Black Label Society: Catacombs of The Black Vatican review

Coming hot on the heels of last year’s hugely successful acoustic album, Unblackened, Zakk Wylde and his merry band of bezerkers known as Black Label Society, are set to unveil their next chapter of sonic excess for eOne Records, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican.

Wylde has come full circle to continue the bold tradition of doing what he does best. Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is an exercise in controlled aggression that is heavy as adamantium metal and has all the crushing force of a black hole.

The title is in reference to Wylde’s own Black Vatican studios, where the album was recorded, mixed and produced and he joked that the new Black Label Society record will be “Exactly like the last nine albums, just different song titles.”

He went on to jokingly add “When I first listened to Catacombs Of The Black Vatican, I looked at myself in the mirror and started making out with myself. The second time I heard it I actually groped myself. It’s that damn good.”

Zakk may jest about the album, but opening salvo “Fields Of Unforgiveness” is no fucking joke. It’s highlighted by a heavy bottom end and that patented Black Label Society guitar sound that cannot be mistaken for anybody else. When you hear a Black Label Society song, there is no doubt who it is.

Lead single “My Dying Time” features layered vocal harmonies similar to Alice In Chains, accompanied by all those Black Label Society grooves you’ve come to love and a blistering, mind altering, shred-tastic solo while the metallic angular groove and the juicy guitar squeals and squalls of “Heart Of Darkness” are executed flawlessly and according to the Mafia or Stronger Than Death playbook.

Tracks like “Believe” and “Beyond The Down” are soaked in the 70’s rock swagger of Sabbath or Led Zeppelin and dripping with the classic Black Label Society vibe and attitude set forth on Blessed Hellride and Shot To Hell.

As a stark contrast, “Angel Of Mercy” is the first of three ballads on the album. It’s delicate use of strings and piano will take you back to “In This River” and leave you drowning in the flood.

Speaking of floods, “Damn The Flood” kicks things into serious overdrive. It’s frenetic pace, booze driven gallop, and epic solo could have been taken from any of Wylde’s previous endeavors.

“Scars” slows things down again for ballad number two. It plays like a long lost track from 70’s rock radio that is somehow misplaced in time and will make you feel young again- if only for a moment.

At the same time, “I’ve Gone Away” is an all-out metal assault that showcases what may very well be the heaviest riff Wylde has ever churned out. It finds him reasserting his position as a true metal god and reminds you why he has won so many awards for his playing abilities over the years.

Here’s the bottom line- Catacombs Of The Black Vatican picks up where Order Of The Black left off in terms of heaviness while incorporating the more melodic elements of his days with Ozzy, for what is without a doubt the best and strongest release in the Black Label Society catalog so far.

Rating: 9/10

-Eric Hunker