Wednesday, 24 November 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Black Label Society, "Doom Crew Inc."

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 26/11/2021
Label: eOne


“Doom Crew Inc.” CD//CS//DD//LP track listing:
1. Set You Free
2. Destroy & Conquer
3. You Made Me Want to Live
4. Forever and a Day
5. End of Days
6. Ruins
7. Forsaken
8. Love Reign Down
9. Gospel of Lies
10. Shelter Me
11. Gather all my Sins
12. Farewell Ballad
The Review:
BLS return after the unexpected career high point of “Grimmest Hits” a few years back. Zakk has kept personnel familiar and when pressing play on this latest offering, the question is: “will this rock or will it be a more laid back affair?!”
BLS have had a habit of making some fairly mediocre records in the past. Frustratingly, they can go from killer on one release to filler on the next (“Sonic Brew” to “Stronger Than  Death”, “1919 Eternal” to “Hangover Music Vol. 4”... the mid-period slump of “Mafia” and “Shot to Hell”...). It seemed that Zakk and sidemen were poised for really big things in the mid 2000s but it never quite happened. The quality just wasn't there and the image became cartoonishly macho.
With this in mind, I would say that the last decade has seen some excellent BLS albums. “Order Of The Black” would be one of my favourites- it rips from start to finish and slugs it out impressively with “Sonic Brew” as the definitive BLS album. “Catacombs of the Black Vatican” had its moments; it was a restrained and dark listen which only improved over time and really wormed its way into my affections. “Grimmest Hits” was superb- from start to finish it blended the best aspects of BLS; riffs, hooks, Sabbath feel, ballads and song writing.
“Doom Crew Inc” is apparently a kind of paen or tribute to the band's road crew, but anyone expecting a wholly raucous affair on that basis would be off the mark. Instead we get... a very good and solid album with no shortage of riffs and solos. As eOne have only furnished the mighty SLUDGELORD with a stream, it's been hard to listen to this repeatedly. However, over the course of several listens, the quality has shown through.
On that basis, this is closer to “Catacombs...” than it is to “Order...” so is thus perhaps a cousin to “Grimmest Hits”. The sound is thick and convincing, recorded at Zakk's Black Vatican studio you would expect nothing less. Opener and advance track “Set You Free” is fairly indicative of the record- not adrenaline inducing, but instead weighty and insistent. “Destroy & Conquer” is a quality follow up- nice feel and rhythms. From there, “You Made Me Want To Live” is the band in sombre but rocking mode.
Of course, this being BLS there are ballads. “Forever and a Day” is the first of these and is of course a completely competent hard rock ballad with a good vocal performance and a rather lush production.  How good is it? Well, it's a ballad- I don't think it is up there with “Blind Man” or “January Day”, but it is... fine. You know that with twelve tracks there will be more of this kind of thing, but... I sometimes wish there would be a bit less. Just cut to ten tracks of solid steel, you know?
That said, BLS has always made pretty varied records and it would also be true to say that each record has its own discernible identity- for better or worse. “Doom Crew Inc.” certainly has its own niche and it is to be praised for that.
“End of Days” is another laid back rocker- echoing much of the “Catacombs...” material. It's finely crafted but is still pretty restrained- a little too much so for my liking. At the halfway mark, it would appear what kind of album that “Doom Crew Inc.” is going to be- restrained, but well put together. “Ruins” has that Sabbath groove and is well put together with a fair bit going on. It should be noted that the overall production has more to it than the previous couple of releases by the band- vocal layering, lots of twin guitar work and a fair few changeS in each track.
The riff in “Forsaken” is a cracker and it uses dynamics convincingly; switching from heavy as lead to breezy and back again with ease. It's the latter half of the record which has the longest run times- BLS are no strangers to tracks of 5-6mins plus as “Sonic Brew” proved- but there is no sense of wasted time here. The solos are great throughout and each track, again, has its own identity. There are two more ballads to go through, of which “Farewell Ballad” is the better of the two. “Love Reign Down” is simply too overwrought for my tastes. Zakk at the piano and emoting is not my thing, so we move on.
Fortunately, we move on to “Gospel of Lies” and its beastly Sabbath-esque doom opening. It's great and a wonderful antidote to what went before. It picks up the pace, of course, but doesn't break any speed limits. It's a slow burning head nodder with, yes, a superb riff at the mid point. Those bouncy kind of shuffle guitar riffs are something that Zakk excels at (“World of Trouble” springs to mind) and it elevates the track by bringing in a  great idea and fully realising it.
The album enters the home straight with “Shelter Me” which again brings dynamics, mid paced tempos and some sizeable riffage. It does what other tracks on the record have done, but with not quite the same impact on the first few listens. Jeff Fab's drums sound excellent when brought forward in the mix and that is another plus point.
Of the remaining two tracks, “Gather All My Sins” is my pick- in fact it's one of the picks of the whole album: it rocks hard, is a straight up headbanger and pulls no punches. We are into old school BLS territory here. It's killer. The trading solos section is also an absolute winner. The aforementioned “Farwell Ballad” closes things out. It's the best ballad on the record and once again has a kitchen sink production but is nicely put together with a good intro solo section and benefits from being guitar led with some good vocals once again.
Overall, this is undeniably a strong BLS record and it is also one that will undoubtedly reveal hidden depths. I think this requires multiple listens to really get into and understand. I also think it is a bit of a mood piece. It's dark and a little restrained like “Catacombs...” but it has more immediate hooks and a better production than that one- which has only grown on me over time.
So, this is most likely a good-great BLS album; not quite top tier, but not too far off as things stand. That Zakk and co. are still around and putting out quality records is to be celebrated in itself. That the records are this good is an even bigger bonus. It's one to look forward to, get into and enjoy. I'd say it would fit in the top half of the catalogue, or thereabouts.
BLS have enough of a history and catalogue to warrant a favourite to least favourite list, Here's mine:
1.     Sonic Brew
2.     Grimmest Hits
3.     Order of the Black
4.     1919 Eternal
5.     Catacombs of the Black Vatican
6.     Doom Crew Inc.*
7.     The Blessed Hellride
8.     Stronger Than Death
9.     Mafia
10.   Hangover Music Vol IV
11.   Shot to Hell
*Subject to change. This might go up a place or so. It is, without doubt, better than the albums below it on the list.

“Doom Crew Inc.” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook