Berserkers rejoice. The bearded man mountain and pinch harmonic extraordinaire Zakk Wylde is back with Black Label Society’s ninth album, bringing the loud as hell riff brigade and the harrowing melodic croon that we’ve become accustomed to over the years from Zakk and his boys.
For a man as prolific as Zakk it’s always going to be hard when bringing out a new album. You can go down the experimental road and cover new ground, potentially alienating the majority of your fan base à la Lou Reed with Metal Machine Music. Or you stay familiar and true to your trademark sound to keep fans happy, but probably garner no new fans. Zakk Wylde has obviously gone with the latter, which is fine, because he does it so well. There is nothing new presented on ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ and that’s why I like it. I want to be reminded of the Black Label Society I fell in love with, as a ten year old listening to Sonic Brew for the very first time, and I was.
Whilst not quite in the same league as Black Label Society at their most catastrophic and haunting, this album will make you want to slam back your bourbon and reminisce dolefully in your beer glass. ‘Fields of Forgiveness’ the album’s opener doesn’t give an indicative idea of things to come; it’s a mid tempo jaunt with not much to it but it does have a catchy chorus and trademark wailing solo to redeem it. COTBV’s only single thus far, ‘My Dying Time,’ follows with more purpose and structure than the album’s intro. ‘Believe’ is where the album really picks up though and continues on from My Dying Time with the heaviness, unity and hope. Believe could quite easily make BLS future set-lists, particularly at festivals.
Zakk unplugs (Well, mostly) for the soulful and heartfelt ‘Angel of Mercy.’ As much as I adore Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society at their raging, heaviest, I always gravitate to the moody, sorrowful ballads such as this one. His true talent both as a musician and singer shines through here. Listeners are also graced with a tasteful and well placed solo towards to end of this song which sets you up for the next two heavy, mid nineties Zakk Wylde era of Ozzy feeling songs. Track seven on the album is ‘Scars,’ another ballad but it feels a bit out of place and overshadowed by ‘Angel of Mercy,’ and the guitar work on ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Beyond The Down.’
Laden with fast tempo, groove soaked guitar work, a classic wailing Zakk solo, distorted lyrics and crashing symbol work on the drums courtesy of Chad Szeliga ‘Damn The Flood’ is one for the true, leather clad, pit raging Berserkers. The album now starts to wind down with the next three songs in a Bluesy, Southern rock, Pride & Glory-esque fashion. Which is all good, and there is nothing wrong with this, I just rather they used the thundering early Black Sabbath sounding ‘Dark Side Of The Sun’ which was kept as bonus track instead.
The Verdict – Catacombs of the Black Vatican is another solid album from Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society. It delivers nothing unexpected or new, but it didn’t need to. It does however present their loyal hordes of dedicated Berserkers with a healthy dose of heavy bangers and moody, punishing ballads and it’s got potential to provide a few future classics. If you like your music with a shed load of riffs, solos and pinch harmonics doused in a southern, grizzly twang then Catacombs of the Black Vatican is an album to treat your ears with.