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on 7 April 2014
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.

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?
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on 8 June 2014
This album I purchased with the mindset of having everything BLS has released and as I am a big fan my review refrains from being too biased. The latest release from Zakk has some really face crushing riffs, loads of pinch harmonics and some amazing lyrics. The riffs arent as memorable unfortunately as some of The Order Of The Black's tracks, but has some gnarly bass lines, pulsing drum beats and of course, screaming wah wah solos, his solos are faster than ever on this album, sometimes I feel his phrasing could be better, as occassionally, his solos sound out of place. That being said these solos are as Wylde as the beast himself, so if you want some hard hitting rock tracks to help soothe the pain of the majority of the trash out here today, and love super high output shredding solos then this is definitely up your avenue.

This 'Black' Limited Edition features 2 bonus tracks, the chromatically powerful 'Dark Side of the Sun', and acoustic melancholic 'Blind Man'. If you are thinking if its worth the extra couple of quid, then I'd say yes, undoubtedly. Dark Side of the Sun is probably the strongest track on this LP. With 'Empty Promises' being another contender. The vocals are incredible, as are the lyrics, the guitar harmonies are tight, the solo is very well implemented, the bass is low and growly, the drums are good with the exception that some of the fills lacklustre, but has a cool tempo rush during the jumping solo section. Overall a fantastic bonus track, so Blind Man then. This one comes in dynamically strong with some vocal harmonies and lovely staggered beats during the bridge, another bluegrass Lynyrd Skynyrd type track from Zakk. The chorus is nice and flowing, and I must say, I love this song, the solo is what lets it down, well the first quarter of it feels forced, whereas it blends nicely after that, so another great track.

If you love BLS you need this in your collection, if you are a Hard Rock/Metal fan, buy Order of the Black or Mafia, and if you like them you will like this, Zakk since detoxification from drink has provided not just some of the best work of his career, but some of the best music of the decade. This album is definitely a fantatic release with the exception of some flaws, but thats my opinion, music is an art afterall.
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on 27 April 2014
...he got it right with this one i'm obsessed with it - love the driving guitar and vocals can't stop listening to the darn thing. The bonus tracks are well worth having.. off to find live tickets..
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on 14 April 2014
I have had this latest Black Label album on loop. I think it is an excellent step in terms of the bands sound. Lots of great riffs. Much needed after a number of good compilation albums.
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on 30 April 2014
This is excellent BLS fare. Massive riffs,melody and huge vocals by Zakk. Scars sends a shiver down my spine. Buy,play,enjoy!!
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on 6 November 2015
Belated review, but I thought it deserve it. The words massive, awsome, powerful, heavy...etc won't give justice to this album. I am addicted to this album since my 14 years niece told me about a year and a half ago. This album is the best produced album from the whole BLS catalogue, in my opinion. The sound of each instrument is so taken care that when playing hard you can hear every single beat, bass, harmony, melody crystal clear - not sure how different Wylde and co has approched the recording of the album differently from previous albums. Not trying to say that previous albums are not equally great. This album should be a milestone in the history of metal.
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on 10 May 2014
Awesome album and love the bonus tracks. Everything Zakk touches turns to Gold! I love every track on this album. Not a I've been listening to it nonstop since the day it was released.
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on 6 May 2014
As ever, black label and zakk creating wonderfull riffs, be dark and heavy as hell and the same time soft and slowly with pretty melodies
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on 3 May 2014
Zakk Wylde continues to show why he's one of the most iconic rock players of all time. In this record, there are no songs that we could remember as classics 5 or 10 years from now. But the record continues to enchant all those which like Zakk's mastery of the guitar.
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on 9 June 2015
BLS nailed it yet again!! Zakk Wylde is a first class plank spanker!!!
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