• Axl Rosenberg

zakkwylde.jpgWhen we were kids, here’s the debate Vince and I always used to have: Who is the greatest guitar god in metal – Slash, or Zakk Wylde?* Even though there were loads of other guitar players out there we loved – EVH (duh), Vernon Reid, Jerry Cantrell, Steve Stevens, Mick Mars, Richie Sambora, the dudes from Skid Row, Metallica, and Megadeth, and whole host of others I’m probably blanking on – Slash and Zakk Wylde were, in our minds, the end all be all of guitar playing. No one could touch them – their solos were just some other-level shit. And for those ten seconds in ’95 when it looked like Zakk might actually replace Gilby Clarke and play alongside Slash in GN’R – well, I think it’s safe to say that we both walked around with hard-ons until word came down that Zakk was out because Slash didn’t want another lead guitarist on his crew.

My point is this: we love, love, LOVE Zakk Wylde here at MetalSucks.net. And that’s why it pains me so much to even suggest this, but: perhaps it’s time for Ozzy to move on and find a new guitar player.

Metal – if not rock in general – is, by and large, a young man’s game. Obviously, there are exceptions (Slayer are still going strong more than two decades later) and aging headbangers who manage to surprise us all and turn things around late in the game (Dio-Sabbath just did it, and so did Dave Mustaine – and I felt pretty confident he was toast, for sure). But ultimately it often feels like a band will have four, maybe five good albums in them – and then things start to go downhill. The problem is that the material usually ceases to feel fresh; it becomes a pale ghost of what it once was, as the band either chases trends (see: Motley Crue, Metallica) or starts recycling predictable, lesser versions of the riffs that made the artist so famous in the first place.

Zakk Wylde, I’m very, VERY sad to say, seems more and more these days to fall into this latter category. Sure, the guy can still bring the thunder live, and remains a consistently no-bullshit, super-entertaining interview subject (see the above photo), but each Black Label Society album feels a little less potent than the last, and the reason is this: you always know exactly what you’re gonna get. At some point, “Counterfeit God” and “Doomsday Jesus” and “Suicide Messiah” and “Machine Gun Hanukkah Harry” or whatever the fuck the next BLS single will be called all kinda sound the same; indeed, pretty much every BLS album starts to sound the same.

What’s worse is that it’s not like working with Ozzy brings out the best in Zakk; Ozzy can hardly take care of himself these days. So a new Ozzy album, like Black Rain, almost inevitably starts to sound like a BLS album with slightly (slightly) better vocals. It feels tired, like a band trying to sound like No More Tears-era Ozzy with results that are mixed at best.

Now, it almost shouldn’t matter when a legend like Ozzy or Metallica puts out a lackluster new album; for one thing, no one has exactly confiscated my copies of Tears and Master of Puppets – I can still listen to those albums whenever I want. But even if I’m tired of listening to them for the trillionth time, younger bands like Lamb of God, Chimaira, and God Forbid are still putting out killer new albums all the time. In other words: I’m not exactly hurting for awesome new metal these days.

But the fact that new talent is constantly arriving on the scene to satiate our appetites raises this interesting point: for a guy like Ozzy, who is incapable of writing music on his own and therefore is in a constant state of dependence upon his band, there will always be access to fresh young minds. Ozzy’s had an amazing amount of luck with regards to collaborators – Tony Iommi, Randy Rhodes and Zakk Wylde is really almost too good for one career – and it’s important to remember that when Ozzy found Zakk, he was just some nineteen year old kid in Jersey, hoping to make it big.

Somewhere out there, then, we know – we know it, we don’t even have to assume – that there’s some nineteen year old kid just dying for his big break. And who knows? In a few years, he could be the mastermind behind the next Killswitch Engage or Mastodon or Avenged Sevenfold – but if Ozzy found him first, he could’ve been the guy contributing amazing, mind blowing, I-can’t-believe-he-just-played-that riffs to Black Rain.

Ozzy himself must sense this, at least in some capacity – a few years back, he auditioned Buckethead to replace Wylde. It didn’t work out for whatever reason (Ozzy wanted BH to drop his schtick, for one thing), but it suggests that Ozzy is aware that there may be life out there after Zakk. And if Ozzy is going to insist on “not going away” (and let’s face it – he’s been threatening retirement for fifteen years now – he ain’t goin’ nowhere as long as Sharon can still make money off of him) he might as well hook-up with someone that can help him make a record worth listening to. Somewhere out there, there’s another guitar player who could restore Ozzy to his former glory; now if only Ozzy will get off his ass and go find the dude.


*For those who are curious: I said Slash, Vince said Zakk.

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