Zakk Wylde is brilliant. Brilliant guitar player? Sure, but that’s not what I’m talking about. That part goes without saying. Any man who can convincingly take over for Randy Rhodes as Ozzy Osbourne’s main axeman is beyond good. In addition to that, though, the man is a marketing genius. More than any metal musician today, he has turned identity into a brand. He has taken the male urge to collect, to belong, and to be badass, and turned it into a musical cult, complete with matching outfits and a biker style patch on the back of the vests. Add Wylde amplifiers, Wylde Guitars, his mug of Valhalla coffee, pre show VIP meet and greets, and you have a clever business model.
Elements Nightclub and Event Hall in Kitchener hosted Zakk and his band Black Label Society with openers Alien Weaponry and Black Dahlia Murder on September 30, 2019 to a packed house. It was a great show with a few wonderful surprises.
There is nothing subtle about the opening of a Black Label show. You hear a mashup of whole lotta love by Led Zeppelin and war pigs with a giant Black label banner covering the stage. At the moment you hear Ozzy sing “Oh Lord Yeah!” the curtain falls, and pandemonium ensues with BLS tearing full force into Genocide Junkies. Zakk spends the first three songs shaking his head, cannonballing through them. He is as good as advertised and amazing to watch. One of the more poignant moments was when he traded in his guitar for a piano to sing In This River, where midway through the song, backdrops of Pantera’s Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell unfurled in front of the wall of speaker cabinets.
Black Label Society is larger than life and over the top. Despite it sounding like a criticism, it is anything but. Music is supposed to be larger and louder than life. Zakk’s interviews and marketing are over the top. When looked at in light of day, Wylde’s matching vest, doom trooper, heavy metal Viking schtick can seem like overreaching, albeit in an entertaining way. When the concert hall ceiling lights dim and the volume gets cranked, and the smoke machines start, he is a battle vest wearing, fire breathing giant from the moment the curtain drops until the last minute of his encore. He is a performer in the best traditions of heavy metal. Whether it’s a 1,000-person club or a festival stage, a Black Label show is an absolute spectacle.
Zakk Wylde is the hero rock and roll needs.
The biggest news of the night was Alien Weaponry, who was the first opener of the night. The New Zealander trio share Maori ancestry, and sing in Te Reo as a way of making and keeping the native language of the island relevant. The Maori are a warrior culture that are historically renowned for their prowess in battle and are best known for the Haka, a war dance historically used to challenge and frighten those who were unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of a Maori attack. Their most recognizable track is called Kai Tangata, which approximately translates into Maori for flesh eaters, and is mind-blowingly good by any standard. The fact that the members of Alien Weaponry are between 18 and 20 makes it astounding. On stage, this trio has no fear.
Musically, they were tight and the music was great straight ahead metal. The singers voice alternated between a guttural war chant harsh vocal to a Daniel Johns-esque clean vocal in the chorus. Their musicianship aside, the stage presence of this band is well beyond their years. Any band with the level of fan fanaticism that Black Label has is a very difficult show to be an opener for. You serve as a time-wasting obstacle between them and who they came to see. Any crack in the armor, and a crowd like that will boo you off the stage in a heartbeat. To have a young band opening a Black Label show and get the positive response this band did is a huge achievement. They were in charge of the performance and the show from the first moment to the last, and left the show with more fans than they had the day before. I can’t overstate the level of potential I see here. I’m convinced I’ve seen the next big act in heavy metal.
Michigan band Black Dahlia Murder was next to take the stage. They are a melodic death metal band. Although they didn’t have the same surprise value as Alien weaponry or as polished a performance as Black Label Society, they are consistent, solid and fit very well into the lineup. The band did a great job, with Vocalist Trevor Strnad’s great harsh/growled vocals being a highlight of the performance.
All photos by David Booth