Catacombs Of The Black Vatican review by Black Label Society

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  • Released: Apr 8, 2014
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7 Good
  • Users' score: 7.8 (30 votes)
Black Label Society: Catacombs Of The Black Vatican

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!

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I listened to this album 2ice and I'll be honest, it feels less metal and more of a classic/hard rock type of vibe. I definitely noticed that Alice in Chains thing going on in this album and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it lends for zakk to have more variety when it comes to mixing it up on a setlist on the road but that's IMO
    New BLS - at least 8/10. A very good, consistent album. If only the drums sounded more natural I'd definitely imagine Catacombs as Sonic Brew's follow-up. It has that old school vibe and is even more enjoyable than Order of the Black. Great job by Zakk.
    It's definitely a BLS album, but it's extremely laid back. Worth owning if you're a Lifer, but if I were to recommend a BLS album to someone, this wouldn't be anywhere near the Top 5.
    What you you recommend to start with ?
    personally I'd suggest "Blessed Hellride", "Kings of Damnation" or "Skullage"
    Blessed Hellride, definitely. And minus some filler tracks, Mafia was excellent. I miss Lomenzo on bass, he's great on every ZW album. JD is good, but he doesn't hold a candle to James. And just as a side-note, I would also check out Zakk Wylde's Pride and Glory & Book of Shadows albums. They're not BLS, but they're his best works in my opinion.
    Another great album by BLS. Some of us play our guitars all hours of the night keeping up our neighbors and whatnot. This is great music to do just that too. Order of the Black was one of the best albums ever conceived. This owuld be like comparing apples and oranges. BLS is the only money in 15 years I have ever spent on music. I actually buy his stuff instead of illegally downloading it, which is most of the posers out there do.
    It's definitely a BLS album, but not that special. Like many said, Order of the Black was in your face right from the get-go. By far better riffs. Catacombs is alright, but only alright. And I'm surprised to find that none of the ultimate guitarists and big BLS fans have not noted that almost all the solos are almost direct copies, or at least collection of, from albums before. Specially in Angel of Mercy, otherwise a very good piece. Yeah, yeah, he always does the same things, but here even more noticeably so. Nomad and other slow ones are the highlights, the harder ones are not up to par. All that said, I'm listening to it in repeat.
    Just listened to it fully through and went back to multiple tracks and I must say even though I wasn't expecting as many soft songs the album was ****ing brilliant. each song has a really good feeling to it you can just feel the emotion through some of these songs like Angel of Mercy and others. But on the more metal tracks like Dark Side of the Sun and Damn the Flood are extremely good! Doesn't have as much energy as Order of the Black does but this one just has a lot more feel and emotion. Zakk and the boys did a spectacular job on this one I'm very happy with this release I'd give it a 9.75/10. Diffidently something worth buying!!
    Not that good really, Order of the black was better by miles
    not sure why your getting downvoted here. i agree 100%. good album but not as good as order of the black
    Not even close to BLS best stuff but its ok. I was hoping for something a little harder like Order of the Black or Stronger Than Death. Don't know why there is so many ballads on this album since he just released Unblackened last year
    I actually did not think this was nearly as strong a release as Order of the Black. The sound is very different (not bad, just different). Need to give it a few more spins to see how I feel.
    exactly how i feel. this album on first listen was not impressive to me except for the as always, excellent slow ballads. After a few spins though it is growing on me. I'm a huge BLS fan and buy every new release, but order of the black smacked you in the face right away and you knew it was a kick ass album on first listen. I never review a cd until i give it at least 2 weeks of spins.
    After 2-3 more yesterday I can say it is definitely a good album but like you said just not as "in the face" as Order of the Black which is one of the things I really liked about that album. This one isn't that heavy but still good. It will likely make my list of good albums this year but as of now Chevelle's La Gorgola is still my favorite so far. Awaiting Mastodon, In Flames, Machine Head, Killer Be Killed, etc etc etc.
    Order of the Black was easily their worst album. This is definitely an improvement, but not much to write home about. The production is better, the solo guitar tone isn't super fizzy, seems like Zakk and Co. are getting more of a feel for his home studio. Everything up to and including Shot to Hell was great, but BLS is now in their decline. None of the songs really stick with you.