A phrase repeats several times in the FAQ section of the Black Label Society website. The phrase is simple, direct, and perhaps a little on the scolding side, albeit in a loving way: “Black Label Society is just a band.” Meaning, Zakk Wylde and company, regardless of the burning desires of their loyal fans, do not constitute a movement, a lifestyle, or a sea change. They’re not your family or your therapist. They make music. End of story
But is that the end of the story or just the beginning?
Wylde, born Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt, formed Black Label Society in 1998 after his time as Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist had come to an end. BLS wasn’t Wylde’s first stab at starting his own band. He tried first with Pride and Glory, but that group broke up after putting out only one album. He hoped BLS would be more long-lasting.
He was not disappointed. So far, BLS have released 10 studio albums, two live albums, one EP, and two compilations. And they’re not finished. Their latest full-length studio effort, Grimmest Hits, dropped just this year and is getting a lot of love from head bangers all over the globe.
According to Joe Divita of Loudwire, Grimmest Hits is a worthy addition to Wylde’s already impressive oeuvre: “Black Label Society takes cues from their idols, unabashedly riding mammoth Iommian, metal/blues riffs across 12 dense songs that make up one of the strongest albums in the collective’s 20-year discography.” Divita goes on to write, “If you’re after riffs you can milk for days, then Grimmest Hits is a Wisconsin purebred prize dairy cow.”
Black Label Society began as a duo. Wylde and drummer Phil Ondich recorded the band’s debut, Sonic Brew. Wylde liked the mixture so much he decided to recruit guitarist Nick Cantanese (who’d played alongside Wylde in his first forays as a solo artist) and bassist John DeServio to join him and Ondich on the road. In 2000, the band put out fan favorite Stronger than Death. Some lineup changes followed, as did a live album, Alcohol Feuled Brewtality Live + 5, and 1919 Eternal, dedicated to Wylde’s father, a World War II veteran who saw action at Omaha Beach and Normandy.
“My father meant more than the world to me,” Wylde said in a statement at the time, “and his passing will no doubt influence my direction in life and career as this new year continues to unfold.”
The immediate direction BLS took was to perform at 2001’s Ozzfest. Later, the band released Blessed Hellride and Hangover Music Vol. VI.
Wylde might be described as a renaissance man. On the band’s first four albums, he played guitar, bass, and piano and recorded the vocals. By Hangover Music, he was willing to give up a little creative control. Wylde, however, remains the face and voice of BLS and, with the exception of DeServio, its only stable member.
That said, the tightness of the Black Label Society community is something to behold. In an interview with WikiMetal, Wylde described the BLS phenomenon as “Grateful Dead on steroids.”
“It’s one gigantic family,” he said. “We really support each other, and everybody just likes each other on the spot… . You could be rolling with some guy you run into, next thing you know, years later he’s the best man at your wedding. You know what I mean? Because he’s your buddy. So, yeah, it’s definitely bigger than a band, you know what I mean?”
But what about that phrase one sees so often on the BLS website? That it is, indeed, just a band? Wylde elaborated: “It’s a mentality, it’s like ‘SDMF:’ Strength, Determination, Merciless Forever. Life’s tough; eat nails and listen to Black Label.”
“SDMF” is the band’s motto, and it has another meaning not suitable for a family paper. What Wylde is getting at in describing Black Label Society as a mentality is the instant bond fans make with each other when they meet, and they often meet on the road – in a concert hall, yes, but also on the back of bikes.
The reason Wylde feels the need to remind fans that BLS is just a band is due, in large part, to trouble diehards have encountered when wearing BLS patches on their motorcycle vests and jackets, especially in Europe. Controversy, and even the threat of violence, greets riders and fans who dare to wear BLS patches in the presence of members of the UK’s Satan’s Slaves Motorcycle Club.
But Wylde himself, a devoted and hard-working artist, likes to keep things light. In an interview with Steve Monaghan of The Rockpit, Wylde explained the inspiration behind the video for new song “Room of Nightmares,” in which the mother of a spoiled boy asks BLS to play a song “children can dance to.” Wylde agrees, and, having tapped the effects pedal labeled “Doom,” proceeds to blow the doors off the place. The birthday party quickly descends into chaos. A food fight ensues, ninjas invade, and the mother, surrounded by out-of-control, feral kids, obviously regrets inviting a man who sometimes calls himself “Zakk Sabbath,” to celebrate her son’s natal day.
“It wasn’t anyone’s idea,” Wylde said when asked about the inspiration behind the video. “It was just us playing at an 11 year old’s birthday party. If you get a gig, you take it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bar mitzvah or a circumcision, 100 bucks is 100 bucks. You take the gig, you don’t complain, and you just be grateful that you’re actually working and that’s about it so that’s where we are right about now.”
Of course, where the dudes from BLS are right now is living the dream. They’re rock stars, they’re beloved figures in the world of heavy metal, and they’re making new music and breaking the sound barrier, one riff at atime.
In that same interview with The Rockpit, Wylde emphasized how happy he is, entertaining audiences with doom, more doom, and even more doom.
“I’ve been with the same girl for 33 years and we have four kids, life’s good. I love touring, I love making the records, I love the whole process so for me there is no bad.”, leading Wylde to issue the following statement:
“BLS patches/colors were not made for riding,” he wrote. “In fact, it is NOT a good idea at all. If you are wearing the BLS colors and approached by a member of a MC (motorcycle club) show them respect and be cool. Let them know that is merely a band and nothing more. If they ask you to remove your colors, do as they say. So be cautious about where you fly the Black Label colors. We don’t want to see anyone hurt.” Pretty serious stuff.
There is no bad here, this the reason. You have Jimmy Page posters and all your guys on the wall, I mean you’re doing what you love. I have buddies of mine that are like, ‘I couldn’t stand touring anymore.