In heavy metal, the talent and skill of the guitarist can make or break the success of the band. Their ability to craft riffs that will carry the song, as well as construct guitar solos that are not only audibly pleasing but also require a high level of skill to perform, can play heavily into the perception of the band.
At the end of a black sea of biker vest and skull emblems stands Zakk Wylde, guitarist for the “Prince of Darkness” himself Ozzy Osborne, clad in vest and kilt, fronting his own heavy metal band The Black Label Society.
After parting ways (for the first of many times) with his longtime friend and mentor Ozzy in 1995, Wylde formed the band, releasing the first album Sonic Brew in 1998. Initially, Wylde played all of the instruments on the recording himself, with the exception of drums, which were recorded by Phil Ondich.
After ten studio albums and 20 years, the Los Angeles-based biker band still showcases what the fundamentals of metal music have to offer. With less focus on speed and brutality, the band’s sound uses groovy rock licks and classic rock style solos to keep the audience in a more leisurely head-banging mood. Last night they brought that sound to the House of Blues in Houston.
Consisting of John “JD” DeServio (bass), Dario Lorina (guitar), and Jeff Fabb (drums), the heavy metal act opens with “Genocide Junkies” off of their 2002 album 1919 Eternal. With his signature stance and swaying headbang, Wylde shifted from commanding his skull-covered microphone stand, to soloing on a platform. Wylde is noted as one of the most skilled guitarists in the world and as he broke into the first of many guitar solos of the night, he was met with an outpouring of cheers.
In a two-hour set with 18 songs, Wylde changed out his guitars almost ten times. From classic round body styles, to “flying V” heavy metal shapes, Wylde displayed his collection along with his skill, even bringing out the legendary double necked guitar for “The Blessed Hellride.” Double neck guitars have been used to create and perform some of the most famed songs in rock such as “Hotel California” and “Stairway to Heaven.”
Continuing through the set, Black Label Society revisited older tunes such as "The Beginning... At Last" and "Rose Petalled Garden" off Sonic Brew. The band toured last year in support of the remastered release and 20th anniversary of their 1999 debut album, but missed Houston during the trek.
Wylde decided to slow the pace about halfway through the long set by putting down the guitar and shifting to the piano for a few ballads.
Moving through the first of the songs guitarist Lorina took charge of his lead guitar to wail through the solo of "Peddlers of Death," earning the acclamation of the audience.
"This next tune we’re about to play is where the Black Label Society family started. This was the first song written by the band," Wylde said as they moved into "Spoke In The Wheel."
Following the piano performances, each of the two walls of amplifiers that towered behind the band, were draped with a picture of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot and brother Vinnie Paul, former members of the Arlington, Texas-based band Pantera. Darrell Abbott was shot and killed in 2004 while performing in Damageplan, a heavy metal supergroup from Dallas that was formed by the Abbott brothers after the disbanding of Pantera in 2003. Vinnie Paul passed away due to health complications in June of 2018. Wylde was close friends with both of the Abbott brothers and wrote the ballad "In This River" in dedication to "Dimebag" after his passing.
Hopping back to his "axe" Wylde and BLS continued through a compilation of hits such as "Suicide Messiah" and "Bored to Tears." performing solos with the guitar raised over his head, sometimes even behind it.
Nearing the end of the set, during the popular tune "Fire It Up", the band released a slew of black beachballs that had the crowd ecstatic. Wylde then exited the stage and reappeared, deep inside the crowd, to continue his epic, more than five minute long guitar solo. While the crowd packed tightly around Wylde, he continued to shred and pull out all the stops. There was no clear view of Wylde unless he was right in front of you dur but you could see still the headstock of his guitar appear above the crowd's head for a moment as he hoisted it on his back to continue the solo. About halfway through the spectacle, Lorina left the stage to join Wylde in the audience for a guitar duel.
"Houston Chapter! Thank you so much for being here tonight. Here's one more for the road!" proclaimed Wylde before finishing out the night with the band's most recognized song "Stillborn". After the song Wylde hoisted his guitar over his head to show it to the crowd as they cheered. He then repeated the motion with his biker vest, displaying the Black Label Society logo on the back to the crowd. Finally, he ended it with his closed fist pointed toward the sky, bringing it to his body, beating the fist over his heart to the beat of the drums behind him.