Whether you love him, hate him, want his babies or feel the need to kick him in the nether regions, there’s no denying that Zakk Wylde is a talented and formidable artist. From stints with Ozzy to his own solo work, Wylde has been in the industry longer than many, 15 of those years spent fronting his baby, Black Label Society. With more people coming and going than the London Underground, the band has seen a wealth of musicians, including Mr Trujillo, leave its ranks and yet Wylde has continued to pioneer the band throughout.
Back with their 9th studio album, Catacombs of the Black Vatican (eOne/Roadrunner), this latest addition to the BLS discography is the first to feature now departed drummer Chad Szeliga, and it is one that sees the band toying once again with a more mellow sound. Setting the standards bar to soaring, ‘Fields of Unforgiveness’ begins proceedings, bringing with it some ear-gasmic southern metal groove. Taking on an Ozzy like property to the high notes, Wylde’s vocals are in impeccable form here, making this the first and best track of the album. After this things stay mostly on this path of awesomeness, songs such as ‘Believe’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ piling on the guitar pounds and rhythmic licks.
‘Damn The Flood,’ another album highlight treats us to an impressive Zakk Wylde solo lesson, while ‘I’ve Gone Away’ provides some of the more slowly worked but fantastically aggressive tones of the LP. However, for all that is undeniably great about ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’, there are three songs here that may divide opinion. ‘Angel of Mercy,’ ‘Scars’ and ‘Shades of Gray’ are all sombre, muted affairs that showcase our lead singers lyrical and vocal talents brilliantly but still they will not be to everyone’s taste, including this reviewers. Longer than the rest, these tracks bring down the energy levels, stemming the heavy groove–laden goodness that the rest of the album consistently provides.
For fans of the earlier BLS days, ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ will probably not quench your aggressively energetic thirst, but it is a brilliant album that fits well in the more mature timeline of the band. Wylde is on top form here, as are Szeliga and DeSevio but there will be some moments on BLS’s 9th outing that don’t call to everyone. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of these more sullen Wylde flashes, ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ is still an excellent listen and it is one that welcomes the band back into the world of musical releases, after four long and anticipated years.
Original article can be seen on the Ghost Cult site here