Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society genuinely need no introduction, so for just about as long as it takes to type that opening sentence, plus the additional line – Grimmest Hits is BLS’s tenth studio album, the opening track has already kicked in with one of Zakk Wylde’s trade-mark groove-laden riffs! ‘Trampled Down Below’ is everything Black Label Society are, were, and have always been about – it’s heavy, groovy, riff-driven and powerful, overlaid with Wylde’s Ozzy-influenced-but-whisky-drenched trademark vocals – all is as it should be right from the start.
Saying Zakk Wylde needs no introduction is fair enough, rising to fame as he initially did as Ozzy’s longest serving guitar player and going on to have many albums of success in his own right, but I didn’t realize quite how world famous he actually is! To me he’s just Zakk Wylde, stalwart of the Metal scene for the last 20 odd years, but I’m told his Les Paul Bullseye guitar hangs in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, his leather bell-bottoms hang in the Grammy Museum, his hand-prints are on Hollywood’s Rock Walk of Fame and he’s performed the National Anthem at major U.S. sporting events – even writing the 2013 Major League Baseball theme for ESPN. I didn’t know any of that before I started reviewing this latest release – he’s just a kick-ass guitar player to me, known for the style perfectly displayed throughout this album.
Since it’s inception all those years ago, BLS has trodden that heavy groove metal road, coupled with hints of Southern attitude akin to…well, Pride & Glory obviously. It seems almost dismissive to say that this album continues in that same vain, that there are no hidden nasty surprises, and that it is basically, and thankfully, more of the same. This is in no way a negative statement, it’s just fact. Just in the same way that there are excellent riffs which some of the songs are based around (check out ‘The Betrayal’ and ‘Illusions Of Peace’, but let’s face it – it’s an embarrassment of riff-ches!) and some stunning lead guitar work (try ‘Seasons Of Falter’ or ‘Disbelief’ this time around…among others of course). There’s nods to his Ozzy-esque past (‘All That Once shined’ for instance, a track that also effortlessly seems to recollect and applaud Ozzy’s Sabbath times as well), some laid back beer-on-the-porch moments (‘Room Of Nightmares’), plenty of pinched hamonics and track after track of wondrous groooooove.
The tempos vary, the moods shift, the heaviness imposes and retreats as required, but this is Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society from start to finish…the finish being my only tiny concern. The album closes with the reflective ‘Nothing Left To Say’ – Surely not? Hopefully this is just what it appears, a melancholic lyrical theme and not a statement for the future! There must be plenty left to say from this staple part of any Metal fan’s diet. Many more albums just like this one will do just fine I reckon.
(8.5/10 Andy Barker)