Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society - Catacombs of the Black Vatican (Bullet Proof AU)

'A tour de force of modernist classic rock/metal styling'...
Release Date: 
10 Apr 2014 - 11:30pm

Zakk is bakk! It’s a Zakk attack!! Etc etc… Such hyperbole might have greeted a release from everyone’s favourite berserker a few years ago, but the truth of the matter is in 2014 Mr Zakk Wylde and bombastic hyper pomposity don’t make such easy bedfellows as once they did.

Sure, there’s still some high-powered balls out riffage to be had on Catacombs… (chugfest Heart of Darkness in particular hits the spot like only Wylde can), and there’s enough of the man’s stock-in-trade AIC/Sabs/Ozzy doomy sturm und drang to keep most metalheads happy, but the most effective tracks on this album – that is, the ones where you don’t find your mind wandering, thinking on which previous BLS album you’ve heard some of these riffs before – are the ones where the band unwelds its foot from the accelerator pedal and allows itself to stretch out a bit, the rewards for which action are immediately apparent to the listener and, hopefully, everyone involved in the making of this album.

Consequently, the acoustic-based Angel of Mercy is the most effective track here, notwithstanding a chorus that’s faintly reminiscent at first hearing of U2’s One; Wylde has a great unadorned voice, one that aches with sincerity when it’s not trying out its best karaoke Osbourne or Staley efforts, and it’s a voice I for one hope we hear more of in the future from Wylde. To top off his best vocal performance of the album, Zakk also tosses off his best solo, a fluid, rampant extension of his hero Jimmy Page’s tumescent ending to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. It’s triumphant , a tour de force of modernist classic rock/metal styling, and certainly a candidate, even at this early stage, in my song of the year stakes.

To my mind the album never quite recovers from this unexpected touch of greatness, though it does have some more moments of real class. The reflective ballad Scars is a high point for sure, whilst the high octance stomp of Damn the Flood is pure stoner metal nirvana, distilled and ready for distribution to any and all who like a touch of mayhem with their madness (and who have a soft spot for shredding solos). The album closes out (for those of you getting the bonus track versions at least) with the peculiarly alluring Hell and Fire, a song that somehow fuses Neil Innes’s  classic How Sweet to Be an Idiot to Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door with frankly gobsmacking success; it’s another dose of acoustic Zakk, and it ends the album in splendid style.


Something for everyone then, and whilst large portions of Catacombs… will have out n’out metal fans looking askance at their speakers waiting for the next tidal wave of downtuned dynamics, to these ears at least this is the best release from the BLS stables in a long, long time.