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Black Label Society: Catacombs of the Black Vatican

While diving into sobriety as well as dabbling in more melodic, even acoustic based fare, Zakk Wylde has certainly taken a turn in his life in recent years. The latest release for his popular band Black Label Society sees Zakk & Co. (guitarist Dario Lorina, bassist John DeServio, and drummer Chad Szeliga) lighten up a bit on the crushing Black Sabbath inspired biker metal of old, but still deliver a pretty crunchy set of hard rock fare.

The first three tracks on Catacombs of the Black Vatican (great title) are your typical BLS styled heavy rock numbers, though relying less on the squealing pinch harmonic riffs of old and just good old classic styled hard rock power chords, with "Believe" not only delivering the punch but also some great melodies. "Angel of Mercy" is a mellower track with lush acoustic tones and Wylde's poignant vocals, broke up in the middle by a sizzling guitar solo. The raging BLS we all remember rears its head on the rampaging "Heart of Darkness", a journey into Sabbath styled doom/stoner metal complete with snarling vocals and mean riffs. More great riffs turn up on the all too brief "Beyond the Dawn", while "Scars" again returns to acoustic, almost Southern Rock settings, with some haunting vocals melodies from Zakk. Perhaps the heaviest track here is the bombastic "Damn the Flood", a bruising stomp into Sabbath/Down/Crowbar inspired heaviness that brings to mind those first few BLS albums, complete with raunchy riffs and shredding guitar solos. The memorable & melodic "I've Gone Away" contains some heavy riffs to go along with alluring vocals, and "Empty Promises" slows things down a tad, as this mid paced rocker echoes Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with some superb drumming from Szeliga complementing Wylde & Lorina's grinding doom/hard rock riffs. Rounding out the album is the heartfelt pop ballad "Shades of Gray", with Zakk crooning away over shimmering guitar arpeggios.

Perhaps containing a bit more variety than we've seen from Black Label Society in the past, Catacombs of the Black Vatican is a very solid release, and shows the band still has plenty of fire in their gut and tricks up their sleeve. Containing some really heavy material, some ballads, and plenty of melodic hard rock, it's an enjoyable album that is definitely worth your attention.

Track Listing
1) Fields of Unforgiveness
2) My Dying Time
3) Believe
4) Angel of Mercy
5) Heart of Darkness
6) Beyond the Down
7) Scars
8) Damn the Flood
9) I've Gone Away
10) Empty Promises
11) Shades of Gray

Added: April 19th 2014
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
Hits: 2230
Language: english

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Black Label Society: Catacombs of the Black Vatican
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2014-04-19 08:13:16
My Score:

Who'd have thought that within a matter of months in 2014, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican from Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society would be the third "solo" offering from a guitarist connected to the Ozzy Osbourne band? It is also interesting to note just how different Jake E Lee's Red Dragon Cartel, Gus G's I Am The Fire and BLS's Catacombs are. Hence comparing and contrasting is not only difficult, but probably pointless and to be fair to Zakk with his band having such a lengthy list of releases to their name and longevity to boast, it would also be more than a little surprising if this release wasn't the most cohesive of the three.

All that said, COTBV isn't BLS by numbers (or acronyms!), instead the slightly more mellow side Zakk and the guys have been developing in recent times continues to play a strong part of what this band are now all about. Yes, "Fields Of Unforgiveness", or "Believe" (which features speaker panning vibra-slap - "All Aboard!!!!!" anyone?) still hit hard, low and with brutal, almost Ozzy does Stoner, force. However the real standouts - other than Zakk's always impressive, if sometimes overly busy, guitar work - show up in the shape of the slower numbers. "Scars" almost strays into Bruce Springsteen territory, "Angel Of Mercy" a catchy as hell example of melody over attack, while "Shades Of Grey" is a harmony vocal led stroll through clean guitars and laid back beats.

Still, if you want to Rock, then Zakk won't let you down; "Empty Promises" brooding and Ozzy like, "I'd Gone Away" a more exuberant slam of mid-paced rifferama, "Damn The Flood" adding more squeals and howls as only the Wylde one can - and a little needed increase in tempo too, truth be told. However for all that, none of the more muscular efforts really stick in the mind far beyond their initial rush, while there's also an accusation that there's a little too much familiarity from track to track (slowies aside).

So not a classic slice of BLS, but more than enough to keep Zakkolytes satisfied.

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