Zakk Wylde is the man. Whether talking or singing, playing acoustic or plugged into a stack of Marshalls, drinking beer or drinking coffee, performing with Ozzy, solo, or with Black Label Society, he commands your attention. Zakk’s heartfelt sincerity, jovial personality, and incredible talent take center stage wherever he goes. Practically everything he touches turns to gold, and after 16 years and nine studio albums, the latest Black Label Society offering, “Catacombs of the Black Vatican” is no exception.
‘Fields of Unforgiveness’ opens the album with a sweet Zeppelin-like groove. Zakk’s patented pinch squeals greet you like an old friend. ‘My Dying Time’ keeps the groove flowing with Zakk’s vocal and guitar maintaining the listener’s focus on the melody. Full of bluesy vocals and Southern rock flare, ‘Believe’ and ‘Beyond the Down’ are a couple stompers that hark back to something from Zakk’s “Pride & Glory” days. ‘Angel of Mercy’ is the first ballad on the album. Its melody and tone is comforting and smooth. The song peaks with a phenomenal guitar solo, but lets you land softly in the end. The track ‘Heart of Darkness’ picks up where ‘Fields of Unforgiveness’ left off, this time with more of a Sabbath feel.
‘Scars’ is the second ballad on the album. With its transitions from acoustic to electric guitar and back it would fit nicely on the “Book of Shadows” disc. Zakk starts the solo with a cool slide guitar sound and finishes with a sweet jazzy tone. There is a trio of signature Black Label Society flavor tunes; ‘Damn the Flood,’ ‘I’ve Gone Away,’ and ‘Empty Promises.’ All are packed with crushing riffs, ripping solos, and dark harmonies. Chad Szeliga does some particularly nifty drumming on the last of the three. Closing out the album is the bluesy doo-wop tune, ‘Shades of Gray’. It’s an interesting choice of song to end the record with. It shows that Zakk’s talent and influences have no bounds.
“Catacombs of the Black Vatican” is the second consecutive release that has been recorded at Wylde’s home studio, the Black Vatican. It has a very similar sound and style to the first album recorded there, “Order of the Black.” Zakk’s guitar always sounds good, but Chad Szeliga’s drums sound exceptionally good. They sound very natural and not overly processed like on many of Black Label Society’s previous releases.
With its quality songs, great musicianship, and transparent production, this is a solid album from start to finish. Zakk’s songwriting skills continue to catch up with his guitar prowess. For me, “Catacombs of the Black Vatican” definitely ranks towards the top of Black Label Society’s catalog.