By: Nathan Lagden
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Released on April 8, 2016 via Spinefarm Records
Zakk Wylde is known for many things in the metal world. Incredible beard, stripy guitars and God-like shredding abilities to name a few. But he is also known for his fantastic productivity, especially with Black Label Society, who are known for releasing album after album in very quick succession. As impressive as it is, in recent years it has led to a feeling among many that Zakk’s material has gotten a little stale and repetitive thanks to the constant rush to get a new album out. The release of the long-awaited sequel to his 1996 solo album however, should definitely silence his critics. Book of Shadows II makes a stunning departure from his work with Black Label Society and like its prequel it does so by going in a far more sombre direction, with the sound of acoustic guitars being far more prominent than electric.
Even those not familiar with Book of Shadows may well know of Zakk’s tendency to mellow out from time to time, but his latest solo work is the best showcase of his versatility to date. Though mostly acoustic, the album is rich with southern rock and country vibes and Zakk’s voice shows a certain soulfulness, which we are not used to hearing from him. The album’s opener ‘Autumn Changes’ gives listeners a fair idea of what to expect throughout. This is clearly Zakk Wylde at his most personal, and there is no song on the album for which this is not the case. There is some variation in terms of the styles explored in Book of Shadows II however, and this becomes evident a few songs in. From the bluesy feel of ‘Lost Prayer’ to the deeply solemn ‘Darkest Hour’, Zakk Wylde’s abilities as a songwriter are plain for all to see.
But despite the overall acoustic sentiment, Zakk does still find the time to throw in a few solos from time to time. They are fewer and further between than what we might be used to, and they’re also not the shred-fests that we might be used to either; but the more considered approach taken with these solos and their sparing use throughout is definitely to the album’s benefit as they are expertly mixed in and are never in danger of spoiling the overall feel. The only real downside to the album is that despite the obvious attempts to vary the songs, they are still ultimately very similar. With 14 tracks comprising over an hour of music it can become a little dull after the first few songs. Even though there is no individually bad track on it, most of the songs, thanks to the lack of variation, are pretty easily forgettable.
The album does end however, with two of its best tracks. ‘Sleeping Dogs’, which is currently the only song on the album with a video released for it is a terrific acoustic-based track with another killer solo and the final song ‘The King’ is an incredible heart-felt ballad which really does epitomize what makes this album such a resounding triumph. Although having said that, the album is still best enjoyed in small pieces when it’s possible to give it your full attention. This is not an album for Black Label Society or Ozzy Osborne fans, it’s an album for Zakk Wylde fans.