Black Label Society at the Rapids Theatre (2012)


The Western New York chapter of the Black Label Society came together last Sunday night as Zakk Wylde and Co. brought their righteous flavor of Southern-fried sludge metal to Niagara Falls, NY.  As expected, the riffs were muscular, the beards were grimy, and the individual genius of Wylde asserted itself as one of the most indispensible forces on the scene today.

From the opening snarl of “Godspeed Hell Bound,” the walls of the Rapids Theatre were awakened by the spirit of a thousand berserkers fist-pumping along to selections from the band’s nine studio releases.

Wylde, who played guitar for Ozzy Osbourne from 1988 to 2007, has officially broken away from the “Prince of Darkness” to forge his own path predicated on making music that is more melodic than demonic.  He attacks his custom Les Paul Bullseye as if he’s going to die tomorrow and possesses a growling vocal approach reminiscent of Axl Rose or the aforementioned Osbourne, which suits the music quite well.

Shallow meathead metal this isn’t, because Wylde’s vision expands with each album and his instinct to keep pushing the genre in a forward direction is too strong to fall victim to the industry’s vicious cycle of banality.

The evening’s sole moment of tenderness arrived in the form of “In this River,” a piano-driven epic accompanied by the image of late Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbot, whose spirit and one-of-a-kind guitar playing continue to influence the metal community to this day.

Other set highlights included a voracious “Bleed for Me,” the collective chaos of “The Blessed Hellride,” and the band’s first radio hit “Stillborn,” which was clearly what the Black Label newbies came to hear.

While it’s easy to get hypnotized by Wylde’s bottomless bag of guitar tricks, the rest of the band deserves its due for keeping this well-oiled machine running on all cylinders.

Nick Catanese is known as Wylde’s evil twin for his ability to shred on command, John DeServio proficiently handles his bass duties with authority, and Breaking Benjamin drummer Chad Szeliga gets a chance to really flaunt his chops given the group’s heavier persuasion.  Because one has to be on top of things when mixing it up with a musician of Wylde’s reputation, these guys are tested on a nightly basis, and, given what I witnessed in The Falls, I’d say they’re passing with no questions asked.

That said, even those in attendance who had little familiarity with the Black Label catalog were aware that Wylde was going to solo at some point, so the anticipation of that superseded everything else on stage.

Wylde’s 15-minute clinic on pentatonic scales and finger tapping reminded me of John Bonham’s drum solo in Led Zeppelin’s 1976 film “The Song Remains the Same,” because both provided the other members ample opportunity to get a drink, read a novel, or engage in any other time-consuming activity they wanted to while their colleague dazzled the crowd.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wylde’s fingers were raining blood afterwards due to the ferocity with which he played all night. He’s that good, and he knows how to reduce a crowd to an awestruck mass of fixated retinas.

All in a day’s work, I guess.



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