When you’re onto a good thing, stick to it

Whenever you listen to anything that Zakk Wylde has touched, you can hear ‘it’ shine through. The song writing, the solos, the Southern rock dripping off the end of his guitar’s headstock. ‘It’: his passion for music. Listen to or read any interviews the man has conducted over his career and one thing is for certain – Zakk is a machine for metal music.

Enter Catacombs of the Black Vatican, his band’s 9th album. Despite fifteen Black Label Society band members having played at different times throughout the band’s existence, there remains one constant, Zakk Wylde. Let’s be honest, this is Zakk’s baby and as well as singing, playing guitar and the odd piano melody within Catacombs, he also produced the album. This is not a negative; the new album is superb. There may not be too much deviation from previous BLS releases but when you’re onto a good thing, stick to it.

The trudging churn ‘Fields of Unforgiveness’ starts the album and the Alice-in-Chains-like vibe hooks the listener. Zakk sets the scene with a nice background riff before his patented solo, John De Servio’s bass line ploughs the riff. The single ‘My Dying Time’ bleeds more Southern rock next before ‘Believe’ introduces that Ozzy-style sound, with Wylde emulating the legend’s vocals. Changing the tempo is ‘Angel of Mercy’, an acoustic number highlights Wylde’s softer empowered pleas: “No angel of mercy, is gonna hear my call”. The ensuing solo showcases the axe skills further. ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Beyond the Down’ return the band to a heavier metal sound with the latter providing another stellar solo, however brief.

‘Scars’ is an almost-country rock ballad with Zakk utilising the piano to good effect throughout. Some heavier tracks follow before ‘I’ve Gone Away’ rips into a heavy burn intro and verse before some great song writing and layered vocal harmonics. ‘Shades of Grey’ ends the album (though there are several versions of Catacombs that provide some stellar bonus tracks), another ambient slow track that epitomises the soul of this release with dark, almost depressive themes.

Black Label Society are happy in their own sound. There’s nothing new here, but like sitting on a back porch overlooking a sunset, sometimes nothing new can be just as good as something different. Grab a bottle of Jack, a few mates and rock out listening to one of heavy rock’s finest.

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