Zakk Wylde: Book Of Shadows II (Entertainment One)
In all of Zakk Wylde's long and varied career, other than his first two Ozzy albums, my favourite albums by the Bezerker are Pride And Glory and his debut solo record Book Of Shadows. I find the work with Black Label Society a little too overbearing at times but the early roots of Zakk are country, blues and Southern Rock, when he eases off the pinched harmonics and furious solos he can create some beautiful music. Book Of Shadows II surprisingly is Zakk's second solo album and the sequel to BOS, now with 20 year gap between releases it would be easy to think that this would just be BLS record under Zakk's name but as Autumn Changes starts off with introspective acoustic strumming and, rich clean guitar lines you are keenly aware that this is not the furious, ax-wielding, guitar maniac that leads BLS. Yes there has always been some slower ballad like songs on the Society records (In This River) but since Unblackend Zakk has shown again that when he is turned down or unplugged he can be equally as powerful, hearing him croon with his mighty Southern drawl is a revelation as he doesn't need to ape Ozzy, this is more his own voice and the record is better for it.
First single Sleeping Dogs is a soul bearing, cathartic but up beat number that closes the album beautifully, this and Autumn Changes bookend and album that creates a hazy atmosphere throughout that gives the escapism, letting you slip away into the stripped back arrangements. BOSII is the sound of Zakk harking back to his roots and moving away from the metal sound that has seemed to become a bit stagnant on recent BLS albums, it's also the sound of a more mature more world weary Wylde, as a guitar he is still immensely talented but there isn't the showing off that comes from his day job, everything is a little understated, he also shows his often overlooked piano skills as well. As I've said the tracks are introspective, with a bit of the Allman's sunny harmonies, some Neil Young on The Levee and a lot of Skynyrd at their most mournful. If you are looking for the stomping BLS metal then you won't find it however for me Book Of Souls II could be Zakk's most accomplished offering to date, I've grown tired of BLS live if I'm honest however if he toured this record in conjunction with it's predecessor and the Pride And Glory work that I would go too. A new (old) side of Zakk but the more honest, poignant side of him that has made a great release. 9/10
Tax The Heat: Fed To The Lions (Nuclear Blast)
Sharp suited Bristol four-piece Tax The Heat have been making waves for a good while now, but they have now finally gotten around to releasing their debut full length record. Fed To The Lions merges 60's inspired R&B with garage rock meaning that the band are like an amalgamation of The Kinks and (early) The Who, playing QOTSA songs, with the radio bothering songwriting of Royal Blood or Band Of Skulls. With the fuzzy bass lines laid down by Antonio Angotti and the driving percussion of Jack Taylor it means the songs are immediate and have a sense of urgency to them, this gets feet tapping and heads nodding from the opening two numbers Highway Home which has Josh Homme's imprint all over it and the quirky Animals. From these two songs you see that this record is not jumping on the retro bandwagon, it is merely influenced by the past, it has a distinct modern touch to it, much of this coming from the ultra-modern, almost dance-like production of Evansson, who ramps up the rhythms to almost hypnotic levels.
With this focus on rhythm being central to the record the guitars of JP Jacyshyn and Alex Veale are very riff-centric forming part of the punchy tempo, with some frantic strumming throughout augmented by the occasional use of a slide and the brief bursts of lead guitar breaks and white hot soloing, the record very rarely dips in pace and means that the 12 songs fly by in a flurry of blues rocking riffs and gutsy song writing. The tracks on this record don't always sit too easily in the genre boundaries, Learn To Drown (You're Wrong) is a spiky punk rocker, the title track has the stop-start stomp of Royal Blood with Veale playing with a reverb on his vocals, while Some Sympathy has the southern rock swagger of The Black Crowes, this means that the record constantly surprises and makes it a great party album as the spirit of the swinging sixties is evident under the modern flourishes, I can't wait to see how they translate to, what I've heard is a incendiary live show at Steelhouse. Fed To The Lions is a cracking debut record from the Bristol mob and one that should really get people talking. 8/10
Gypsy Chief Goliath: Citizens Of Nowhere (Pitch Black Records)
Canadian's Gypsy Chief Goliath play the kind of deep-fried, stoner, blues Down, COC, Crowbar have made a name playing, filled with sludgy riffs that are interwoven with dual guitar Lizzy-like harmonies, snarling vocals, a bottom end stronger than a bong hit and songs that have a metallic but classic groove. Citizens Of Nowhere is the band's third album (their second on Greek label Pitch Black) and it continues with their stoner metal style, the band have a rhythm thicker than a rump steak and it shows as the riffs are heavyweight, packed with distortion but also searing melodic leads. The albums starts off with it's weakest track unfortunately but from Holding Grace it gets better as it progresses, this track is slower and heavier than the first track but also has the bands signature harmonica blazing through it, as it creeps the title track stirs the thunder again with slabs of guitars moving at pace. The band have good songs but they are let down by the production a little, I realise that this was recorded on analogue equipment reel-to-reel but much of the nuances cannot be heard, the bass is almost inaudible sounding like a phut behind the drums, still if you like your metal hazy, and dense as a weed-fug and a cover of Killing Yourself To Live then Citizens Of Nowhere will be right of your street. 7/10