Scream marks the tenth solo studio album (or eleventh, depending how you want to count Under Cover) for metal’s reigning Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne. Beyond that, the man needs no introduction. His backing band, however, does. It’s been almost completely overhauled from 2007’s Black Rain. Gone are longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde and drummer Mike Bordin, replaced with renowned underground axe-slinger Gus G. (Firewind/ex-Dream Evil/Nightrage) and ex-Rob Zombie drummer Tommy Clufetos. They join returning bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson (also ex-Rob Zombie) and keyboardist Adam Wakeman, who joined Ozzy’s live band following the release of Black Rain and is now a permanent member of the group.
How have these changes affected the overall sound of the band? Not very much. That’s because the majority of the songwriting was handled by Osbourne and producer Kevin Churko, with Wakeman pitching in on about half the tracks here. So for better or for worse, it still sounds like most of Ozzy’s post-80s output, which got me thinking that maybe it wasn’t Ozzy that started to sound like Black Label Society; maybe Black Label Society was starting to sound like Ozzy. At any rate, the more overt Wylde-isms are gone, of course, like the trademark squeals, but the sonic foundation is still there. Clufetos hits the skins as hard as Bordin did, but I may not have the ear to pick up on the subtle nuances of the art of drumming; and I’ve never been able to hear the keyboards in Ozzy’s music (with notable exceptions including “Mr. Crowley”), so I can’t really speak for Wakeman. He’s the son of the legendary Rick Wakeman of Yes, though, so he clearly knows his way around the instrument.
Which brings us back to Gus G. His recruitment sparked much discussion and curiosity as to how his presence would impact the music. Since he wasn’t involved with the songwriting, we’re left with his technique, and the results are for the most part are positive, bringing a more classic feel to these tracks that should evoke comparisons to – dare I say it – the Randy Rhoads days. I’ll clarify that by saying Scream feels more like Blizzard of Ozz than his more recent work. It may take a few listens and some deep thought to settle in, but it does break through.
The most important instrument in the band is of course Ozzy himself, or more specifically his voice, which is still strong even if his range has diminished. He gives it his all on the single “Let Me Hear You Scream” but you can hear his voice almost cracking during the chorus. At a different pitch it might provide a grittier effect, but as it is, it sounds like a guy pushing himself beyond his limits. Other than that, he tends to work within those limits and the album is better for it.
I’ve covered all of parts, but what about the package? The aforementioned “Let Me Hear You Scream” is a guilty pleasure. Gus G. overcomes the cheeseball lyrics to provide some killer lead work and the first hints of the golden days. Along those lines is “Fearless,” although without the lyrical cheese and more tempered riffing, but that chorus is heavy as hell. There’s also “Diggin’ Me Down” which opens with a carefully plucked acoustic passage before breaking into a heavy main riff and verse-bridge-chorus that recalls “No More Tears.” Then we have some dirge-like tracks that are . . . uncomfortable? I don’t think Ozzy should be moving at such slow speeds as he does on opener “Let It Die,” “Soul Sucker,” and “Latimer’s Mercy,” but the latter track has it’s merits with Blasko providing a heavy foundation for Ozzy’s storytelling. Ballads “Time” and “Crucify” are fairly standard fare and fail to invoke the emotions of past Ozzy ballads, but “Life Won’t Wait” comes closest, feeling a bit like “Road to Nowhere” albeit with more positive lyrics.
So where does that leave us? That’s difficult to say. Most people will be able to listen to Scream from start to finish without offending their senses. The material ranges from mediocre to great so there isn’t really anything bad – or even unexpected. It’s not going to take Ozzy all the way back to his glory days or lead to another Diary of a Madman, but could recapture fans of that era who may have strayed after Black Rain and the dreadful Down to Earth. Most importantly, it shows that Ozzy still has rock n’ roll running through his veins and can effectively bring it to the masses, even if the octane level isn’t what it used to be.