It's an odd contradiction. For the most part, the songs on Black Label Society's latest offering are formulaic no-frills southern-styled blues rock - serviceable, classy, but hardly pushing the envelope.
Zakk Wylde's solos, though, are another thing entirely - arching explosions of sheer musical exuberance, bizarre cathedrals of sound that Gaudi might be proud of. He's not afraid to take risks, to screech off into the wilder reaches of amplified atonality - and maybe it's the safe launch pad his songwriting provides which gives him the confidence to take off on such ferocious flights of fancy.
Wylde provides voice and piano as well as guitars, but he's helped out by some of the usual suspects - ex-Crowbar drummer Craig Nunenmacher and several guest bassists including Alice In Chains' Mike Inez.
Almost all the songs are his own, and stylistic seasonings vary from acoustic jazz to country-tinged ballad, with a brief foray into cod-flamenco fun in the brief Takillya (Estyabon). His voice is impressive in its own way; lodged somewhere between Joe Cocker and Ronnie Van Zant, it's most authoritative on the piano-bar cover of Procul Harum's old chestnut A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Wylde is a fairly pedestrian pianist but here his voice wrings every shred of emotion out of this juiced-out '60s anthem.
Other high points are Layne, Wylde's bluesy elegy to Alice In Chains drugs casualty Layne Staley, which lifts into a genuine sense of agony and loss in its scorching chorus; the jazz-inflected No Other and the album's closer, the 6/8 lullaby swirl of Fear. Here, fearsome Ozzy acolyte Zakk Wylde actually sounds tender and compassionate, a man singing his demons to sleep as his troubled guitar stutters and twitches towards a resolution he can't quite find.
Those who come to this album expecting the no-holds-barred metal assault of The Blessed Hellride will be disappointed. As Wylde said in a recent interview, that was music for hellraising. When you're nursing your headache the following morning, though, this clutch of songs will feed your tattered soul and restore your sanity.
:: Clare O'Brien