One of Black Label Society’s most straightforward metal albums (at least one in a trilogy of them, along with STRONGER THAN DEATH and THE BLESSED HELLRIDE), this features some of Zakk Wylde’s best metal work. After a few noise effects and a strangely brutal howl, a fairly fast, rumbling riff smashes in with the intensity of a derailed train on “Bleed for Me,” one of the most memorable songs in Black Label Society’s (and Zakk’s) career.Black Label Society is one of the ultimate metal outfits I have ever heard; they (and by “they,” I mean Zakk and whomever else he hires as extra help) can do it all. There are the fast-paced, riff-based juggernauts like “Bleed for Me,” “Lords of Destruction,” “Demise of Sanity,” and “Battering Ram.” Songs like “Life, Birth, Blood, Doom,” “Graveyard Disciples,” “Refuse to Bow Down,” and “Berserkers” carry Zakk’s signature chugging, lock-step rhythms. Then there’s a couple ballads/semi-ballads, including “Bridge to Cross,” “Lost Heaven,” and the absolutely amazing acoustic instrumental “America the Beautiful,” which is to this day my favorite of Zakk’s quieter pieces.Zakk’s vocal performance, as is unfortunately often the case with Black Label Society, is somewhat marred at times. After hearing his amazing singing voice on BOOK OF SHADOW, I know he can do better than this; but then again, Black Label Society is an entirely different beast from that album. As well, his lyrics are their usual subjects of fighting, death, war, getting drunk and/or stoned, and generally being a bada**. However, it is ultimately the instrumental work that is Zakk’s emphasis with Black Label Society, and it works.Still one of my top 5 favorite guitarists, Zakk never fails to impress me, especially not on this album. Riffs aplenty, his solos and leads here are especially vigorous and ferocious, and often trippy (just listen to the lead in the pre-chorus of “Lords of Destruction”). Perhaps my favorite track, instrumentally, is “Demise of Sanity,” where he has fast riffs played in a lock-step rhythm, with simply killer bursts of distortion in the choruses. And the solo…it nearly makes me have seizures listening to it. Well, not really, but you know what I mean.His acoustic guitar talents are fully exercised here, too, as evident on “Bridge to Cross,” “Lost Heaven,” and “America the Beautiful.” He puts such soul and nice grooves into the strums and finger-picking, it really is some amazing stuff. Again, for more of this, check out BOOK OF SHADOWS. And yes, he has one of his little acoustic guitar solos, which might not be much, but sure show off his talent.Finally, the hired musicians: Craig Nunemacher, longtime drummer for Crowbar, once again lends his excellent talents to Black Label Society. However, on several tracks (“Bleed for Me,” “Demise of Sanity,” and “Life, Birth, Blood, Doom”) someone known as Christian Werr is the muscle behind the percussion. Whoever he is, he is quite good. Also, on “Demise” and “Life…” is featured Robert Trujillo, currently the bassist for Metallica and formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy. He adds a nice, funky sort of groove to the work, and really has a good stage presence. His work will be missed.And…that’s it. For an ultimately good, old-fashioned heavy metal album, check out Black Label Society’s 1919 ETERNAL. Just don’t headbang too hard.