Zakk Wylde needs no introduction in the metal community. Being a part of some of the biggest metal releases over the last two decades playing with either Ozzy Osbourne or fronting his own bands has cemented his legacy. Black Label Society are ready to return as they come off one of the longest breaks of their career between proper studio releases with Catacombs of the Black Vatican.
The songwriting on Catacombs of the Black Vatican is right in line with what has made Black Label Society one of the best metal bands since 1999. Combining gigantic Black Sabbath inspired riffs with southern rock sensibilities is the perfect BLS formula.
Even though they released the stopgap acoustic album The Song Remains Not the Same two years ago, and the live album Unblackened last year, their last studio album was 2010s Order of the Black. Never straying to far from their formula, Wylde is confident in his approach that if isn’t broke don’t fix it.
The album opens with the one-two punch of “Fields of Unforgiveness” and the first single “My Dying Time.” Both feature swampy chunky guitars and will have your neck sore with their mid-tempo groove. Wylde seems to have spent time on the melodies as they are infectious and memorable and contain some of the best hooks of his career.
The closest track that finds Wylde replicates his Ozzy years is the headbanging “Empty Promises.” A thick sludgy riff dominates and isn’t too far removed from his riff of “My Jekyll Doesn’t Hyde” from Ozzy’s Ozzmosis. The lead is insane as Wylde’s pentatonic scales are played at a speed that is as fast as anyone playing today. His alternate picking is so tight and controlled.
Even though Wylde writes some of the thickest metal riffs, he star truly shines on the more subdued tracks. His exceptional acoustic solo record Book of Shadows is his best non-Ozzy release of his career and the moodier numbers here are on the same level.
“Angel of Mercy” is an Allman Brothers inspired gorgeous acoustic strummed classic. Wylde’s vocals match the emotion of the music as he contemplates the loss of a loved one. His lead is spot on as his pentatonic leads are put through a Wah Pedal and pour out of the speakers, an instant classic that I can’t stop listening to.
The album ends with the Steve Cropper influenced “Shades of Gray,” a moody piece that musically is right in line with Otis Redding’s “I Got Dreams to Remember.” Wylde captures the emotions of a classic soul song with a Black Label Society twist on the almost seven minute piece. This is the farthest he stretches his songwriting and it leaves me wanting more.
Some people are put off by Wylde’s biker image and overall attitude, which is a shame. The man’s legacy speaks for itself and his playing is more relevant than it ever has been. There aren’t too many guitar heroes left and Wylde carries the torch with pride.
Catacombs of the Black Vatican is another excellent release for a band that has been incredibly consistent through the years. What I respect most about Wylde is the fact that he plays for himself and doesn’t feel the need to change up his style for anything. He wears his influences on his sleeve and his latest release showcases that brilliantly.
(released April 8, 2014 on eOne Music)