After the face destroying evolutionary masterpiece This Godless Endeavour it was always going to be a tall ask for Nevermore to produce another album of equal standing.
Unfortunately Nevermore haven’t quite hit the mark with this one. Nevermore have released an album that is simply average, a feat that I had hoped would be impossible after two decades of quality releases. That’s not to say that this album is bad by any stretch, it possesses a handful of crushing trademark Nevermore tracks, packed with beautiful solos, monstrous riffs and Warrel Dane’s face melting vocals such as ‘Moonrise’ and the title track.
The Obsidian Conspiracy is diet Nevermore, the solos are not as predominant, the lyrics are a lot more transparently bad and after your first listen you’re left feeling incredibly underwhelmed. Nevermore have never been deemed masters of language but the angst-filled “If you lie to me, slander me/ this is why I hate you” taken from ‘Without Morals’ sound more akin to Bullet For My Valentine than classic Nevermore lyrics.
For those who have not experienced Nevermore (where have you been?) this release will certainly whet the appetite for more, in which case I urge you towards This Godless Endeavour, Enemies of Reality and Dead Heart in a Dead World. For hardened veterans of Nevermore The Obsidian Conspiracy is instantly forgettable.
Four years have passed since Black Label Society released seventh studio album Shot to Hell. Black Label Society have undergone some significant changes of line up and circumstance. Long term band member Craig Nunenmacher has left BLS paving the way for Will Hunt of Evanescence to step in and take over drumming duties. Order of the Black is the first album for Zakk Wylde since he was relieved of his duties as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and the first Black Label release to be recorded in Zakk Wylde’s studio, the Black Label Bunker.
After the disappointment of Shot to Hell the main question is whether all these changes have paid off. As soon as ‘Crazy horse’ starts up fans know that they’re in for a treat. A few seconds in the familiar Ozzy esque vocals kick in and Black Label Society deliver an energetic heavy metal experience that commands listeners to bang their heads and raise a bottle of Jack in the air. The next two tracks ‘Overlord’ and ‘Parade of the dead’ are stand out fist pounding heavy metal anthems, as the album progresses it becomes increasingly obvious that Zakk’s time away from Ozzy Osbourne has been extremely valuable as he is producing some of the most relevant songs and riffs he has for years – what’s more the overplayed pinch harmonics that have become synonymous with Zakk Wylde feature less on Order of the Black than previous BLS albums.
Whilst BLS haven’t shied away from ballads and piano pieces over the years, Order of the Black has a disproportionate amount of softer piano pieces than other BLS offerings with the likes of ‘Darkest days,’ ‘Time waits for no one,’ ‘Shallow grave’ and ‘January.’ Whilst these are far removed from the stoner southern metal that BLS are famed for these are by no means unpleasant. On the contrary ‘Shallow grave’ is one of the standout tracks on the album. Zakk’s soft vocals utter melancholy yet beautiful lyrics that fuse together perfectly with the piano and violins sending shivers down your spine. This is a Zakk Wylde ballad at its very best. The tribute to his father ‘January’ is another thought-provoking ballad that closes the album on a high albeit unusual note.
Perhaps the most surprising track on the album is ‘Chupacabra.’ ‘Chupacabra’ refers to the mythical creature that prowls America slaying livestock, namely goats, and draining them of their blood. With such an intriguing title one can be forgiven for assuming this would be a crushing tutorial in Southern brutality. Such an assumption would be incredibly far removed from the truth. ‘Chupacabra’ is an extremely fast demonstration of talent that is over almost as quickly as it begins, clocking in at just forty nine seconds. ‘Chupacabra’ showcases Wylde’s flamenco technique and is most certainly a track for the guitar student to listen to in awe.
‘Godspeed hellbound’ is a noteworthy track that epitomises the heavy metal sound that BLS are renowned for. Unlike other aggressive pieces that have been produced in the past, ‘Godspeed hellbound’ actually slows the pace down dramatically just over two minutes in, but not to its detriment – this is pure metal indulgence for the Black Label purists. The following track ‘War of Heaven’ starts in a slow, dark manner akin to Seasons in the Abyss era Slayer before kicking into slow, crunchy riffs that wouldn’t be too out of place on an Alice in Chains record – another welcome surprise from the Black Label arsenal.
Order of the Black is one of the finest and most varied Black Label Society releases in years. It puts to bed any concerns that fans may have had after the mediocre Shot to Hell and sees Zakk Wylde perform with invigorated energy we have not experienced since 2003’s The Blessed Hellride. Order of the Black is marred slightly with an overindulgence of ballads, but given the circumstances and impact of ‘Shallow Grave’ I’m prepared to overlook this. Whilst this may not convert those who are not already fans of BLS this is compulsive listening for Black Label Society fans – the most significant and varied Black Label release in over a decade.