There’s a tendency to over-romanticize the sequel of a classic album, especially after 20 years. If you’re the artist recording it, the worst thing you can do is over think it. So it was probably a good thing that Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde hadn’t thought about recording a follow-up to his classic acoustic album Book of Shadows until someone else brought it up to him last year after BLS concluded their last US tour. “At first I couldn’t even believe it had been 20 years,” says the blond, bushy bearded viking axeman. Back then, it was intended to be a side project, recorded between sessions with Ozzy Osbourne (aka “the boss”) during the making of the Ozzmosis album. It was a chance to put down the heavy shredding for a minute and show a different side of his playing.
“It’d be like me and you tracking all day, we’d go bar hopping all night and finding every Irish Pub we could in New York City and in Paris as well,” Wylde says. “We’d just go bar hopping wherever we were until like 6 or 7 in the morning, it would be sunlight when we were going to bed.”
But before he hit the sack, Wylde would pick up his acoustic guitar and string a few chords and lyrics together. Usually they were inspired by the music on the barroom jukebox and whatever smouldering shambles he could piece together from the night’s exploits. Those somber drunken tunes became the foundation for Book of Shadows. Two decades later, Wylde is back with more of those blackened ballads on Book of Shadows II which comes out today.
Wylde built his entire career on being the nimble-fingered shredder on stage with Ozzy holding a black and white Bull’s Eye Les Paul. But on BoSII, Wylde’s hands strum easily over the neck as power chords and his soulful, hefty vocals ring out on songs like “Sleeping Dogs,” “The Levee,” and “Autumn Changes.” It’s less Highway to Hell and more of a relaxing road trip to hell.
“It’s like a compilation and me and you just put together some Eagles, Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, The Band, Van Morrison, mellow Led Zepplin stuff, all the mellow stuff we dig and made a playlist and put it on and you could just chill out,” Wylde says.
The calmness of the record is pretty much exactly how Wylde approached the project when he hunkered down at his famous Black Vatican studio and started writing the songs, which only took about a month. At this point it’s not surprising that Wylde can throw down an entire album’s worth of material in less time than it took to actually record it and put it out.
“We have a system for how to make these Black Label Flavor Country donuts,” Wylde says. “It’s not rocket science. It just baffles me when I hear about bands that take that long to make records, after a while you’ll be second guessing everything you do unless you let it go.”
Even though it didn’t really take him the full 20 years to lay it down, Wylde still likes to use Guns N’ Roses’ infamously late Chinese Democracy (which only took a mere 15 years to make) as a measuring stick of the album’s success.
“No matter what, people could say this is the most horrendous record I’ve ever heard in my whole life but you know, it did beat Chinese Democracy, so no matter what, we’ve succeeded at something.”