November 23, 2021, 2 years ago

By Aaron Small

feature heavy metal black label society


Doom Crew Inc., the 11th album from Black Label Society, will be released November 26th via eOne. Fronted by the incomparable Zakk Wylde – who rose to fame as the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, replacing Jake E. Lee in 1987 – Black Label Society has outdone themselves this time around, creating their best music in over a decade. In fact, Doom Crew Inc. is the finest BLS album since Order Of The Black, which came out in 2010. 

The album cover and title are very familiar to the Black Label fanbase, as the iron cross and accompanying slogan have adorned the band’s merch for many years. According to Zakk, Doom Crew Inc. is “both a tribute to the ‘first to bleed, last to leave’ road crew and a salute to the legion of fans.” Zakk explains the decision to go with recognizable imagery. “It’s been sitting around since the beginning of the band. It’s been on… we’ve done the merch with it forever. I was just sitting there one day, and it was glaringly obvious. We should just use that as the cover; that’s how it came about pretty much. I was thinking of different titles and everything like that – why don’t I just use this?”

Every band loves their fans, but the BLS Berserkers really do rival the KISS Army. You won’t see another show where everybody is wearing merch, and multiple pieces at that – the t-shirt, bandana, and vest. The devotion of Zakk’s fan base is phenomenal. “I always thought the coolest thing, when I was younger, my buddy Scotty that I grew up with in Jackson, New Jersey. When we were like 13 years old, his older brother Dougie, him and his buddies were the ones that turned us onto all the classic rock, whether it was The Allman Brothers, The Eagles, Skynyrd, The Who, The Stones, cause we’d always be hearing it blasting all the time. But Dougie was also a huge Dead head, all his buddies would always come over, and they’d have these mega blow-outs in the backyard. These bar-b-que keg parties, just cranking tunes, swimming in the pool. Then they would go on these (Grateful) Dead road trips. They would go all the way up to Boston, then over to Detroit, and drive back to Jersey – they’d road trip it for like two weeks, going on this Dead thing. But they’d have friends from all over the place, and the thing that brought them all together was the band. Being a kid, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. It’s bigger than a band. It’s this living, breathing thing. With our Black Label family, it’s pretty much that. Somebody from Boston could run into someone in Jersey, they’ve never met before, and the one thing they have in common was like you said, wearing the colors or wearing a Black Label shirt, hat or whatever. They’re sitting in a bar, and they start talking. Next thing you know, he’s the best man at your wedding eight years from now. It’s definitely bigger than me, which is awesome.”

For the first time on a BLS studio album, Zakk Wylde is trading solos and twin-guitar parts with Dario Lorina, and it really makes a difference. “Over the years that Dario’s been in the band (he joined in 2014), I’m just giving him more things to do – ‘Dario, why don’t you double this part of the solo?’ Pre-existing stuff that we do in the set, whether it’s ‘Stillborn’ or anything. Obviously, he’s doing all the solos when I’m playing piano. It’s just evolution really. When I was making the record, pretty much on Catacombs when we did ‘My Dying Time’, there was guitar harmonies leading up to the main solo. On this record, it’s almost an Allman Brothers approach, or Judas Priest type of approach where there’s harmonies, then you have the main solos – Dickey Betts and Duane Allman trade off, or Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, like that. It’s more of that approach. So, when I was writing it, it was like, I’ll solo here, and this part you solo on. That’s how it came about.” It's like Black Label Society brought the live show into the recording studio. “Yeah, pretty much. I agree.”

After more than 20 years of doing it all himself, Zakk did not find it difficult to share guitar duties in the studio. “No. I love Dario and I love showing him off. When we’re playing live, I’m always proud of him. I’m digging it. Whereas when I’m playing with Ozzy, it’s a three piece – a one guitar player band. When I’m with Ozz, I love doing it that way. But with this format, it’s different.”

The production on Doom Crew Inc. is both warm and crisp; not an easy feat to accomplish. “Same thing we do on every Black Label album,” remarks Zakk. “Pretty much using the same amps, same things. Since Order Of The Black, we’ve done every record in The Vatican (Zakk’s home studio). With each album, you try to beat your last bench press – whether it’s Def Leppard or AC/DC. When they did Pyromania, the production on that is insane. There’s really no turning back from that. So, when they’re doing Hysteria, the production, you’re trying to beat what you previously did. After AC/DC did Highway To Hell, that was with Mutt Lange – the production on that thing is great. Everything’s crystal clear, you can hear everything, great performances by the guys. So, when they did Back In Black, the goal was to beat the production. It’s just like anything. Even when I was doing my signature Marshall (amplifier), it was like, ‘Zakk, what kind of amp do you want?’ I go, ‘It’s pretty much perfect the way it is. Just give me more of that.’ That would be the only way to improve it. But I think that’s how it is with any band, whether it’s Zeppelin or whatever. I’m sure Jimmy Page, every time he went in the studio, his goal was to just sonically, make it sound as good as possible.”

“Set You Free” was the first single released from Doom Crew Inc., and the accompanying video is outrageous! Hilarity aside, some detective work was required, as there’s quite a few clues in the video. The guy spiking the punch bowl at the dance thinks he’s adding Love Potion No. 9 to the mix; it’s actually bath salts, and all hell breaks loose. BLS are dressed in wigs and suits, reminiscent of what The Searchers looked like in 1963 when they covered the song “Love Potion No. 9”, previously done by The Clovers. “Ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh my God, that’s epic,” roars Zakk. “Apparently, you researched this while you were chilling out before you went to bed. Ha, ha, ha, bored with nothing to do. That’s classic.” Neither confirming or denying the aforementioned theory in regard to the crazy storyline for this video, Zakk states, “I just wanted to get as close as possible to my high school prom in Jackson, New Jersey in 1985. That’s pretty much what we re-created. That’s pretty much what happened, and we dressed like the band that was playing that night. It’s pretty spot on, even down to ripping the guy’s arms off and beating him profusely with his own arms. Good times were had by all. And I saw the majority of those people at my class reunion, which is basically The Brooklyn Bar and Grill.”

Digging deep into the rest of Doom Crew Inc., we begin with “You Made Me Want To Live”. Lyrically, it can easily be applied to the listener’s own personal situation, but something must have inspired Zakk to write those poignant words. “Well, like you said, you could take it a couple different ways, whether it’s dependency and stuff like that, or someone that’s no longer with you. That’s where I came up with the idea for those lyrics.” There’s one particular line in that song which really sticks out: “Crushed by loss, saddened by the news, the sun no longer shines.” Unfortunately, we’ve all felt that way, and will feel that way again. Such powerful words. “I appreciate it, thanks man.”

Another standout is “End Of Days”, it’s such a gripping song. Lyrically, it seems to deal with religion and those who don’t believe. “Yeah, it could be that as well. For me, whenever I’m writing lyrics, it’s finding what I want to sing about. Like if I was drawing something, I’ve got to find what I want to draw, and I’ll draw it. If you said, ‘Zakk, draw a picture of the Empire State Building with a taxi and a girl standing there with a red balloon,’ or something like that. Once I can see what I want to write about, then I can start describing it. But that’s what ‘End Of Days’ is pretty much about as well.” There’s some potent verses in that song, for example: “You say you know, the truth is just a lie. You say you know, nothing more the day you die.” That paints a rather bleak picture and is contrary to what churchgoers would believe, regardless of faith. “Yeah, well that’s what the lyric’s about – whether you believe or you don’t believe.” 

“Gospel Of Lies” is one of the best tributes to Black Sabbath. “That’s what I usually get. People go, ‘Zakk, where’d you come up with these riffs?’ I purchased them at the Tony Iommi garage sale. I’ll just be like, ‘Excuse me, what’s behind that plate over there?’ Tony’ll go, ‘It’s a riff I wrote back in 1972.’ ‘How much for that riff?’ ‘That’ll be $8, just give me eight bucks.’ It’s wonderful going to the Lord Iommi garage sale, countless inspiration, unlimited.”

“Forever And A Day” really showcases all of BLS in one song. It’s the perfect mix of piano and guitar in a touching ballad. It’s Zakk in a nutshell. “Actually, that came right near the end of the recording. When the guys came back out, that’s when I wrote that one. So, we tracked the music for that one. Like what I do with the rest of them, I’ll just sit out in the truck. I’ll crank it in the truck and just sing with it. Once again, just figure out what I want to sing about, and then I’ll start writing the lyrics.”

The deluxe edition of Doom Crew Inc. contains so many goodies it’s like Christmas morning. You get the picture disc double vinyl, CD, cassette, sticker, pin, coin, flag, coaster and more. “The comforters and pillowcases are next. Totally, got to go full blown Rugrats man,” cackles Zakk. However, the deluxe edition has exactly the same tracklisting as the regular version; there’s no bonus tracks or live cuts. Were there not any leftovers to include? “No, we actually tracked, I think there’s 30 tunes that Jeff (Fabb) actually played drums on. The way I end up doing it now, just to save us even more time, everything that you hear on that record, I recorded the guitar parts before the guys came out. So, the guitars were already done. Then, what’ll happen is Jeffy and JDesus come out. I’ll play ‘em any one of those songs – ‘Set You Free’ or ‘Gospel Of Lies’ with all the Lord Iommi-isms floating around in there. Jeff’ll hear that one, just listen to it and see what he wants to play; he’ll figure it out on the drums. Next thing you know, Jeff goes in there and it’s done in like half an hour from him listening to it and figuring out what he wants to play, then he goes right in the control room and plays to it.” 

“With Ozz, the way we used to do it back in the day, is literally rehearsing the song, like we’re getting ready for a tour. And it makes sense because, you’ve got to remember you’re going into a studio that’s $3,000 a day; you want everybody to know the songs. But at the same time, when Sabbath wrote ‘Paranoid’, that was at the end of the recording. They were all done with the record, and they were like, ‘Guys, we need something that’s going to fill up three minutes, or whatever.’ Next thing you know, you end up writing on the spot. No rehearsals, no nothing. So, something has to be said for that too. There is no right way or wrong way. Whatever way you can get through the mountain, around it, over it, under it – it doesn’t matter, just as long as you get on the other side. Just like there’s no right way to hold a guitar or a pick. Whatever way you’re comfortable doing it, is the way you should do it. The way we do it now, I just track everything. Very rarely, have I ever written a song where I start it, and I only have the intro. Usually, I write it from beginning to end in one sitting. So, I just go in there and track everything, and before you know it, we’re done with it.”

What are the plans for the other 18 songs that were in the running to be included on Doom Crew Inc.? “Well, we could always go back and either do them… that’s pretty much the way it goes all the time. You just get this implosion of inspiration. Then you end up writing all this stuff, you can always go back and listen to stuff, but I mean, usually you get excited cause you’re onto the next thing. That’s what usually happens. But they’re all sitting there in the can, ready to go. All I’d have to do is listen back to them – that one came out pretty good, let’s use that one, or whatever. That’s pretty much how that goes. But, ‘Love Reign Down’, we ended up putting that on Stronger Than Death (the second BLS album, released in 2000) as a heavy version of it. But the whole thing is, I ended up writing that song when we were doing No More Tears. I had that song since then, it’s been sitting around since 1990 or 1991, cause I wrote it about my mother when she passed away. Now it’s finally made it to a record, the way it was originally written. I wrote it on piano.”

“Love Reign Down” is a beautiful ballad, and the last song on Doom Crew Inc., “Farewell Ballad” is an absolutely epic closer, and another song that lyrically deals with loss. “Yeah, like you said, either I can write it about… obviously ‘Love Reign Down’ is about my mom, but the other things could be about people I know around me, or friends – them going through their situations. Or I could write it about somebody else I don’t even know, if you see something and get inspired to write a lyric about it. That’s what they’re pretty much all about, always.”

(Photos – Justin Reich and Jen Rosenstein)

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