Black Label Society – Catacombs Of The Black Vatican by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/Label: Mascot Label Group
Released: 2014
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Catacombs_of_the_black_vatican_album_cover final

Zakk Wylde – Vocals, lead guitar, piano
John DeServio – Bass, backing vocals
Jeff Fabb – Drums
Dario Lorina – Guitar, backing vocals

Track listing:

1. Fields of Forgiveness
2. My Dying Time
3. Believe
4. Angel of Mercy
5. Heart of Darkness
6. Beyond the Down
7. Scars
8. Damn the Flood
9. I’ve Gone Away
10. Empty Promises
11. Shades of Gray

The Berserker, theWylde man of the guitar, six-string tamer… just some of the things you could call Zakk Wylde. Of course for some he’s a slightly tiresome show-off, but that’s probably the green-eyed one talking. Regardless of your viewpoint you can’t argue that he knows his way around a guitar. Well you can but you’re an idiot. Came to everyone’s attention as Ozzy’s guitarist and alongside some fantastic side projects (Pride & Glory for one), known best for Black Label Society.

We should probably say now that if you just want to hear Zakk Wylde widdle, follow him into the toilets. If you want to hear something a little more substantial, well you could stick with toilet stalking, or give CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN a spin. As a safer option.

We’re not saying Zakk has given up the pinches or the solos –  they’re still very much evident as opener “Fields Of Unforgiveness” will attest – and thank god because we love a good Wylde solo. He was born to make wail music of the guitar kind. But with CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN they’re not endlessly piled on with a ‘this will make it better’ mentality akin to a child let lose with the sprinkles. It means that there’s some room on songs like “Believe” for the rest of the writing, and for the riff-work to come through.

That said if you want to hear him go to town, slide right along to the end pairing of “Empty Promises” and “Shades Of Grey”, which in particular has a mammoth fuck-it solo going on. Keep your erotic literature; this makes grey sexy.

Abrupt ender “My Dying Time” feels like older Black Label Society blended with the offshoots of MAFIA, and “Heart Of Darkness” rattles the blues cage with a stick marked heavy. If you’ve always been a fan of Black Label Society’s strong back and knack for a riff then CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN will

The vocal harmonies of “Scars” recalls HANGOVER MUSIC VOL VI or Zakk’s solo BOOK OF SHADOWS, and “Angel Of Mercy” continues to show the fuzzier side of the bearded one, whilst retaining that distinctive stamp. If you care about songwriting from a musical perspective, and you should, both are great examples, and Wylde’s voice takes on this world-weary quality that seems so at odds with his usually frenetic style. It gives a real human element to a character who you could almost consider a machine at times.

CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN also has some lessons in terms of pacing. In general every slower song is followed by something far heavier, mitigating the lull that too many ballads backed up can cause. The smoking “Damn The Flood” is perhaps the ‘heaviest’ track here and it comes just when your guard is down to rock your goddamn socks to shreds. Yeah there’s shredding.

It’s hardly a step outside the Black Label Society box, but when said box is full of do many nice things you can understand why. CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN is Black Label Society from note to note, and given today’s every-sound-the-same music industry having a recognisable sound that is all your own is quite an achievement. Sticking to it, no matter what anyone says, because you like it is another. Keep ’em coming boys. There are still plenty more strings to be pinched.

Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs