Personnel: Zakk Wylde (vocals, guitar, mini-Moog synthesizer, bass guitar); Nick "ET" Catanese (guitar); James LoMenzo (bass guitar); Craig Nunemacher (drums).
Zakk Wylde's Artemis Records debut, Mafia, is not only his seventh album since founding Black Label Society in 1998, but part of a solo career that's a sideline to playing guitar for Ozzy Osbourne. Wylde's workload apparently hasn't negatively affected his own sound. If anything, his playing on this sixth Black Label Society studio project is as good as it's ever been. Equally impressive are Wylde's vocals, which have evolved into a mix of musical godfather Ozzy and late Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley. His voice works splendidly when coupled with the skull-crushing riffs and dirgelike rumble of BLS songs like the unbelievably heavy opener, "Fire It Up," and the post-grunge tour de force "What's in You." And unlike most of his hard-rocking brethren, Wylde isn't averse to in-studio tinkering. The piano accompaniment and spry acoustic guitar solos incorporated into the epic "Dirt on the Grave" make it an exemplary track. Topicality also plays a role in the creative process, be it the assault on corruption throughout the maelstrom of "Suicide Messiah" or the heartfelt sendoff given to Wylde's murdered friend Dimebag Darrell in the shape of the poignant "In This River." ~ David Gil de Rubio