ALBUM REVIEW – “Catacombs of the Black Vatican” by Black Label Society

One of the most recognisable and renowned rock stars still consistently turning out music today, Zakk Wylde has long since escaped the shadow of Ozzy Osbourne and established Black Label Society as a highly successful vehicle for his meaty riff-writing and fluid soloing skills. Since leaving the Prince of Darkness’ band, the output of what is now his main project as actually slowed down, but this does have the effect of making each new BLS record something of an event. Those hoping for anything more or less than a strong, meat-and-potatoes hard rock record will be disappointed, as Catacombs of the Black Vatican follows the example of the band’s previous records with a focus on swaggering, heavy rock and roll songs with a handful of ballads sprinkled in.

The first three songs of the album recall Alice in Chains in their slow, lumbering grooves. From there on, things get more varied, the calm established by the sombre understated balladry of ‘Angel of Mercy’ shattered when ‘Heart of Darkness’ crashes in immediately afterward. The myriad of styles employed on this album mostly gels well, a testament to the experience of Wylde and his band. The up-tempo stormer ‘Damn the Flood’ and the harmony drenched 6/8 classic rock ballad ‘Shades of Grey’ couldn’t be more different in tone, but both feel quintessentially Black Label Society. Lack of experimentation is a disappointment, but the diverse nature of the material prevents the record from sounding too stale.

Perhaps the most divisive aspect of Black Label Society’s music is the lead guitar work of Mr Wylde. His solos do show off great technical skill, if not always real feeling, but their effectiveness varies depending on the song they’re deployed in. His lacerating work on ‘Believe’ lights up the bluesy attack of the rest of the song – when a similarly shreddy section is dropped into ‘Shades of Grey’ it’s more comical than enjoyable. A more subdued touch is applied successfully to the similarly stripped-back ‘Scars’, showing that Wylde doesn’t need to rely on setting his fretboard on fire, but there is an occasional lack of subtlety that holds Catacombs of the Black Vatican back.

Fortunately, the focus of the album does lie on the songs rather than the solos, and though the trio of ballads do feel somewhat by-numbers compared to the more riff-driven material, the 11 tracks present here do each prove their worth and come together to form an enjoyable whole. Nothing groundbreaking, but certainly a fun ride of metallised rock n’ roll, Catacombs of the Black Vatican partially makes up for its lack of innovation with consistent, if not greatly exciting, songcraft. Zakk Wylde may not be the best musician or writer in the world, but even if he fails to reach previous heights he knows how to build a riff into a fun rock song. You’ll find a good batch of them here.

Rating: 6/10

[Michael Bird]

‘My Dying Time’


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  1. Black Label Society Premiere “Angel Of Mercy” Music Video | RichardThinks.Org - July 9, 2014

    […] sound that is widely associated with the band. Be sure to check out our official review of “Catacombs Of The Black Vatican” by Black Label […]

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