Well, well, well . . . what have we here? Why, it’s the new Ozzy Osbourne record! I was skeptical how this would turn out following the dreck that was Down to Earth, and actually expected this to be a Sharon-engineered steaming pile of crap. So I was pretty stoked when I popped Black Rain in and found it to be anything but.
The first thing you notice is the obvious influence of Zakk Wylde, with his distinct style rearing it’s squealing head all over this disc – and the songs for the most part are actually heavy. New bassist Blasko is also given a prominent role here with a fat, groovy bottom end (a direct result of his time with Rob Zombie) matched only by the hard-hitting drums of Mike Bordin. The first two tracks, “Not Going Away” and “I Don’t Wanna Stop” are enjoyable but do come as a bit contrived, Ozzy playing the part of the ever rebellious, ever vigilant rock star despite his ever advancing age and diminishing vocal range. However, that is quickly forgotten with the title track, his most epic piece in years that lyrically treads similar ground as “War Pigs” and musically as Black Label Society (shocking, eh?) but it just works so well as it trudges up visions of fallen soldiers with a heavy main riff and layered vocal effects on the chorus.
Rivaling the title track is the 1-2 punch of album closers “Countdown’s Begun” and “Trap Door”. The former relies on yet another signature-style Wylde riff for its power, while the latter takes the framework of the title track and cranks up the tempo, resulting in not necessarily the best but definitely the most metal song on the album. The final track of positive note is “Civilize the Universe.” Normally I scoff at songs about aliens that aren’t authored by somebody named Tagtgren, but Ozzy take the chance to point on society’s foibles, and he just plain nails that chorus.
This leaves about half the album falling somewhat flat. The ballads (“Lay Your World on Me” and “Here For You”) are somewhat forgettable and formulaic, not to mention that they’re basically about the same thing. “11 Silver” is a bit too cookie-cutter as well – not bad, but far from a highlight. Finally, I just can’t get around the irony of Ozzy condemning “The Almighty Dollar,” even if he is damning evil corporations and the governments they control.
Good job, Ozzy. I’d go ahead and call Black Rain a winner. I can easily listen to this from start to finish even with its shortcomings, and he’s certainly proven that he has staying power. The ironic thing is that the old-school Ozzy fans (the ones who complained that his second stage performances on last year’s Ozzfest were inconvenient for them) are the least likely to enjoy this one since there is a bit of a change to a heavier style. If you can get around that you’ll likely find yourself giving this a good amount of playing time. Of course, if you’re anti-Ozzy because of his TV show, Ozzfest, Iron Maiden, Ronnie James Dio, or just because this isn’t the long-awaited new Black Sabbath record, you won’t like this no matter what – and should probably think about not being so petty.