CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED: Black Label Society – “Stronger Than Death” Turns 20

Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society came out of the gate strong on Sonic Brew (Spitfire Records), even though it was a little under the radar for the high-profile Ozzy Osbourne band leader. While Sonic Brew, officially released in 1999 in the US, set the template for the BLS style, coming in about a year later refined what Zakk was aiming for. With better production, a bit heavier right hand, and a little more focus, the songs on Stronger Than Death (Spitfire) shine through.

Relying on the heavy metal of the debut, but upping the ante on Sabbathian doom inspired Heavy Metal and modern American metal grooves, Zakk laced the album with a lot swing and swagger. All a showcase for not just his world-famous shredding, but Zakk plays all the instruments here but drums. Phil Ondich (ex-Raging Slab) provided solid drums, but typically nothing spectacular.

A lot of the flair you find on later, superior BLS albums like 1919 Eternal and Blessed Hellride is here in songs like the title track, ‘All For You’, 13 Years of Grief, ‘Super Terrorizer’, ‘Aint Life Grand’, and more. The “Hits” on this album, the title track, and ‘Counterfeit God’ were all major jams with scintillating lead work. Some of the songs got a little metal radio play. Zakk pal and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza signing backup on ‘Stronger Than Death’, which led to another Zakk pal and major Mets fan, Eddie Trunk to play the song a lot on his syndicated radio shows.

Two really underrated songs ‘Rust’ and ‘Just Killin’ Time’ continues the Book of Shadows-style Wylde favors. Bonus track ‘Love Reign Down’ is pure slow doom metal glory. Zakk would revisit a lot of this material on the road the next few years of touring and made up a good bit of Alcohol Fueled Brewtality (Spitfire) live album in 2001. Although he hasn’t played much of this material live in a few years, the album remains a fan favorite as one of the better early albums of Zakk’s solo career. The album definitely informs his later work and so its a must for die-hard fans of BLS and Zakk’s guitar work. It’s worth a relisten as you raise a beer or a coffee today in its honor!