Black Label Society @ Colston Hall, Bristol – 23 February 2011

In the two decades since Ozzy Osbourne hired him away from his job at a New Jersey gas station to become his new guitarist, Zakk Wylde has established himself as a guitar icon known and revered the world over.

Writing and recording with Osbourne led to multi-platinum success, inspiring him to form the now legendary Black Label Society in 1998. Since this time, die hard BLS fans – the Berserkers – along with Wylde have created a heavy metal institution true to his vision of uncompromising, unfiltered, and unrestrained rock ‘n’ roll.

‘Order of the Black’, the outfit’s eighth studio album, was released to critical acclaim in August of last year, preceded with an incredible set at the High Voltage Festival. After teasing UK fans for long enough, the Black Label Berzerkus Tour hit our shores on Valentines day, with tonight’s Colston Hall show being the last of eight dates.

Starting their rampage via a melodic intro tape from behind a huge ‘Sonic Brew’ album artwork flag, Zakk and co launch into ‘The Beginning… At Last’ from the aforementioned debut album. The flag drops to reveal the band clad in their ever-present BLS attire, with Zakk stood astride a mic stand consisting of chain, skulls and a crucifix. Already I’m thinking: it doesn’t get much more rock ‘n’ roll than this!

The set-list consists of tracks from across BLS’s eight album catalogue. The first half brings: ‘Crazy Horse’, ‘What’s In You’, ‘The Rose Petalled Garden’, ‘Funeral Bell’, ‘Overlord’ and ‘Parade of the Dead’. Flanked by John DeServio (Bass) and Nick Catanese (Guitar), backed by Will Hunt (drums) and a vast Marshall backline, Zakk Wylde and his “brothers” prove themselves to be a brutal live act, totally appreciated by the Bristol “chapter”.

A high-point of the evening is the ballad: ‘In This River’, Zakk’s tribute to close friend and former legendary Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was shot and killed onstage in 2004. Not only is this an emotional and softer moment in the set, but shows one of the best guitarists on the planet, can also play the piano like a classical veteran.

‘Fire It Up’ is followed by a ten minute, jaw-droppingly intense, guitar solo. Perhaps not the most melodic arrangement of his career, but certainly displaying the fretboard mastery and dexterity of the man that has won nearly every guitar award imaginable, and is a major influence to a new battalion of rock guitarists currently popular today.

Towards the end of the show I move to the back of the auditorium in the hope of more audible clarity. But during ‘Godspeed Hellbound’ and ‘The Blessed Hellride’, the guitar is thick and swamped, the kick drum is high in the mix, and the overall volume, dare I say it, is just a little too loud!

However, what Black Label Society have is a testosterone-fueled sound, often rejected by the mainstream but heartily embraced by an aggressive listenership. So, no matter how loud it may go – ‘Suicide Messiah’, ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Stillborn’ complete what is a great show of rock ‘n’ roll supremacy.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston

Black Label Society