What a great start to 2018 in the hard rock and metal world! There’s already been a short string of great albums released and there’s more to come as the year goes on. Today I’m reviewing the latest Black Label Society album ‘Grimmest Hits’. And it’s a strong one.
It’s been about eight years since Black Label released a phenomenal album. There’s a few good ones in there. I mean, there are only degrees of good in the Black Label world. There’s a great ‘stripped down’ live album entitled ‘Unblackened’ that was released in 2012. Then there was the very decent ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’. But those albums aren’t as strong as 2010’s ‘Order of the Black’. And here, we get a return to that inspiration and quality.
Don’t be fooled, ‘Grimmest Hits’ is not a greatest hits album. I thought it was going to be one. Along with many other fans. But fortunately we’re treated to 12 songs of originality. It’s got all the elements that made Zakk Wylde not only a guitar hero, but a respected and recognized song writer in the rock world. There’s the big grooves, the blues infused metal riffs, soulful vocal melodies and harmonies, excellent ballads that stand above the rest of the competition and of course, the Black Sabbath sludge influence. Not only that, but it’s Wylde’s best effort since ‘Order of the Black’. And that’s saying something.
The album is consistent excellence. From the opening ‘Trampled Down Below’ which showcases that classic, nasty, blues riffage from Wylde. Right in the opening moments you know it’s going to be a good one. Then ‘Seasons of Falter’ comes in with that strong Zakk Wylde vocal melody and mellow groove which then modulates into a killer, chill riff. All the while Wylde’s soulful voice holds down the mood. Then the tempo picks up a pinch with ‘The Betrayal’. Which I think is one of Zakk’s finest moments. The way the guitar riff dips down while Wylde provides an original vocal melody on top during the verses is unmatched by almost anyone. Plus, a full on Zakk Wylde guitar pyrotechnic solo. And a bad ass breakdown. The very thing that put him on the map in the first place. Then it’s down the bluesiest road that one can take in rock with ‘All That Once Shined’. Amazing vocal harmonies. A catchy mid-tempo blues riff that swings. Then the cut time bridge happens. It’s all proof of how inspired by Black Sabbath Wylde is. It’s basically a Black Sabbath song with a Southern Texas swing.
Then it’s ballad time with ‘The Only Words’. Zakk Wylde always had the ability to write ballad that’s a cut above the rest. As evidenced by songs such as ‘In This River’ and ‘Lead Me to Your Door’. His passion and sensitivity shines through in such an unexpected way. And on this album he keeps up his strength in balladry. The next two tracks ‘Room of Nightmares’ and ‘A Love Unreal’ kind of go together. They both contain that infectious Black Label groove and the infectious riffs that go along with it. The former coasts while the latter digs under your skin like a bad ass sludge metal song should. And of course, there’s the ever present, unexpectedly strong vocal melodies that accompany the grooves and riffs.
‘Disbelief’ is one of the most interesting tracks on the record. It’s a seamless combination of a bad ass groove masterpiece and a ballad masterpiece. How does Wylde do it? He’s always been known as a great guitar player. But I think he’s unbelievably underrated as a song writer. He just writes gold after gold track. ‘The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away’ brings a southern chill vibe into the typical B.L.S ballad structure. Wylde has a couple of ‘go-to’s’ in his utility belt. The southern ballad, the epic ballad and the emotional, stripped down ballad. And they all work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And Black Label Society are very smart and aware of that.
‘Illusions of Peace’ is just so kick ass. It’s the LONG RIFF!! It’s so catchy and fulfilling. It almost makes you laugh. Because the riff after the vocal break just keeps going and going. And it’s so fucking catchy the whole time. Then one more swing metal tune with ‘Bury Your Sorrow’. It’s a great track and it may be the weakest on the album. That’s how good the album is. The weakest track is freaking awesome. The album closes in perfect mid-tempo balladry. Something Wylde likes to do. You just kind of close your eyes and groove on it. Taking in the quality and strength that Zakk Wylde seems to endlessly write.
Overall this is one hell of an album. A five out of five. Not only is it good Black Label Society, it may be one of the bands best out the ten albums they’ve released. There isn’t a skippable song on the album. You don’t skip any song!! I love albums that are complete. And this is the dictionary definition of a complete rock album. The rest of the bands releasing this year really have their work cut out for them if they’re going to top this album.
Heavy metal excellence.
The melody, the groove. How does he do it time and time again?
A cut-above ballad. Unreal ballad. He’s without a doubt one of the best ballad writers of all time.