Sunday 20 April 2014

Black Label Society - Catacombs of the Black Vatican (Album Review)

Album Type :  Full Length
Date Released : 9/4/2014
Label : Mascot Records (EU) / E1 Music (USA)

Catacombs of The Black Vatican, album 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 Grey

European Bonus Tracks :

12). Dark Side of the Sun
13). Blind Man

The Band :

Zakk Wylde | Vocals, guitar, piano, acoustic guitar
John DeServio | Bass, additional vocals
Chad Szeliga | Drums

Review :

Black Label Society returns after a lengthy absence. Their last outing, “Order of The Black,” brought me back to the band after what I perceived to be a series of mediocre releases. I really did not rate “Shot To Hell,” “Mafia” or “Hangover Music.” At all. However, OOTB was a good and heavy record- great production, great riffs and a good mixture of material. My expectations were high for this, their first record since 2010. Did it meet them? Read on and find out.

The line-up on the album, to an extent, does not matter too much. Suffice it to say that Nick Cantanese is no longer with the band but the players on the album do a fine job- tight and polished... but the main man and sound here is Zakk Wylde. In BLS' case that always was the case and always will be. First things first, anyone expecting raging tracks like Parade of The Dead or World of Trouble (from “Sonic Brew”) may not be wholly satisfied. This is laid back in comparison- think hard rock rather than metal this time around. “1919 Eternal” it isn't. However, there is plenty of good material here to get your teeth into- it is more of a grower than an immediate shot in the arm.

Fields of Unforgiveness and My Dying Time lope by at mid pace, utilising, melody and only the odd pinch harmonic here and there. Things hit their stride with Believe- a bluesy, languid groove predominates, with Wylde's vocals still Ozzy-like but more restrained than on previous records. This laid back approach works well. Angel of Mercy is the first ballad on the record, harking back to Zakk's Pride and Glory days with its southern inflections and nimble backing.

Heart of Darkness (not, as far as I can tell, a literary critique of the Konrad novel- I don't think Zakk is going to trouble to any pub quiz teams any time soon...)  boasts a fine rocking riff and again laid back pacing- guitar pyrotechnics at the two and a half minute mark, too. Beyond The Down is again almost grunge like in its approach. It would not sound out of place on an Alice In Chains record, or even an Alter Bridge one. Scars is another Zakk-in-acoustic-mode, with a strong vocal melody.

Damn The Flood is the album's de facto best track. Classic riff, the band picks up the pace and the whole thing Three and a bit minutes that will make you dig out the back catalogue and enjoy. I've Gone Away is similarly weighty- but drops the pace and goes for melody again. Empty Promises continues the record's purple patch- cool rhythm work on the drums allows the band to do something different as the band play at Sabbath pace. Shades of Grey closes the album proper- with a lengthy ballad. The solo is bombastic and the melody lines strong. For those who shell out for bonus tracks, the version I have comes with two- Dark Side of The Sun (a rocker with an excellent riff and for my money could have replaced one of the ballads on the album) and Nomad (a ballad that is too overwrought for my tastes).

So, the verdict? COTBV is certainly better than a few of BLS' records. It is melodically strong, the guitar work is great and there are a couple of ripping tracks with the material being of uniformly high quality. For me, a kind of ranked BLS albums list runs like this: “Sonic Brew” (superb album), “Order of The Black”, “1919 Eternal”, “The Blessed Hellride”, “Stronger than Death” and then bringing up the rear in no order are “Shot To Hell”, “Mafia” and “Hangover Music...”. In the pantheon of the catalogue, I would say that COTBV sits around the middle. And that is to say that it is much better than most records you will hear this year.

Words by : Richard Maw

You can buy it for all good stockists now. Available on CD/DD/LP

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