Release Date: January 18, 2019
Artist: Black Label Society
Runtime: 55 Minutes
Label: Entertainment One
Producer: John DeServio
Personnel: Zakk Wylde (Vocals, Guitar, Piano), John DeServio (Bass), Jeff Fabb (Drums), Dario Lorina (Rhythm Guitar)
Clearly, Wylde’s being a fan of Black Sabbath played at the very least, a minor role in way of inspiration for Grimmest Hits. One of his side projects that he tours with from time to time, Zakk Sabbath is a clear tip of the hat to his love for the now-retired, legendary metal band Black Sabbath. I found that a number of tracks on the album – “Seasons of Falter”, “The Betrayal”, “Room of Nightmares”, “Disbelief”, “Illusions of Peace” and “Bury Your Sorrow” seemed to have a doomy, bluesy sound that called to remembrance some of Sabbath’s earlier work akin to the days of Master of Reality and Vol. 4.
As a metal fan, it’s easy to get caught up in the faster, heavier music, which offers a thrill by virtue of being fast and heavy, but in doing so, it gets easy to neglect the importance of lyrics or the overall quality of the music. Like much of Black Sabbath’s early work, Grimmest Hits remained patient and took its time in delivering twelve quality tracks. I don’t say quality lightly. None of the songs are weak, monotonous, or even too slow. If I may, the track list is nearly perfect. Not only does the album possess some classic metal, there’s plenty of soul found on “The Only Words” and some Southern cooking in “The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away.” I don’t care that many of the songs appear to be in tribute to Black Sabbath; these songs that Wylde put together have their own identity and his unique flavor that he provides in his song writing and playing.
Black Label Society sets things in motion with some heavy ballads but shows off some diversity by including elements of Southern Rock, Doom Metal, Blues, and even Folk. For fans of Wylde’s time playing with Ozzy, stay patient for his solos because he’s just as good as always. Although Wylde got his moments in as lead guitarist, Lorina played a pivotal role as the album’s rhythm guitarist.
Let me explain Lorina’s importance to Grimmest Hits the best way I know how. Angus Young, who needs no introduction, gets the spotlight and deservedly an enormous amount of credit for ACDC’s success. But for me, I feel that Malcolm Young takes too much of a backseat. It was his rhythm guitar playing that helped deliver ACDC’s simple, iconic sound that millions of fans enjoy to this day. The setting and stage are obviously different for Black Label Society and ACDC, but Lorina’s effect on Grimmest Hits cannot be understated.
There’s no question that Zakk Wylde has been influenced by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Ozzy Osbourne, but he still maintains his own style and identity. His playing style is his own, and his humor is his own. On the outside he may seem like a grizzly bear, but on the inside he’s a teddy bear (or maybe a kitty).
I’ve found myself glued to this album and unable to move on to another before writing this review, because I could tell an enormous amount of heart and soul had been poured into the album’s song writing and playing by Black Label Society. It also helps that I’m appreciative of the work put in by guys like Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne, and Zakk Wylde. Albeit not immediately succeeding Rhoads, Wylde had the uphill task of following the accomplished-and-now-legendary, Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads. Rather than copying Rhoad’s style, Wylde just did his thing faithfully for many years and now enjoys his status as one of the legendary guitarists in the heavy metal/rock ‘n roll scene.
For fans of Black Label Society, Grimmest Hits marks their tenth studio album and I think arguably their best effort. Some may contend that Mafia or The Blessed Hellride enjoy that status, but I’ve got a feeling that at the end of 2018, we’ll look back on Grimmest Hits as one of the best metal albums of the year and revisit it to get our classic, heavy metal fix. I know I will.
I’m going to give Grimmest Hits a 90%.
P.S. To get a full appreciation of Zakk Wylde’s efforts, listen to “The Only Words” and “Room of Nightmares” together. “The Only Words” is a softer balled that detours somewhat from most of the album’s doomy content. The lyrics, soul, and bluesy components of the song all mesh to create a beautiful piece. Casting off soul and putting on Ozzy, “Room of Nightmares” thrusted me right back into the thick of things and reminded me that I was listening to a heavy metal album. Clocking in at a little over two minutes, you won’t have much time to enjoy this metal anthem, but soak it in while you can, because it’s a lot of fun.