When I was but a young pup in high school, my buddy Satan tried to get me to like heavy metal. I didn’t get it at the time, but he did convince me that Ozzy was pretty good. So for my first ever concert, another buddy of mine took me to see Ozzy and Anthrax on the No Rest For the Wicked tour, giving a young guitarist named Zakk Wylde his first shot at stardom. After growing up near me in New Jersey and toiling on the local circuit, Zakk was destined to be a household name. Satan was proud.
With the conclusion of the No More Tears tour, Ozzy announced his (first) retirement, and Zakk formed Pride & Glory. I couldn’t stand his voice, and, for me at least, it only got worse after he formed Black Label Society in 1998, so I lost track of him. In hindsight, I should have seen it coming, since Book of Shadows proved that Zakk could actually sing, but it wasn’t until their last effort, Catacombs of the Black Vatican that I was a believer. I really liked both the songs that were written and how Zakk sang them, so I was excited for the follow-up, January’s Grimmest Hits.
The album starts with a really solid, heavy track, “Trampled Down Below.” It’s evil sounding with grungy guitars, time changes and Zakk‘s voice in fine form. That’s followed by a more traditional slower tempo rock song, but they come right back with “The Betrayal,” another great rock tune with a killer riff. The similarities to Sabbath are very evident in these songs. And to top it off, Zakk is a dead ringer for Ozzy in track 4, “All That Once Shined.” Zakk has a particularly killer solo in the middle of this one.
So far so good, and then the ballads start. In 2017, Zakk released Book of Shadows II, so I hoped he had gotten them out of his system. But no, we’ve got two ballads here (maybe three if you count the mid-tempo last track). “The Only Words” sounds a little country, while the “The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away” has a great solo that totally makes the song. There are other rockers – “Room of Nightmares” might be the most commercial sounding, with a catchy chorus. “Bury Your Sorrow” is another tune that’s Sabbath-esque, with some pretty cool distorted guitars. “Illusions of Peace” might be the hardest on the album – all the way down at track ten.
“A Love Unreal” is the first of back to back epic tunes that brings back those crunchy guitars we heard earlier, as well as speed changes in the middle. The riff in “Disbelief” just makes you want to bounce your head back and forth. Both have great solos in their six-minute running times. The last time I saw Zakk play, it was an Ozzfest, and he was in his dreadlock phase. The solos were long, gaudy and honestly, a bit uninteresting. To his credit, all the solos on this album fit the songs – sometimes adventurous and other times a little more restrained. The songwriting might be what makes this album better than others in the BLS catalog.
So overall, I liked it – not as much as Catacombs, but still enough to recommend it for fans of all the bands that influenced the music. The final track, “Nothing Left to Say,” I mentioned earlier is a mid-tempo acoustic tune. I usually like my albums to end on a loud note, but I couldn’t help but like this one the most of the slower songs. Maybe he doesn’t push his voice as hard as he did the last album. And his solos are mostly missing the whammy bar, what I used to think of as a Zakk Wylde staple. But overall a pretty balanced album – even a more mature album in the songwriting – that will get some significant replay in 2018!