Black Label Society Live At The Wellmont Theater…Or Why Zakk Wylde Is An Icon, November 10th, 2021

I’ll make no bones about it: I idolize the shit out of Zakk Wylde. I’ve done so probably since I first got my hands on Ozzy’s 1995 album Ozzmosis. His guitar was LOUD. His speed picking style added muscularity to his playing. His vibrato was wide and unusually vocal. Those fucking pinch harmonics. Then there’s his songwriting. Zakk will never deny that he’s a disciple of Black Sabbath, and he’ll let it shine, but with his own, explosive twist.

Upon learning that Black Label Society were arriving in my neck of the woods I knew I’d be there. I hadn’t seen Zakk since I went to see Zakk Sabbath, his Black Sabbath tribute band at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. But this time he’d be not even twenty minutes away from me, AND he’s promoting Doom Crew, Inc., Black Label’s first album in over three years.

Considering he’s been calling his band and his LOYAL followers the Doom Crew, Inc. for YEARS, I’m very surprised he never gave that title to an earlier album. Either way, here’s my take on last night’s show, with featured openers Prong and Death Metal legends Obituary.

Prong

Before I continue I want to make clear that I didn’t take countless photos of every band. I took a necessary few and then I’d enjoy the show like a normal person pre-smart phones.

Having said that, I’d suspected Prong would be the first band. Therefore, I absolutely took my time getting to the show, making sure to eat while on the way. Upon my arrival to the Wellmont Theater, Prong were most likely halfway through with their set. That made me happy because ladies, Prong sucks. That “New York style” of playing nonchalant, almost Hardcore sounding music never appealed to me. I honestly found it annoying and self-righteous, and still do. The single most annoying thing about the band last night?

Any time Tommy Victor opened his mouth.

The irony of my being a native of New York City who hates that fucking accent. Any time he talked, any time he sang, the irritation grew stronger. And I could tell that a good chunk of last night’s audience had to have come from any of the five boroughs (mostly Staten Island and Brooklyn if I were to guess). I really got annoyed when he was introducing “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, Prong’s signature song.

“Come on ev’rybody! SNAP YA FINGIZZZ!”, he yelled out while attempting to open up a pit in the general admission section. I had a really good view from my balcony seat and I really wish I was able to shoot him in the face. His accent was that fucking obnoxious!

Obituary

I have to admit, while I am clearly familiar with Obituary, I never really delved too much into their catalog. I do remember my college radio station receiving their 2005 comeback album, Frozen In Time, in which they managed to get Randy Burns out of retirement to produce it. I guess it matches the album title, huh? I did hear upon buying tickets to this show that the band were really kicking ass every night. Now I was actually looking forward to seeing this for myself and, thankfully, I was not disappointed.

I’d made two videos because I’d accidentally stop filming during their instrumental opener in which vocalist John Tardy has yet to come out. I then noticed that the bassist looked awful familiar to me. As I’d previously mentioned, I don’t follow them. Therefore, I’d zero clue that Terry Butler had apparently been the band’s bassist since 2010. For those of you who don’t know, Terry also played bass for Massacre and, subsequently, Death’s second and third albums, 1989’s Leprosy and 1990’s Spiritual Healing. He’d later backstab Chuck Schuldiner when he and the rest of Death toured Europe without Chuck’s permission or knowledge.

Obituary were filled with endless energy. John Tardy’s screech vocals were just as badass as they ever were. Their version of Death Metal is decidedly more on the Thrash side, not as technical as Death were. I wonder if that’s why I didn’t care too much for them. I never hated them.

They did surprise the shit out of me when the pulled out an absolutely badass cover of Celtic Frost’s classic “Circle Of Tyrants”. Overall I was very impressed.

Black Label Society

As Obituary were finishing, BLS’s crew raised a big curtain adorning the band’s logo…as in before Obituary even walked off stage. That was weird. Either way you knew that once the band got on stage the curtain would drop, blah blah, blah.

After a decent wait time, the lights finally dimmed, followed by an audio mashup of Ozzy’s “War Pigs” vocals over the music to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. At the end the band hit a quick staccato ending that’d segue into the beginning pulses of “Bleed For Me”. It was once the song kicked into full gear that the big curtain finally dropped to show Zakk and his co-guitarist, Dario Lorina performing Zakk’s signature sideways headbang in unison.

The Setlist

  • Bleed For Me (1919 Eternal)
  • Demise Of Sanity (1919 Eternal)
  • Overlord (Order Of The Black)
  • Heart Of Darkness (Catacombs Of The Black Vatican)
  • A Love Unreal (Grimmest Hits)
  • The Blessed Hellride (The Blessed Hellride)
  • Spoke In The Wheel (Sonic Brew) *
  • In This River (Mafia) *
  • Trampled Down Below (Grimmest Hits)
  • Destruction Overdrive (The Blessed Hellride)
  • Set You Free (Doom Crew, Inc.)
  • Fire It Up (Mafia)
  • Suicide Messiah (Mafia)
  • Stillborn (The Blessed Hellride)

* For these tracks Zakk sat behind his electric piano while Dario handled the leads.

This was my seventh time seeing Black Label since Ozzfest 2004 and my eighth time seeing Zakk overall. And he never appears to lose energy, ESPECIALLY now that he’s been sober for twelve years. I first noticed his playing style change a lot upon seeing him in 2011, my first time seeing him in his sober state. He was also very willing to give Dario multiple chances throughout the night to show off his own abilities, something I noticed the first time I saw Dario with the band at the Rock Carnival in 2015. On the track “Set You Free” off the new record, Zakk actually TRADES SOLOS WITH DARIO. Zakk NEVER let Nick Catanese do that. In fact, Nick is NOWHERE to be found on any Black Label albums from their debut through the time he left in 2014.

He’s now a registered sex offender.

The biggest surprise to me came during “Fire It Up”. Before they ended the song, Zakk, in place of his usual solo spot (where he makes every guitarist in the audience want to quit), he traded solos with Dario for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. I’m not just talking lick after lick. The two even HARMONIZED together, while Zakk stood on top of his piano. They’d even harmonize during their signature live intro to “Stillborn”, the band’s show closer for the longest time.

At the end of the show, he stood up on the gig box in the middle of the stage, took off his Black Label vest, and held it up nice and high before walking off…because Zakk never plays encores.

Ever.

I genuinely don’t know of many musicians who can say with legitimacy or integrity that they’re able to get even better as live performers with age. Regardless of how long it had been since I last saw Zakk in any capacity, he’s ALWAYS stepping up his game. Black Label Society were absolutely flawless last night. Zakk himself was absolutely FLAWLESS and he, once again, demonstrated why he’s not only an excellent, yet criminally underrated, showman, but a fucking guitar GOD who will NEVER be matched.

He’s an entity unto himself. I’ve heard idiots bitch about his playing style or smirk and say that there are guitarists that are far better than him, that “he’s not that good”. I can’t help but laugh every time because being a great guitarist will always be more than just having technical skill. Being an expert in playing gay ass sweep arpeggios won’t ever make you a standout player in any genre, let alone Heavy Metal. It’s about finding the style that suits you and practicing that style so much that it becomes second nature.

Flawlessness.

It’s about finding a style that helps you to STAND THE FUCK OUT. That’s what Zakk did. When Ozzy bitched during the 1987 auditions that found Zakk replacing Jake E. Lee that “If I want Yngwie Malmsteen, I’ll just call him!”, Zakk got the hint real quick and found the one thing no one else was doing. Those other guys may be technically DAZLING. But do they stand out? Are they known to more than just the underground? Is their playing as memorable as it is heavy or technically brilliant?

Probably not.

That’s why Zakk Wylde literally is an icon.

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