‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ – Album Review.
Guitar icon, Zakk Wylde has returned with his Black Label Society crew for their first studio album since 2009’s ‘The Order of the Black’. Five years is a long time to be away in the music industry so I was eager to get stuck into the highly anticipated ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ and let me tell you, Black Label Society have not buckled under the ever shifting trends that surround the genre.
All the BLS trademarks are here. Big, stomping riffs, killer hooks and rip-roaring solos and more importantly, heart and soul. This is solid and true from start to finish.
It starts in a groove laden way with Zakk’s distinctive vocals and a relatively laid back riff for ‘Fields of Unforgiveness’ which, may not smash you in face from the off but it has so much feel to it that you are instantly hooked and this is something that is consistent throughout this album. Especially in tracks like ‘Believe’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ that will have your head banging and, or, fist shaking with every beat. It’s infectious stuff.
But it is not all one dimensional. As is traditional, there are a couple of chilled out, acoustic driven songs on here too but don’t let that put you off. These are done so well and lend in a massive way to the overall sound of the album. ‘Angel of Mercy’ and ‘Scars’ in particular are breathtaking and prove, yet again that Zakk Wylde and the Black Label Society are great songwriters who are not afraid of stripping it down to the bare bones and wearing their hearts on their sleeves. This is the sound of a band who appear to be completely comfortable with who they are and are still completely at the top of their game.
After a couple of lighter numbers, BLS remind you just what they do best with ‘Damn the Flood’. God damn…. the riff!!! This is one of the highlights of the album, an opening riff that bounces along with such intent that it is difficult not to crack out the bad smell face, raise the horns and bang the head. A killer solo and a huge chorus. This song has it all. Another bruiser for me is ‘Empty Promises’. This is Iommi-esque riff writing but with Zakk’s signature sound stamped all over it with his classic pinched-harmonics to boot.
Now it wouldn’t be a BLS review without tipping the hat to Wylde’s guitar work. I’ve got to say, he is still one of the best out there but it isn’t just the man’s speed, far from it. It’s one thing to be quick and “Technical” but it takes a special kind of player to construct something that makes you feel a series of emotions and Zakk Wylde is still one of the kings of soloing. There is soul in every note and that is something that resonates with me more than playing one scale after another.
I’ll be honest, the overall tempo of this album definitely has a more laid back feel in comparison to previous releases. That is not to suggest that BLS have gone soft in any way, shape or form. There are just more head banging, fist pumping moments as opposed to ‘let’s get in the pit and destroy everything’ moments but personally, this moves me just as much, if not more. This isn’t a self indulgent, solo album at all. It has such a well rounded sound and full of actual songs as opposed to a collection of riffs and solos that have no purpose.
In a music industry that is over saturated with a bunch of nonsense genres, sub-genres and various other tom-foolery, it is refreshing to know that BLS are still around and doing what they want to do and producing music that genuinely is from the heart and uncompromising.
If you are fan of real music, do not miss out on this.
Review by The Purple Piper.