“I don’t care nothin’ about these blues, all I care about is dark and brutal,” Dethklok’s animated axeman Toki Wartooth stated about rock and roll’s gloomy origins. Similarly animated axeman Zakk Wylde would disagree strongly with the Norwegian freak, given Black Label Society’s blues and metal hybrid, which has inspired fans of heavy music for over twenty years.
While BLS’ tenth album, ‘Grimmest Hits’, isn’t any kind of radical deviation in sound – there’s pentatonic solos a-plenty, blues licks and a hefty dose of Sabbath worship – a cast of elder and wiser musicians make this a record about more than technical proficiency. ‘Restraint’ isn’t an appropriate term considering the hundred-notes-a-minute musicianship Zakk offers during solos on ‘Room of Nightmares’ and ‘Illusions of Peace’, but ‘Grimmest Hits’ feels stripped of the excess that punctuates most of BLS’ back catalogue.
Even if the music is less, the emotional impact isn’t toned down, as the band awaken different responses from listeners as they please. This ranges from the graceful intimacy of ‘The Only Words’ to the leather-and-denim-clad riffs on ‘The Betrayal’, which make you want to ride into the desert on a Harley Davidson carrying a shotgun. Plus fans of BLS’ harder material will rejoice at the monster groove ‘A Love Unreal’ revolves around, which holds its own with newer riffmeisters in Left Behind and Time Walk.
Zakk’s intricate homages to metal and its roots have always made Black Label Society the standout band of their hard rock contemporaries, who would happily cash in on replicating Pantera riffs for a career. Sure, ‘Grimmest Hits’ is going to appease metal’s old guard far more than anyone attending Warped Tour, but it’s performed with as much vibrancy as any young band. Yet it benefits from the age and maturity of its creators. With years of pain and struggle emanating through every note of this album, it’s no wonder the blues are so dark and brutal.
‘Grimmest Hits’ by Black Label Society is out on 19th January on Spinefarm Records.
Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)