Wylde lowers voice for album

Zakk Wylde has a reputation befitting of a man who looks like he could have been a great leader to a band of marauding Vikings.

By most accounts, Wylde is the prototypical tough guy — a man whom a Hell's Angel would likely buy a beer.

He's fond of threatening other musicians in interviews, swearing unnecessarily, showing off his linebacker build and thrashing along to his own guitar squeals whether it's with his band, Black Label Society, or on stage with Ozzy Osbourne.

Then there's the other side of Wylde, the classically trained guitarist who once released Book of Shadows — a masterfully-written collection of mellow, acoustic guitar-driven songs — that he doesn't let many people see.

After hearing requests from fans to record another Book of Shadows, originally released as a solo album in 1996, Wylde finally decided to give into their demands. Hangover Music Vol. VI is his answer.

Wylde, though, didn't just set out to record Book of Shadows II. Instead, he ended up combining elements of his softer side while not forgetting to enliven things with a few screams and blistering electric guitar solos — the bread and butter of his work with Black Label Society. The final product is a chill-out album with an edge that should keep both camps of Wylde devotees pleased.

The strongest song on the 15-track Hangover Music, "House of Doom," stands as the perfect example of Wylde combining the best of both worlds. Though not very strong lyrically ("Take all that you can/Take it all/I know you'll do it again" being typical), the album's first single benefits from a catchy acoustic backdrop, as well as Wylde's increasingly Osbourne-like wails and deftly played solo. It should see plenty of airplay.

"House of Doom" aside, Hangover Music's best moments can be found when Wylde completely ditches the metal-head persona and moves behind the piano.

When he does so, like on "Woman Don't You Cry" and a cover of Procol Harum's 1967 hit "Whiter Shade of Pale," it's plain to see why fans have been clamoring for Wylde to return to the Book of Shadows sound. A gifted vocalist, Wylde takes full advantage of the opportunity to actually sing, not growl above a wall of distortion, and matches the beautiful melodies he's coaxing out of his instrument.

Surprisingly, Wylde also offers listeners a glimpse at his Spanish guitar playing skills on "Takillya (Estyabon)" the 39-second solo instrumental intro to the Southern-rock inflected "Won't Find It Here."

As much as Wylde and Black Label Society are able to maintain a constant vibe throughout Hangover Music (essentially tranquility that occasionally brims over into full-blown insanity), the album has its weak moments. Despite its great promise, "Damage is Done" ends up being one of these moments thanks to its highly repetitive lyrical content.

Also, "Steppin' Stone," a slow-paced track featuring ghostly background howls and the album's heaviest power riffs, smacks of Wylde trying to be overly sinister on an album when such theatrics simply aren't needed.

Like the title suggests, Wylde wrote Hangover Music with the intention of giving Black Label Society's fans an album to listen to on mornings when their alcohol-addled brains can't handle much additional jarring. Despite its few mediocre songs, fans willing to give heavier acoustic music a chance should find it pretty enjoyable, too, no matter their level of sobriety.

Grade: AB