By Johnny Firecloud at 2:50 PM Thursday, June 3rd 2010
If any doubt remained beforehand, on the release of Ozzy Osbourne’s 2007 album Black Rain it became clear that Zakk Wylde had outlasted his grace period as Ozzy’s main axeman. Five albums is the longest stretch any guitarist has lasted under Osbourne, and Wylde’s formidable reputation speaks for itself, but a new stylistic approach was necessary in order for the former Sabbath frontman to reestablish himself with a fresh relevance in the metal scene.
New guitarist Gus G. (of Firewind) has brought a revitalized energy and a new flavor palette to Scream, continuing the rejuvenation cycle that Wylde perpetuated when he replaced Jake E. Lee on No Rest For The Wicked in 1988. Aside from Ozzy’s revitalized dedication to the craft, Gus’ presence is the key to the album’s success, instinctively inspiring a closer listen – even if only to hear some new blood behind Ozzy for the first time in over two decades. He offers far more than a novelty transfusion, however, delivering powerful riffery that straddles the classic Ozzy sound while pushing a more progressive edge that Wylde simply didn’t have in his repertoire.
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Ozzy recorded most of Scream at his Los Angeles home studio The Bunker, and co-wrote all the songs, primarily with Black Rain producer Kevin Churko. With an opening as grandiose and promising as any release since 1981’s landmark album Diary Of A Madman, Scream lifts off with Let It Die, a throbbing menace with layered vocals, stomping and sneering through a chanting verse that will likely find mass crowd participation at this year’s Ozzfest.
Speaking of which, Let Me Hear You Scream could very well be backed by Mötley Crüe, a breathlessly uptempo jam with that debuted to the world during an episode of CSI:New York last month and has held strong on the Billboard Rock charts for six weeks.
Ozzy’s vocals are filtered and layered to hell under oceans of minutia-tinkering production throughout Scream, but it’s to be expected from a man who most in today’s nightmare reality associate with a shuffling, mumbling mess on a reality show, rather than the Prince of Fucking Darkness. He’s twice if not three times the age of most rockers on the scene today, he’s beaten the hell out of himself, and it’s a damned miracle he can get out of bed in the morning.
By mere titular association, Soul Sucker enters the ring with one arm tied behind its back. The album was originally set to be given the title Soul Sucka, but the project was abruptly renamed following an immensely negative fan response.
“When we put that on the Internet none of my fan base liked the title,” said Osbourne. “They were like, ‘I can’t imagine me walking around the fucking house with the words ‘Soul Sucka’ on my T-shirt.’ So I was like, ‘Fuck it. I’ve got to come up with something else!’”
The song itself is three steps above forgettable, a lumbering ’90s riff-fest that breaks into full hair-metal jamming halfway through. By contrast, Life Won’t Wait is a beautifully subdued, melodic track built on acoustic guitars, nuanced effects and a clear-throated Ozzy warning “Every second you throw away / every minute of every day / don’t get caught in a red rage / ’cause life won’t wait for you, my friend.”
A classical guitar intro begins Draggin’ Me Down, but drummer Tommy Clufetos is in the driver’s seat here, channeling Danny Carey with a jarring percussive assault that pushes the track to stomping, menacing depths. “How will I know you mister Jesus Christ? Have you already been here once or twice?” Ozzy asks over churning rhythmic flurries.
The religious cynicism intensifies on the shakers-and-bass-led Crucify, with Oz crooning “I’m gonna swear on the Bible while I’m feeding you lies.” There’s a bite to Ozzy’s bark here and throughout Scream that one would find hard to believe on paper, given the man’s advanced age and notorious history of death-taunting self-abuse for longer than most of us have been alive.
There’s no suitable measuring stick for this level of commitment to the craft this far along in the game, but the chanting, dominant chorus of Fearless leaves no room for half-stepping, no sign of atrophy or restraint whatsoever. “I’d rather die on my feet than live a life on my knees / I am warrior / I’m fearless / no pain, no mercy, no weakness / I’m fearless!” An excellent showing on the solo as well.
I Want It More is a head-banging thrasher with squealer riffs and chopping rhythms, cut with soaring arena choruses. Latimer’s Mercy, by contrast, is a sludgy pulse of danger in the darkness, which Osbourne is quite clearly no stranger to.
Minute-long closer I Love You All is a melancholy call to unity, a recognition of mortality underneath an earnest message of gratitude from the Prince of Darkness. As a final endcap of his life’s work, the song – which lasts a mere 62 seconds – would be a beautiful fit. Whether or not it’s truly a sendoff remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Ozzy will meet whatever may come head-on, eyes wide and screaming.