Pointing out that Zakk Wylde is a good guitarist is the equivalent of stating the sky is blue or that James Hetfield is cooler than you, it’s just too obvious to require stating. Taking that into account I’m going to attempt to review the latest Black Label Society album without ever feeling the need to express that opinion, because quite frankly if you need me to tell you Zakk can play guitar, you’re probably reading the wrong site.
Black Label Society have always seemed to be on the outskirts of making it properly big in the metal world. They’ve released album after album of hard rock ‘bangers’, but maybe because Zakk was better known for his time with Ozzy or maybe just because the songs never quite hit that sweet, sweet spot it’s never really exploded for them. They’ve always stayed at that level where they’ll never open the festival but they’ll definitely never close it either. Sadly Catacombs of the Black Vatican is probably not going to change that. That doesn’t however stop it being one hell of a hard rock album.
BLS have always had chugging riffs and tracks that sound suited to being used to portray the wrong side of the tracks in a Hollywood movie and this album is no exception. Zakk’s vocal howl is never going to top any singing competition, but when incorporated into the metallic edge of tracks like “Heart of Darkness” it just works. Yet while these big tracks are without a doubt the norm for BLS it doesn’t stop them portraying a different side to their personality on Catacombs. There are at least two moments on this album where Zakk strips everything back and treats us to numbers reminiscent of his solo project Book Of Shadows. On “Angel of Mercy” and “Scars” we see a different side to the Viking-esque frontman as he picks up the acoustic guitar and, whisper it now, displays his sensitive side.
Those of you only looking for the big riffs and bigger songs needn’t worry though. BLS are still a hard rock band and these tracks really just serve to provide a bit of down time before they rip into another rocker like “Beyond the Down”.
You’ll already know whether you are going to like this album or not. Black Label Society are a band who know exactly what they are and they have never tried to hide it. Plus that Zakk Wylde really can play guitar…
Choice Cuts: “Empty Promises”, “Angel of Mercy”
For Fans of: Hellyeah, Lynyrd Skynyrd