Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quick Review: Ozzy vs. BLS

Ozzy Osbourne is one of the biggest and oldest names in metal. I consider Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath to be the first metal album ever created, and the Ozzman provided the pipes. That means Ozzy has been in metal since the beginning. Forget the stupid MTV show. To me, Ozzy means classic metal. Of course, he is still making music today. From 1988's No Rest for the Wicked through 2007's Black Rain, Ozzy's guitarist was the incredibly talented Zakk Wylde. The Wylde man is also making music, and like his former boss, is newly sober.

Black Label Society - Order of the Black
Ozzy Osbourne - Scream
So what kind of music do these metal heroes make without copious amounts of booze to fuel their creative fires? The same kind of music they made when they were drinking, unsurprisingly. It turns out, however, that one of them is significantly better at it than the other. Can you guess who?

Ozzy's Scream opens with "Let It Die," and it's too long. Seriously. Don't open an album with a 6 minute song, unless it's absolutely riveting or you're Opeth. Still, the song gives a good indication of what's to come: decent riffs, very much in Zakk's style, although new axeman Gus G does have significantly different soloing style; good bass sound and drum tone, but nothing interesting happening on either one; too many effects; Ozzy singing through about ten vocal filters. Now, I realize that the man is getting old, but does he really need to sound like T-Pain when he sings? Some of you might not think it's that bad, but he uses phasers and flangers on every verse, and even on the choruses he has some sort of doubling effect, and it never lets up throughout the album. It makes me incredibly nostalgic for the good old Black Sabbath days. Just three guys in a room with some mikes. Try that again, Ozzy, please?

Zakk and the Doom Crew start their album on a significantly better note. "Crazy Horse" is pure BLS, from the fat phasers to the pinch harmonics to Zakk's melodic yet slightly aggressive lyrics. So if you've listened to Black Label Society and get the gist of them, and don't need any more, you probably won't be impressed. But I think Order of the Black is a significant step up from 06's Shot to Hell. Why? The same factor that makes Ozzy's album (and Shot to Hell) a disappointment - it's not over-produced. Don't get me wrong, there's certainly been a lot of studio magic worked on the material, and Fenriz from Darkthrone would hate it. But listen to "Blacked Out World" from Shot to Hell, then listen to "Southern Dissolution" from Order of the Black, and you'll see what I mean.

Ozzy's second track, "Let Me Hear You Scream," the first single and song the album is named for, comes at you with all the metal ferocity of a Miley Cyrus hit. It's shamefully poppy. Let's skip it. "Soul Sucker" may have a stupid name, but at least it has an awesome talkbox riff, and it's actually catchy. I actually think that Ozzy's lyrics have gotten better with age, even if his compositional (or producer choosing) skills haven't. A note on Gus G's solos - they are killer. Probably in the same league as Zakk's. So there's that.

Let's talk ballads. Wylde is stupid for Elton John, so he usually has two or three piano ballads on his albums. This one has four - three of them are good. Ozzy has a couple ballads too, and I actually think his are better than Zakk's. Interestingly, being sober now, both men are preoccupied with mortality and the inevitable passage of time. As these are both excellent topics for metal songs, I won't fault either of them. Check out Ozzy's "Life Won't Wait," "Diggin' Me Down" (the album's best track, where Ozzy directly asks Jesus how long until He comes and fixes this world), "Time," and "I Love You All," and Black Label Society's "Darkest Days," "Time Waits for No One," and "Shallow Grave."

Overall, I'd say Zakk wins this face-off, with catchier tracks, a more raw production, and more honest musicality. Either one is a fun album, but I don't think either has serious staying power. I'd give Order of the Black a 7 out of 10, and Scream a 5. Maybe it's time for Ozzy to retire.

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