by Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Zakk Wylde likes to keep busy. When he’s not spinning riffs for Ozzy Osbourne, he’s spinning riffs for his own band Black Label Society. When he’s not doing either, he’s spinning riffs for his own solo project, and when he’s not doing that, he’s spinning riffs that have been written before for his cover band, Zakk Sabbath (guess what kind of music they play!). When he’s not doing all or any of that, he’s shaving his legs. Gotta keep those pins supple!
This time, however, the Wylde Wheel of Fortune has landed on Black Label Society, producing the band’s first album since 2014’s stunning Catacombs of the Black Vatican, Grimmest Hits. Hits? Yes. Grimmest? No. Despite the fact Wylde has starred on 25 studio & live albums in his time, plus countless guest appearances, he still hasn’t run out of fresh ideas. Grimmest Hits is misleading as fans might think this was going to be a swansong ‘greatest hits’ album, but a large chunk of these songs have the potential to become classics with BLS fans. Grim isn’t a word you shouldn’t associate with this album, whilst the riffs are dirty, ‘glorious’ is the word of the day.
Plumming influences from all walks of life, Grimmest Hits is an eclectic mix of blues, country and hard rock. Unsurprising considering that Wylde’s first musical love was Elton John, looks like the Norse god of lumberjacking, and channels papa Ozzy when singing.
Giving us a strong flavour of what to expect from this album, we have been treated to Room of Nightmares, All That Once Shined and Trampled Down Below prior to its release, all of which, stylistically are a million miles apart from each other, and it’s the final single that opens the album, with John DeServio’s moody bassline parting the seas for an almighty heavy metal attack, featuring, of course, a lightning strike of a solo from the bearded man of the hour.
However, whilst the uninformed may think “Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society, Grimmest Hits” is a huge flag for heavy metal, the pleasant surprises on this album are the ballads and the slow jams, with The Only Words grabbing you by the soul and not letting you go. Same for The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away and the aptly named closer Nothing Left To Say showcasing the softer side of rock & roll, but nonetheless driving the knife deeper into emotional wounds.
This isn’t a negative point on the band at all, but this album is drowned in Sabbath. Keen fans will known that Sabbath isn’t all heavy metal and pseudosatanism, with many tender & more complex moments coming from the band, and Grimmest Hits is no different. Since Sabbath retired just over a year ago, who better to become the torchbearer for doom-laden metal than Ozzy Osbourne’s right hand man? It’s impossible not to sound like your influences, but Black Label Society give their retiring heroes a very appropriate 21 gun salute.
We’ve spoke about ballads, but you’re here for riffs right? Dark, heavy riffs?! Check out The Betrayal and Disbelief. These tracks embody the “Grimmest” in grimmest hits, both of which could be the trumpet that heralds the coming of the apocalypse, combining lyrical-based terror and anthem-esque delivery, that will easily get venues shaking to the ground. It’s just what you need, with emotionally twisting ballads, you need a good shake to get you back to the land of the living. Seriously, The Betrayal absolutely stomps through this album. Anybody who wants to tell you that “rock is dead” and “radio killed the riff” REALLY needs to have a chomp on this prime cut of rifferoni pizza.
From front to back, Grimmest Hits is a prime cut of beef that you can milk countless riffs out of. Despite not being a greatest hits album, it provides wall to wall choice cuts that could easily have it mistaken for a greatest hits compilation. Anyone expecting a linear musical theme will be sorely disappointed, as this album has a rich mix of genres, lyrical themes and emotions as you ride from start to finish.