BLACK LABEL SOCIETY
Despite the title and cover art this isn't a compilation, but instead an album of new material from Black Label Society, the band's tenth overall. Hardly a surprise, say the band's detractors, who see the whole thing as an ego trip for former Ozzy (and soon to be again, on his upcoming farewell tour) axeman Zakk Wylde (real name Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt). But, incredibly, the material here is so solid and consistently good that it could well be a greatest hits album - whether it's a continuation of the mature upswing taken on 2014's pretty good Catacombs of the Black Vatican, or Wylde's touring with the 'Zakk Sabbath' all-star cover band, Grimmest Hits is the best thing you'll have heard from Black Label Society in years. Slower, doomier, and definitely more Sabbath-ian than the squealing biker metal they used to produce, there's a heavy strain of southern rock running through this album's veins as well, making the likes of Seasons of Falter distinctly ZZ Top-like - obviously a terrific thing! It's not just in the bluesy guitar playing from Wylde and rhythm guitarist Dario Lorina (ex-Lizzy Borden) but even the pinch harmonics have been toned down...
That's not to say that Black Label Society have completely changed things up, of course; this is still essentially a rock music fan playing tribute to the greats. Opener Trampled Down Below is perhaps the closest to what you'd expect from the band, a riff-driven pounder with excellent playing that's slightly let down by Wylde's usual sneery Ozzy-impersonating vocals, yet in fairness they're anything but bad and fit the slower, doomier vibe here well. All That Once Shined is as doomy as it gets, sounding almost like it could have fit on a lesser Sabbath album with the "ohhh yeah!" vocal lines and break into Iommi-esque hard riffing and soloing. Sure, there's a little self-indulgence with the instrumental sections on the five-minute-plus Disbelief and especially the six-minute ballad The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away, but they're fundamentally solid songs and definitely don't drag, despite the fact that Wylde hasn't written a truly great ballad since In This River! In fairness, finale Nothing Left to Say is a pretty good attempt at changing that.
Elsewhere, perhaps there's still a little bit of a tendency to rewrite songs (The Betrayal and Room of Nightmares sound so stereotypically Zakk Wylde, made up as they go along around a groovy riff) but the core songwriting and playing is always at least solid and Wylde and co are undoubtedly excellent musicians. Twelve songs and fifty-five minutes is probably a little too much Black Label Society, but when the worst you can really say is that some of the songs end a little too abruptly, you know you're onto a winner. Not the world's most original band by any means, but often a lot more fun to listen to than their reputation, Black Label Society are here as solid as ever.
Goat quoted 78 / 100
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