Review by Greg Maki
Black Sabbath always has loomed large over Zakk Wylde and his mighty metal militia known as Black Label Society. (All metal bands owe a large debt to Sabbath.) But one has to think that Wylde spending most of 2017 touring the world with his Sabbath tribute band, Zakk Sabbath, led to that influence becoming even more pronounced on “Grimmest Hits,” the 10th Black Label Society studio album.
It’s all about the riffs here, the thunderous grooves guaranteed to get heads banging and fists thumping. Sure, you can say that about every BLS album, but there’s a little more to it this time around, Wylde’s playing like Tony Iommi on steroids, often slowed down just a little more than expected to achieve a dark, doomy chug. It’s most pronounced on “All That Once Shined” and the bluesy “Bury Your Sorrow,” but serves as the backbone for most of the record. The album’s best stretch comes in the middle with the punchy “Room of Nightmares” leading into the back-to-back dynamos “A Love Unreal,” which lulls the listener into thinking it’s going to be ballad before exploding, and “Disbelief.” The latter tracks feature two of Wylde’s best solos in recent memory; they’re rivaled later on this record by the blistering fretwork on “Illusions of Peace.”
While Zakk attends to the guitar heroics, longtime bassist John “J.D.” DeServio (seriously underrated) fills in the gaps with a more intricate than usual bottom end. Meanwhile, drummer Jeff Fabb provides a rock-solid, tasteful foundation, every so often employing a bit of Bill Ward-like swing.
Though it features a trio of the Southern-flavored ballads that are another BLS hallmark, “Grimmest Hits” as a whole is heavier than “Catacombs of the Black Vatican” (2014), the band’s previous release, and it rivals “Order of the Black” as the best BLS offering to date. It’s exactly what you expect it to be, and at this point, that’s exactly what any BLS would want. With Black Sabbath calling it a day last year and Ozzy setting a finish line for his solo career, “Grimmest Hits” reaffirms that Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society are more than capable of carrying the torch for the foreseeable future.
(eOne Music, January 19, 2018)