Whether you attribute it to a rush of confidence or simply the turning of the tides, Zakk Wylde has been on excellent form in recent times. Both 2016's gorgeous solo joint "Book Of Shadows II" and BLACK LABEL SOCIETY's 2018 full-length "Grimmest Hits" hinted at another oncoming peak of creativity for the legendary guitarist, and "Doom Crew Inc" is exactly that. The band's 11th studio album, it showcases both the ongoing rebirth of Wylde as a genuinely great singer (after several years spent refining a not particularly great Ozzy impression) and another great leap forward for his perennially underrated songwriting.
If you're wondering how a lifelong road dog like Zakk Wylde coped during months of lockdown, "Doom Crew Inc" delivers a gloriously full and effusive explanation. Although primarily an exercise in letting rip and dropping massive riffs all over the place, the subtle shades and gentle edges that Wylde has allowed into his music from time to time are very much in evidence throughout. The result is a set of songs that feel substantial and potentially enduring: no mean feat amid a catalogue as expansive as the big guy's.
Opener "Set You Free" proves the point instantly. This is prime BLS crunch, with little deviation from the band's trademark sound, but Wylde is singing his head off and sounding more soulful and commanding than ever before. The riffs are brutish but effortlessly groovy, the hooks are sharp but avowedly non-obvious and Wylde's solos are, as ever, out of this world. "Destroy & Conquer" thunders in on a sinewy SABBATH shuffle, but this is far too lithe and memorable to be just another redundant homage to the kings of this stuff: instead, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY sound newly enthused by the power of The Riff, with melodies and hooks to match. The dreamily menacing "You Made Me Want to Live" is even better. From ghostly haze to pounding payoff, it's still firmly in familiar territory but imbued with the same conviction that made past milestones like "Sonic Brew" and "The Blessed Hellride" resonate so strongly.
No BLACK LABEL SOCIETY album would be complete without a ballad, and "Forever and a Day" is a truly great one. Wylde has never sung with such authority, and the wonderful restraint of the underlying ensemble performance is sublime. Somehow even more likely to tingle the spine is "Love Reign Down", a powerhouse at-the-piano performance from the great bearded wonder, with nourishing pipe organ wheezing beatifically away in the background and, at its languid crescendo, another spellbinding lead break. In stark and deliberate contrast, "Gospel of Lies" begins as a crushing, slow-motion sludge tsunami, before morphing into another elegant web of dark melody and scabby-knuckled, six-string tumult. "Shelter Me"'s mournful, eccentric sprawl, replete with THIN LIZZY twin-leads and near-grabbable psychedelic vibes, is equally stunning.
The clincher comes with closer "Farewell Ballad". Due to his immense talent, Zakk Wylde have never lacked confidence, but he has never sounded as comfortable with himself and the music he makes as he does during this grand finale's languorous seven minutes. Part classic rock tearjerker, part soul-searching odyssey, it's a magical moment on an album that takes the best of BLACK LABEL past and allows it to blossom anew for a fresh and highly fruitful new era. This is one of the strongest albums Wylde has ever made, and a very definite highlight in the BLS catalogue. Remind yourself why we love him so much.