Occasionally, a band will establish itself as more than just a musical group, transforming into a movement or collective even if the underground questions their musical contributions. Kiss, Judas Priest and GWAR have garnered cult-like status, helping propel metal into the living rooms of North America. One of the most prevalent examples of this is the notorious Black Label Society, a Los Angeles-formed heavy metal band for the masses.
“That’s the thing with our Black Label family, they know what they are going to get out of us,” says founding member and lead guitar player Zakk Wylde. Wylde formed the band several years after his own project, Pride & Glory, disbanded. After releasing an entirely acoustic album, dubbed Book of Shadows (1996), Wylde and his friend and drummer Phil Ondich tackled a new sound. The result was Sonic Brew (1999), which marked the inception of Black Label Society. Nine albums and at least nine discarded members later, they’re still going strong.
Black Label Society has always been known for its traditional heavy metal sound combined with elements of the golden age of classic rock. The sounds of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, mixed with the twang drenched chords of southern rock by way of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, makes BLS easily digestible and ever popular. Combined with a tough-as-nails, heavy-drinking attitude draped in leather jackets, bandanas and beards, Black Label Society has always been synonymous with the biker crowds. Despite their hard rocking attitude, the band has elevated metal’s mainstream accessibility as Wylde has appeared on such programs as American Idol. His history is also peppered with side projects and one-offs.
Perhaps one of the touchier subjects broached during our brief discussion was that of Wylde’s newfound sobriety. After being hospitalized in 2009 for complications due to blood clots, Wylde has recently been warned by medical professionals that the heavy drinking ways of Black Label Society would directly lead to the end of Wylde and the band.
“When the doctor tells you, ‘Seriously man, you gotta chill out’ — you know what I mean? — you really don’t need Alcoholics Anonymous for that. I mean, Christ, we drank like Navy Seals and we answered the bell like Navy Seals. When you drive it into the ground, you kinda realize and think to yourself, ‘This isn’t panning out anymore,’” Wylde laughs.
Wylde appears to be taking it all in stride however, speaking quite openly and rather light-heartedly about his alcoholism in the past and what his sobriety means for the future of the band. “At this point, it comes down to whatever it takes to win, do it,” he insists. “At the end of the day, I don’t care what Dr. Drew says or anybody says. At the end of the day, you gotta roll up your sleeves, hike up your fucking skirt, have a set of fucking balls, man the fuck up and do it.”
Sobriety aside, BLS is sailing smoothly. Touring incessantly and planning the release of an acoustic DVD, titled Unblackened, there appears to be no shortage of the Society in sight. As for what we can expect from the group in the future… well, let’s say Wylde has a sense of of earnestness and/or humour when talking about his plans.
“Coming up with a cure for cancer, splitting the atom for the third time, achieving world peace and wiping out terrorism… and that’s before lunch.”
Black Label Society will be doing their thing in Calgary October 30 at MacEwan Hall with Protest the Hero.
By Tanner Wolff
Photo: Clay Patrick McBride