've survived the longest stint as a guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, and have helped to create some of Osbourne's best music ( No More Tears) while facing the slings and arrows of those who long for the ghost of Randy Rhoads.

And, really, Zakk, I'd like to believe that Black Label Society's second album, Stronger Than Death, is the kind of disc that would do a Texas two-step on the spines of some of these kindergarten bands out there. Only one little problem: this album is meandering, unsure which way it wants to go. The songwriting is hardly up to par -- and I know that you're capable of much better work than this.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Black Label Society is a band that often tries to go for the crunch factor in the music, usually by performing the tunes in a low "D." Too bad the material doesn't follow in suit all the time. "All For You" is an okay opener, but it hardly has the kind of muscle I would have expected from someone of Wylde's capacities.

And the music occasionally takes a turn towards industrial, as heard on "Phony Smiles, Fake Hellos" and "Counterfeit God" -- the latter being one of the few truly enjoyable songs on the disc. It's almost as if Wylde wanted to try and create an atmosphere first, then shaped the songs around that. Nice try, but it didn't work.

Songs like "Love Reign Down," "13 Years Of Grief" and the title track all end up sounding like a band who is trying to capture people's attention by emulating all the groups they grew up listening to. And as for Wylde's guitar work -- let's just use the term "disappointing". I understand that Wylde wants to grow as a musician, and I can't always expect to hear No More Tears-like work on everything he does. But more often than not, Wylde's solos tend to blur with the rhythm track, and it all ends up sounding like so much sonic mush.

Wylde's vocals range from a pure Ozzy clone (the first verse from the album's opener "All For You") to a dead ringer for Phil Anselmo from Pantera (most of the album). In all honesty, I would have preferred to have had Wylde hire a singer just so he could have put his all into the songwriting and guitar work.

All of this said, Stronger Than Death has its moments, though they are few and far between. "Rust" is a beautiful track whose power grows as the song progresses. Ditto for "Just Killin' Time," a definite highlight of this disc. And while "All For You" still isn't the song I think it could have been, it is an okay effort that I found myself going back to.

Wylde is undoubtedly one of the hardest-working musicians out there who is not one to rest on his laurels when there's work to be done. I only wish he had put a little more into Stronger Than Death.

Rating: C-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Spitfire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.