Sunday, May 18, 2014

Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society - Catacombs Of The Black Vatican

Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society
Catacombs Of The Black Vatican
Bullet Proof AU/Universal Music Australia

Over the last fifteen years, Los Angeles (California, U.S.) based southern/groove metal outfit Black Label Society has amassed a diehard following through relentless touring, and a prolific output of studio/live releases that has maintained a fairly consistent standard for the most part. Four years after the release of the band’s return to form effort ‘Order Of The Black’ (Particularly when compared the two lacklustre efforts that preceded the album – Namely 2005’s ‘Mafia’ and 2006’s ‘Shot To Hell’), vocalist/guitarist/song writer/group founder Zakk Wylde has once again assembled his brothers in arms and returned with Black Label Society’s ninth full-length effort ‘Catacombs Of The Black Vatican’. Given how strong their last release was, I had high expectations of ‘Catacombs Of The Black Vatican’. And while it’s not quite up to the same high standard of their former release, Black Label Society’s latest offering is at least one of the group’s stronger efforts.
Black Label Society (Who consist of Wylde, bassist/mixer/associate producer John ‘JD’ DeServio and ex-Breaking Benjamin/Scott Strapp drummer Chad Szeliga) get the album off to a surprisingly slow start, with the opener ‘Fields Of Unforgiveness’ sounding reminiscent of Alice In Chains in both tempo and overall feel. But despite the comparisons, ‘Fields Of Unforgiveness’ is still typically Black Label Society, albeit in a slower, darker and more groove orientated direction.
The single ‘My Dying Time’ continues the same downbeat vibe of the opener with a touch of southern rock thrown into the mix on the vocal front (Which brings to mind 2003’s ‘Stillborn’), while the faith driven ‘Believe’ sees Wylde turn up the amps a little with some heavy duty Black Sabbath inspired riffing shining through.
‘Angel Of Mercy’ is the first acoustic based number on the album, and it’s certainly one of the album’s really shining moments. Sounding like a natural successor to 2013’s predominately acoustic based effort ‘Unblackened’, this track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1995’s ‘Book Of Shadows’. The same can be said for ‘Scars’, which is another particular favourite on the album.
Both ‘Heart Of Darkness’, ‘I’ve Gone Away’ and ‘Beyond The Down’ are typical Black Label Society riff led efforts, and in all honesty, are the album’s filler-like moments. Although good, these songs don’t sound particularly inspiring on the song writing front. The same problem can be pointed at ‘Shades Of Gray’, which is a rarity given that Wylde’s acoustic based efforts are generally of a high standard.
‘Damn The Flood’ and the rhythmic/percussion driven ‘Empty Promises’ both stand out as the definitive cuts on the harder edged side of things this time around, and rival anything from ‘Order Of The Black’. Towards the tail end of the album, Wylde channels Black Sabbath in the driving ‘Dark Side Of The Sun’, before closing the album with the slower paced and inspired effort ‘Hell And Fire’.
Black Label Society’s ethos can be summed up as ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it...’. And ‘Catacombs Of The Black Vatican’ lives up to that philosophy. It’s another Black Label Society album, and one that is somewhat similar to those before it. The only real difference is that while it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me like ‘Order Of The Black’ did, it still easily stands as one of the strongest efforts the band has released in years.

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© Justin Donnelly

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