Review Summary: A contrast of white-knuckled excitement and tedium.
For most people, Zakk Wylde needs no introduction. At this point he’s reached the same level of recognisability a McDonalds logo would have on you if you were into heavy music as much as eating burgers. A stark contrast to his introduction in the music world, playing for Ozzy Osbourne as the skinny, handsome guitar player with long blonde hair. After spending a sum of time with Ozzy, Zakk eventually went off to start his own band in the form of Black Label Society; donning the iconic biker image of leather vests, skulls and bandanas, with an impressive beard and Thor sized arms to back it up. Matching the aesthetic was a sonic palate of several influences: blending crusty southern-riffs and Pantera grooves, with the kind of claustrophobic energy associated with 90’s alt-rock albums. Black Label Society offered it all: from the cool look, to the technical proficiency and grinding grooves embedded in songs, as a result it didn’t take long for Zakk and co. to cut a name out for themselves.
Just shy of 20 years under the moniker, Grimmest Hits
– not to be confused with being a “Best-of” record, a mistake I and many others made – is an album that delivers exactly what you’d expect a Black Label Society LP to do. “Trampled Down Below,” the opening track, welcomes you to a beautiful string arrangement before quickly introducing a fat, punchy bass as it pins its Rage Against the Machine style groove to the floor so the rest of the band can slam it into gear, while Zakk delivers a vocal performance of benign elongated, Alice in Chains-type croons over the pummelling riffs and cheeky licks. And this template is the mainstay of the entire record. The production choice is a thundering bass which sits predominantly throughout the mix, a decision I feel works in the album’s favour as it leaves a bucket load of room for tracks like “A Love Unreal” and “Room of Nightmares” to breath, creating a weighty gravity for when the guitar solos get introduced. Grimmest Hits
mainstay is mid-tempo tunes, and rarely does it shift past that speed, apart from when it gets to the album breathing ballads of “The Only Words,” “The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away” and “Nothing Left to Say,” which offer up a nice break and moment of respite from the wailing solos and fist-pumping rhythm section.
However, I can’t shake the niggles which plague this album. The record feels like it was dug up and found inside a time capsule; even if it will please BLS
fans, it’s a little too formulaic and predictable for my liking. Zakk’s smooth vocals and, at times, excellent melodies adequately do the job, but they have a tendency to remind you he played with Ozzy; frequently ripping him off during the high-octane numbers as he does the aggressive roars to keep up with the theme of the music. Equally, lending a little too much influence when he shifts to the more melancholic style, sounding like he should be in an Alice in Chain’s cover band than his own. Don’t get me wrong, his vocals are great on this, but the only time he sounds natural is on the ballad tracks where he doesn’t have to accommodate a particular mood. Other problems stem from the unwavering mid-tempo, a cause and effect that results in the decent riffs becoming a little repetitive by the time you get to the halfway mark of this thing. The open swing from the rhythm section is a welcoming positive and the solos are always interesting to hear, but the album’s lack of variety and derivative nature makes the overall experience feel like a run-of-the-mill grunge, alt-rock album from the 90s. Still, this is yet another solid offering from the band, and if you’re a fan of Zakk and his band there’s a lot to be enjoyed here.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A