Black Label Society – Mafia review

Black Label Society
Artemis Records

Black Label Society has been releasing new music almost non-stop since its inception in 1999 (an album a year), so it’s no surprise that front man Zakk Wylde and his boys are a tight-knit group that know exactly how to craft a strong song, let alone a strong album.

“Mafia” sounds like the bastard son of Ozzy Osbourne and Alice in Chains — the perfect blend of metal and southern rock groove that you can’t help but nod along with. This new album takes a page right out of 2002’s “1919 Eternal.” It’s choke-full of blistering riffs and insane guitar solos that continue to solidify Wylde’s place among the metal elite.

“Mafia’s” first single, the intentionally plodding “Suicide Messiah,” rumbles along at a deliberate place, showcasing Wylde’s Ozzy-influenced vocals, as well at the intricate guitar work he is know for. And the rest of the band (in its current incarnation) live up to the BLS label. Craig Nunenmacher is a beast behind the drums, accentuating each track with impressive fills and subtle cymbal crashes. Nunenmacher and bassist James Lomenzo (who previously worked with Wylde in the band Pride and Glory) lay a solid foundation that Wylde dances around vocally, on the guitar and, at times, on the piano as well.

While “Mafia” is packed with impressive bombast, there’s a couple of surprises on here too. The heartfelt “In This River” (a tribute to guitarist Dimebag Darrell) is one of the highlights of the album. The ballad-esque track features Wylde on piano (with some fantastic background guitar-work and a tight little solo), accompanied by Lomenzo on bass. The song isn’t over-the-top trite, but the emotion really seethes from the speakers as the song slowly takes shape and repeats.

The moments of beauty — “In This River,” the piano opening to “Forever Down,” the haunting “Dirt on the Grave” — hardly tip the scale of head-banging goodness on show throughout “Mafia.” Tracks like “Fire it Up,” “You Must Be Blind” and “Electric Hellfire” are vintage BLS, while the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover, “I Never Dreamed,” might be one of the best songs Wylde and the boys ever recorded (and the song closes with one of the sickest solos I’ve ever heard).

Most are quick to point out that “Mafia” is simply more of the same from BLS, but the truth is that the band has a blueprint for the music it creates, and Wylde is such a great artist that while each song might sound like something the band has done before, that doesn’t make you want to listen to it any less. Wylde is one of the rare guitarists that seems to have his craft literally flowing through his veins; it appears as if he simply plugs in his guitar and solos pour out.

While “Mafia” may be nothing new and Wylde’s vocals can get slightly repetitive at times, it’s still a solid rock-metal release with enough “surprises” to keep casual and diehard fans interested. BLS is definitely in an upswing and if you liked any of the band’s previous work, you’ll love this album.

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