There is no dispute that the beating heart and dark soul of Zakk Wylde is the entity at the driving core of Black Label Society. He produced this 10th studio album; played guitars, piano and strings including his vocal performance as lead singer, plus was involved in the mixing process. Wylde also wrote all eleven tracks which rattle the cages of the Catacombs Of The Black Vatican. So you could say that he was rather well involved with the final product!
You may have caught either of the first two songs on radio as both were released to that medium over the past couple of months. Opener Fields of Unforgiveness lumbers like a heavy axe wielding ogre before taking the listener to the front door of My Dying Time. The latter track is more refined starting out with a hint of what is to come prior to delivering the distorted riff which effortlessly flexes its muscles. The guitar solo is totally recognizable as Wylde and is all the better for it; glorious.
The pace during these early stages doesn’t let up as Believe crunches along soaked in the spirit of Black Sabbath. At this junction, Wylde treats the listener to the mellow side of his band. Angel of Mercy is surely a strong candidate to be the next single? Taking into account his tender and gentler output, if you’re partial to such exhibitions you’ll delight in Scars and Shades of Gray.
Accompanied by John DeServio on bass and Chad Szeliga beating the drums, they crank up the party on most of the album. The rockin’ side of the band doesn’t over stay its welcome knocking out top quality hard rock with its usual aplomb. An exception to the ‘get in and rock out’ approach is left for Empty Promises. It is the penultimate track on this collection and has been carefully arranged with an ambition to reach further than its brethren. It soars during the chorus and hammers home elsewhere with riffs aplenty.
On reflection, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is an album that feels comfortable in its own skin. There is a real sense when you hear it several times that this album contains a genuine self-belief in what it is supposed to sound like. Fans of Black Label Society won’t be surprised by what is unleashed here, and they’ll be satisfied and thankful for it.