The Heart Of The Beast
The Beast has a heart, too. Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt, better known as Zakk Wylde, has always hidden one of the most tormented songwriters in recent memory behind his image as the wildman guitarist who looks like he eats Hells Angels for breakfast. His 'sensitive' side has been mixed into the second part of his Book of Shadows to create a tender, acoustic album of solos that sound both as delicate as crystal or twist and contort themselves in impossible scale runs. His broken voice for once projects calm without unleashing a storm.
Or maybe it does, but this is a storm where the rain falls melancholically outside the window. The Beast has dressed his guitar in lambskin even when he makes it cry on Lay Me Down by doing pirouettes up and down the neck. A wonderful Hammond organ plays in the background until it fades away… but that is only the appetizer. The real lesson starts with the next track, Lost Prayer, perhaps the finest 'guitar hero' moment on the album. Or one of the many that suddenly emerge in each song.
A 'Black Label' without its 'society', a long drink to take your time over and properly savour. He hasn't had many himself in order to continue writing his book as a solo artist. A lot of rain has fallen since 1996. Today, Zakk Wylde is a ‘godfather’ of rock who not only designs his own Gibsons, but since 2015 manufactures and sells models he creates himself through his own brand, Wylde Audio, a project still in the start-up phase.
However, rest assured that on his second solo album he turned to his beloved Gibson Chet Atkins SST. His followers will already be on top of the album because Zakk is also a maestro in the literal sense of the term. It would be an injustice to classify him exclusively in the realm of heavy metal. A crown that he shared with Ozzy in the first stage of his career.
Maybe the most ardent admirers of Wylde's brutal riffs will feel cheated, with his reserves of BLS already found on his most recent recordings, but his favourite 'axe' had to change the chip after a few years without a truly good disk, surviving on left-over scraps and remnants and lacking any clear direction. It was time to go back to his roots now that he just turned 50 and, at least theoretically, has been sober for a long time.
Zakk wanted to get back to being himself, alone with his soul and guitar, no extras or effects. They call it southern rock, a sound in really short supply on this disc. It is more a tribute to American music of the '70s, an up-and-down decade, stopped at some gas station on the highway watching a sunset. Music that you hear and also see, smell and feel.
On the car radio, the intense guitar work on the closing track, The King, reminds you it's time get back on the road. The old Zakk still has a lot of roadwork to do...
(Images: © Cordon Press)