Sound — 7
Black Label Society, or BLS, is Zakk Wylde's side project which suddenly became his main project when Ozzy booted him from Ozzy's band. Zakk has been active with BLS since 1998, which has allowed him the freedom as a songwriter and frontman which he wasn't getting in Ozzy's camp. Since the beginning the band has fostered an image of hard-rocking and heavy drinking rebels, and that has carried on into the songwriting on many occasions and has become an integral part of the band. BLS grew bigger and has even been playing some of the same festivals as Ozzy over the years. BLS's popularity was also bumped after a guest appearance by Zakk Wylde on "American Idol" a few years ago, exposing people to Zakk that wouldn't have otherwise encountered him. "Catacombs of the Black Vatican" will be the band's ninth full-length studio album. There are 13 tracks on the "Black" edition of the album, counting the two bonus tracks, with the entire album clocking in at a little under 55 minutes. "My Dying Time" was released in January 2014 as a single from the album.
The album opens with the track "Fields of Unforgiveness," which has a distinct Alice In Chains vibe to it to my ears, but with Zakk's signature pinch harmonics ringing out occasionally. "My Dying Time," which was the only single released from the album, is up next and is almost mixing a little bit of a "southern rock" feel into the song. "Believe" has an acoustic sound in the beginning of the track, sounding almost like country for the first few seconds before a little bit of distortion comes in. "Angel of Mercy" is centered around an acoustic guitar, but with an exceptional electric guitar solo in the track, as well. "Heart of Darkness" marks a step back into heavier tracks with a lot of riffing and pinch harmonics. "Beyond the Down" is another track almost modeled after "Heart of Darkness," but again almost using the type of vocal melodies and harmonies that Alice In Chains popularized. "Scars" is an acoustic-driven track, and has an almost country feel to it but is a very well written track that I found myself enjoying more than a lot of the heavier material on the album. "Scars" has a nice solo that fits the song very well and really helps makes "Scars" one of my favorite tracks from album. "Damn the Flood" almost has a Nickelback "Burn It to the Ground" vibe, but add in the pinch harmonics once again. "I've Gone Away" is another heavy track with a heavy riff with some wah going on in there. I was excited that the first 30 seconds went by without any pinch harmonics…but then they came in. "Empty Promises" was an interesting track to me, with a neat little melody and some of Zakk's most interesting vocals from the album, in my opinion, and a blazing guitar solo which had a tolerable amount of pinch harmonics. "Shades of Grey" is like Zakk's impression of John Lennon or something, but honestly it was so different I kept going back to it. The first bonus track, "Dark Side of the Sun" is a heavy rocker that is like classic BLS. The album closes out with the bonus track, "Nomad," which has an acoustic intro and builds up to a heavier middle section and is kind of reminiscent of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with the main recurring guitar part in the track. A good track to close the album out on.
Lyrics — 7
Zakk has continued to grow in his role as a vocalist over the years, and while his effort isn't necessarily consistent on "Catacombs of the Black Vatican," there are some standout moments. You can definitely tell on certain tracks that he learned a lot of what he does vocally from watching Ozzy over the years - I noticed this especially on the track "Heart of Darkness." The lyrics are pretty much the standard lyric from a BLS release. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the single "My Dying Time" from the album: "Chosen thing/ I have become broken stave and overrun/ In my dying time my wounds shall be healed/ servant to what's offering the poisoned ground I've fallen in/ In myhdying time You're all that's real."
Overall Impression — 7
It is hard to review an album like this sometimes, as the subsequent parts of the album don't necessarily match up with your overall opinion. What I mean is that from an instrumental standpoint the guitar work is great, the drums are at least sufficient, the bass is solid, the vocals are some of the best from BLS' history even if the lyrics are a little more iffy. So, the album has a lot of good stuff going for it, but at the end of the day it isn't a very memorable album. It isn't bad, it just doesn't standout - it is lukewarm. I can't even say that I had a "least favorite" track, but I did like "Scars," "Nomad" and "Shades of Grey" more than a lot of the rest of the album. At the end of the day, if you are a fan you won't necessarily be disappointed, but this album won't knock your socks off, either. I have to be honest, but maybe the continuous pinch harmonics got old to me too quick to be a fair judge of these albums, but I'm not entirely convinced that is my fault and not Zakk's. Lay off the pinch harmonics, man!