Album Review: Black Label Society – “Grimmest Hits”
Now entering their twentieth year as a band, albeit with numerous different band members over that time, Black Label Society have returned with their newest album, Grimmest Hits. Contrary to the title, this is not a compilation of BLS’s most beloved tracks from over the years, but a whole new album of fresh material.
Grimmest Hits is very much what you might expect from a Black Label Society album; it has big riffs, big solos and melodic vocals that give way to screams at regular intervals. The bass-heavy intro of opening track Trampled Down Below gives way to a massive riff, and a typical BLS chorus. This theme continues with Seasons of the Father, which features about as close to a sing-a-long chorus as BLS will likely ever do. The Betrayal again features a huge riff, and an epic Zakk Wylde solo.
However, Grimmest Hits also features a number of surprises. All That Once Shined has a more bluesy quality to it, with a very 80s-style chorus and The Only Words goes a step further with a very country-esque feel verging on a straight ballad. This struck me as unusual, but I can’t say it wasn’t a welcome distraction from the expected BLS sound. Interestingly, there are even more melodic soulful elements to later songs, including The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away which is a very surprising, middle of the road ballad that sounds vaguely like a bad Lynyrd Skynrd impression, while album closer Nothing Left to Say is actually quite a mellow, reflective affair, it still sounds Black Label Society but it certainly showcases a bit more of Wylde’s vocal range. Of course there are also tracks which are stone cold classics, like Illusions of Peace which has an intense, fast riff that is classic Zakk Wylde. Finally, Bury Your Sorrow is fairly typical fare for BLS, but does verge into almost stoner rock territory, which is no bad thing in my book.
The one thing that hangs over Grimmest Hits for me is the Ozzy Osbourne factor. So much of this album, and Black Label Society’s work has many, many echoes of late 80s/early 90s Ozzy, and at times they sound like Ozzy-lite. Given Zakk Wylde’s close association with Osbourne it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it does mean that at times it is hard to judge Black Label Society without that notion creeping into things. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely impacts the ability of the band to have a defined identity or a completely unique sound.
All in all, Grimmest Hits is a fine album, if a little less than spectacular. This is very much a Black Label Society album, and for fans of the band it shouldn't disappoint, but I can’t see it being a memorable album when people discuss BLS in the future.