Black Label Society – Grimmest Hits

    Zakk Wylde is undoubtedly one of the icons of today’s metal scene and the Black Label Society guitarist and vocalist’s back catalogue is filled with more hits than he’s worn through guitar picks.

    Grimmest Hits (Spinefarm/eOne) is the tenth studio album under the BLS moniker. But despite the name, there’s little grime and few hits hidden within this release. As with most of the band’s recent output, there’s a few quality moments hidden amongst a host of acceptable if forgettable numbers.

    ‘Trample Down’, ‘Seasons of Falter’, ‘Betrayal’, and ‘All That Once Shined’ all fall within the same category; decent, mid-paced stompers with little wrong but little worth noting. Wylde has found a space that combines solid riffing with a more melodic side – especially in his vocals – that isn’t unpleasant but is far from inspiring or mosh-inducing. ‘Room of Nightmares’ is a solid chugger in the traditional BLS mould, but there’s very little in the half that sticks with the listener after everything’s played out.

    While lacking some of the spice and aggression of the band’s early material, the last few records have seen Black Label morph from Satan’s Hell Junkie Bikers into a more relaxed Heavy Rock band unafraid to inject a bit of melody and blues into their songs (and not just in the obligatory acoustic piano ballad). Wylde can still bring the fire when he wants – last year’s Live In Detroit under the Zakk Sabbath moniker was a great listen – but Grimmest Hits sounds like a band taking things easier, happy to write solid material with a swagger, rather than big angry face-crushers.

    The mandatory acoustic ballad ‘The Only Words’ features soft Hammond organ and some heartfelt soul-searching, but only serves to bring proceedings to a standstill. ‘The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away’ is more of an uplifting power ballad and is pretty decent, if no less of a mood killer.


    Recent albums have seen Wylde rein in some of his signature traits – there’s less in the way of pinch harmonics and vocal effects and songs about genocides, junkies, and berzerkers – but it’s always still undeniably BLS. There are few metal artists today are so instantly recognizable; his pained wail, distorted guitar, and screaming solos are often copied but really matched, let along bettered.

    And there’s definitely still a few corkers, especially in the second half; ‘All That Once Shined’ combines a Led Zeppelin groove with a Black Sabbath swagger, ‘Disbelief’ is a pure ode to Sabbath and sounds like a mashup of ‘Iron Man’ and ‘A National Acrobat’, and ‘Illusions of Peace’ boasts pure, aggression-filled cajones. The riff from ‘Bury Your Sorrow’ could almost be lifted from a Sleep album (which is where the album should have finished, but the after-taste is ruined by another acoustic number).

    ‘Love Unreal’’ is probably the album highlight; a huge, swamping riff leads into a melancholy chorus, which leads into a (fairly) restrained but fiery solo, before kicking things back up a couple of gears. One of the few songs that could have sat on The Blessed Hellride and not felt out of place.

    The fire and urgency that made the likes of Sonic Brew (Spitfire) such an instant classic is largely gone. But Grimmest Hits sees a band keeping itself out of a rut and making enjoyable, if somewhat genteel, music. One for bikers-from-hell considering retirement.





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