‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ is the tenth studio album by metal band Black Label Society. It was released on April 8 2014 via eOne and was produced by Zakk Wylde. This album is the first release by Black Label Society since 2010′s Order of the Black, although their 2011 release Song Remains Not The Same is considered a companion album to the aforementioned 2010 album.
‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’ features a lot of new members this time around, for the first time in a few years if I’m correct. Lizzy Borden guitarist Dario Lorina enters the band, replacing long-time guitarist Nick Catanese in December 2013. It is also the first Black Label Society album to have former Breaking Benjamin drummer Chad Szeliga replacing fill-in drummer Mike Froedge, who left the band. Froedge himself replaced Will Hunt, who replaced longtime drummer Craig Nunenmacher, all in the span of less than two years.
When I first learned about this release I was very excited. Black Label Society (hereby called BLS for short) are a band, like many others, that you can count to release solid album after solid album. Whilst I have been a fan of Wylde for many years now because of his playing with Ozzy Osbourne on his solo albums, it was with 2003′s The Blessed Hellride is the first album I bought of BLS, then 2010′s Order of the Black and now their latest 2014 album.
There is a certain trademark sound to BLS’ albums, mostly notably the trademark sound of Wylde’s guitar dominating the album (with added pinch harmonics). It was trademark on Ozzy’s albums as well, so when you put on a BLS album the guitar is instantly recognizable. Since 2010 BLS have been incredibly busy between releases with two very important releases which would indefinitely reflect how Catacombs.. would eventually sound.
Song Remains Not The Same was an album that featured alternate versions of the songs seen on Order of the Black. Unblackened was a live album released last year (2013) which was entirely acoustic. When I first heard the single “My Dying Time” (released back in January) I was very torn between liking it and not liking it, however I knew the album would be coming out later in the year and I would definitely purchase it. I especially liked the direction of the song and how everything is mixed brilliantly.
‘My Dying Time’ video
I’ve been a bit stubborn in listening to this album ever since I got it. I definitely feel that Unblackened album has influenced Wylde’s writing and overall vision for Catacombs… but it doesn’t have that same ‘oomph’ that the last album (Order of the Black) had, or at least it’s taking its time to grow on me – this is usually a running trend with me during Spring, so it’s nothing against the quality of the music. I certainly feel that “My Dying Time” is one of the weakest songs on the album, although I’m beginning to like it more and more. These were just my first thoughts of the album.
“Fields of Unforgiveness” starts off this album really well – it has everything you would expect of BLS, especially Wylde’s patented guitar tones and pinch harmonics, but I feel that this album has been mixed brilliantly. In fact, the tree opening tracks including “Believe” all open up this album really well and boast that familiarity of BLS you would expect. “Angel of Mercy” is an acoustic number which I feel that Unblackened heavily influenced, but it does feature a simple drum rhythm, closed with style by Wylde’s ever so prominent guitar solo. In fact, this album features two other acoustic numbers: track number six “Scars” and [insert tracks here].
Given that BLS have gone through a lot of members changes in the two years since releasing Song Remains Not The Same, I think that Catacombs… proves yet again why BLS have become a household name within the metal community. With the acoustic tracks being quite a few with this release – three, actually – it doesn’t make the album feel disjointed or it doesn’t disrupt the flow, instead the album flows really well. In fact I think that this album has the right balance between heaviness and softness, and I would say that in the latter half the album does pick up in intensity with tracks like “Damn The Flood”, “I’ve Gone Away” and “Empty Promises”.
Overall: I think that Catacombs… is a fantastic album which bears all the hallmarks everyone would expect of BLS but it also has a few things which people might not expect. Even with the member changes I didn’t notice it until I started doing my research for this album, which goes how great this album is. My main question is will people agree with me on this album being a defining statement in BLS’ career, and if it is, then where do they go next? 9.2/10