Grimmest Hits

Black Label Society

Entertainment One Music, 2018

http://www.blacklabelsociety.com

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/13/2020

Let me start by saying that I have never been a fan of Zakk Wylde as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist. I usually associate the man with recycled pentatonic scales and an overdose of squealing harmonics, whether playing original material or Black Sabbath covers. But Grimmest Hits is a pleasant surprise that gives me a new respect for Wylde and Black Label Society.

The title itself is a joke initially lost on casual fans like myself: I thought I’d have a sample of the band’s work from the past twenty years and found instead an album of new material that offers a nice balance of heavy riff-rockers and subdued acoustic numbers. 

The opening song, “Trampled Down Below,” begins with an bass line that reminds me of Geezer Butler’s contributions to Ozzmosis (1995) before Zakk Wylde kicks in with a heavy riff sans the squealing harmonics, a raspy singing voice that goes quite well with the music, and a nice compact solo. For casual listeners like myself who’ve not given BLS a fair listen since my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Blessed Hellride (2003), it’s immediately clear that Wylde has matured and refined his style over the years. “Seasons Of Falter” is another solid, hard rock song with vocal overdubs that really add to it, while “The Betrayal” is the first number with an immediately catchy groove and a neat changeup midway through. Just three songs in, the album sounds like a mature, focused effort where the whole band clicks very well. And bassist John DeServio really adds some punch to the album’s sound! 

Some listeners may balk at the plain influence of Black Sabbath on some of the tunes. “Room Of Nightmares” has a delightfully heavy groove; it’s easy to imagine the Ozzy Osbourne of the mid-1970s singing on this one, while the trilling guitar solo recalls Tony Iommi’s playing. “Disbelief” just about lifts the main riff from “A National Acrobat” on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1975), but it’s actually one of my favorites on the album! And the lyrics of “All this time you thought that you belonged / In this world that could do no wrong / As belief begins to sway and faith begins to fade / I watch it all just waste away” certainly resonate in this year of pandemic uncertainty.

The softer numbers and a pair of ballads are hit-or-miss, but one can understand their inclusion on the album to break up the series of heavy metal songs. “The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away” gets my vote as the best of them. Wylde has a nice clean tone, and it’s easy to imagine the song being played as a solo acoustic solo number. “Nothing Left To Say” is a good choice for a closer, too. There’s a nice chime to Wylde’s guitar and the vocal harmonies he’s added feel like a tip-of-the-hat to the Allman Brothers, 25 years after he pinch-hit for Dicky Betts at one of their shows. It’s a nice way to wind down after a plethora of heavy riffs. 

Particularly for Randy Rhoads purists like myself, Grimmest Hits is an album worth listening to. It shows Zakk Wylde as a band leader who is much more versatile in his guitar playing and songwriting than I previously thought. Not having given Black Label Society a chance since The Blessed Hellride for its single with Ozzy on vocals (“Stillborn”), I will certainly explore more of the band’s recent efforts now.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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