This coming Sunday, veteran hard rock band Black Label Society will make its way to North Carolina’s capital city as part of its tour in support of its brand new album Grimmest Hits. Despite the album’s title, it is not a hits collection. It is in fact a brand new collection of songs from guitar great Zakk Wylde and company. One that once more proves why BLS is still one of the most revered and respected names in the rock realm and music community in whole today. That is proven in part through the arrangements presented throughout the album’s 12 total songs. This will be discussed shortly. The record’s lyrical themes also serve to support that statement, and will be discussed later. The album’s sequencing is one more item that supports that statement. When it is joined with the album’s musical arrangements and lyrical themes, the whole of these elements shows without doubt why this album is such an impressive new release from one of rock’s elite acts and why the band itself is so respected.
Black Label Society’s new album, its 10th full-length studio recording, is some of the best work to date that the veteran hard rock act has released. That is proven at least in part through its musical arrangements. The arrangements presented across the course of the 55-minute album take listeners back to the days of the band’s 1998 debut album Sonic Brew, its 2002 album 1919 Eternal and its follow-up, 2003’s The Blessed Hellride with its heavier side. Speaking of that heavier side, it is not the album’s only side. It also boasts a much softer, more reserved side that will impress fans of Zakk Wylde’s Book of Shadows albums in the form of ‘The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away,’ ‘The Only Words’ and ‘Nothing Left To Say.’ This album is not the first time that Wylde and company have shown both a heavy and soft side on one of its albums. That’s a good thing, too because it is another way in which the band continues to show its reach and talent. Considering this, having such mix of musical elements is just as welcome here as in the band’s previous efforts. It creates a solid foundation for the album; A foundation that is strengthened even more through the album’s lyrical themes.
‘The Betrayal’ is a key example of the importance of the album’s lyrical themes to its presentation. The song seems to tackle the topic of someone who is somewhat short-sighted and who can’t see the way things are actually going. That is inferred as Wylde sings, “Gathered for this mass/Abandon all that you know/You say that you’re not blind/Yet you can’t see/Which way the river flows.” He goes on to sing in the song’s second verse, “the engines start to seize/The walls begin to close/The betrayal that you see/Yet you can’t see/Which way the river flows.” The song continues in similar fashion through its third and fourth verse. Considering this, the whole of the song seems to take on the matter of someone who might be able to see “A,” “B” and “C” but who can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. It is definitely an interesting song, lyrically speaking, that is certain to generate its own share of discussion. As always, this is only this critic’s own interpretation and should not be taken as gospel. It could be wholly incorrect. Hopefully not, but one only knows for certain when one gets it from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Having noted this, it is just one of the songs that serves to show the importance of the album’s lyrical themes in showing what makes the album in whole such a strong new effort. The theme at the center of ‘The Only Words,’ which is one of the album’s previously noted softer moments, shows just as much as that of ‘The Betrayal’ why the album’s lyrical themes are so important to its whole.
The theme — or at least the seeming theme — presented in ‘The Only Words’ is simply that of a person’s love and affection for another. Yes, it comes across as a love song. Who’d have thought Black Label Society would ever craft a love song?! If indeed that is what this song is, then kudos to Wylde and company for going that route. That is because of how well it came off in its simplicity. Wylde sings here, “So you say you’ve got your plans/Well life’s got its plans, too/Changes that come and go/Come tomorrow one never knows.” He goes on to sing in the song’s chorus, “Mountains may fall/The stars may all disappear/Just to hear you say you’re mine/The only words I need to hear.” The song’s second verse continues the same mentality of the lead verse, and couples with the chorus to once again present the seeming theme of love. When the song’s gentle, almost light southern rock musical arrangement, that theme seems to fit even more. It makes the song a display of a side of Zakk Wylde that is not often seen or heard, though not overly rare. Again, it makes this seeming theme one more way in which the album’s musical themes prove so important to the album’s whole. It is not the last of the songs whose theme shows the importance of the album’s lyrical themes. The theme at the center of ‘A Love Unreal’ is one more example of what makes the album’s lyrical themes so important.
The theme at the center of ‘A Love Unreal’ can be interpreted in one of two ways: romantic love and religious love. Which one is in fact the case is up to Wylde. It is a positive theme, regardless of which angle Wylde took here. That is proven as he sings, “Hand me your doubts, worries and fears/Within this embrace/They all shall appear/A love beyond/A love unreal/This sadness you felt/You will no longer feel.” This is just the song’s lead verse, but is a strong statement nonetheless. On the one hand, one could interpret it as one person comforting another in a time of despair and strife. On another hand, one could just as easily argue that it is linked to Wylde’s devout Catholic beliefs. This is especially possible as Wylde sings about giving “this world and all that there is”… “all to you: as he asks “Could you promise me as I promised you?” There’s even what seems like a statement about self-realization here. Regardless of what the song’s actual theme is, there is no denying that it is another positive theme, and one that stands just as separately from the other songs noted here as the rest of the album’s themes do from these songs and from one another. Keeping this in mind, it becomes yet another example of the importance of the lyrical themes to Grimmest Hits‘ whole. Having noted the importance of the album’s musical arrangements and its lyrical themes to its whole, it can be agreed that each element is critical to the album’s whole both alone and together. While each obviously has its own importance, they are not its only important elements. The album’s sequencing shows one last time just what makes this album another strong effort from BLS and of course why the band is still such a respected organization.
The sequencing of Grimmest Hits is so important to discuss because it puts the finishing touch to the foundation formed by the album’s musical arrangements and lyrical themes. Going back to the previous discussion on the album’s arrangements, there are both heavy and so soft that they’re heavy arrangements spread across the album. In the same vein, that means the album’s energies change from one song to the next. That change in those energies is clear over the first half of the album. What’s really interesting about that change is its subtlety. The record’s first three songs are heavy, full on pieces, but as it progresses into ‘All That Once Shined,’ the album’s fourth song, the energy becomes noticeably more reserved. As that song progresses into ‘the Only Words,’ the album’s energy becomes even more reserved before going abruptly full throttle again in ‘Room of Nightmares,’ its midway point. It’s a clearly intentional way to make certain audiences were still along for the ride.
The musical punch from ‘Room of Nightmares’ is complimented immediately after by another heavy arrangement in ‘A Love Unreal.’ As the album progresses through its second half, its energy starts to switch up even more with a back and forth approach from ‘Disbelief’ on. What this approach does is insures listeners’ engagement even more through the second half of the album. That in turn shows again just as much time and thought was put into this part of the album as was with its musical and lyrical content. When it is considered along with the time and thought put into those elements, the whole of all three shows why this album is another success from Black Label Society. In turn, the album shows why Black Label Society remains today one of the rock (and music) community’s most respected names.
Black Label Society’s latest full-length studio recording Grimmest Hits is one of the band’s most important albums to date. The band’s 10th album in its roughly 20 year life, it is a record that makes a bold statement as it takes listeners back to some of the best of the album’s predecessors, including the band’s debut album. This is evident through each of its twelve total musical arrangements. Its varied lyrical themes cover a wide range of ground, strengthening its foundation even more. From a seeming love song to a commentary on seeing the bigger picture of life to so many other topics, this record’s lyrical themes do plenty to strengthen its foundation even more. The time and thought obviously put into the album’s sequencing puts the finishing touch to that foundation, insuring even more listeners’ engagement. All thing considered, these elements join together to make this album one whole that is one of BLS’ best albums to date and an early candidate for a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new hard rock records. It is available now in stores and online. More information on Grimmest Hits is available online now along with all of the band’s latest news at:
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