Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Label Society In The Catacombs

Black Label Society Press
Frontman Zakk Wylde and the Black Label Society like to muse that their ninth album is just the same as every album before it. They only had to change the song names and step inside the studio.

It's not true of course, but it's effective at inoculating them against any criticism that they haven't evolved enough. Exactly right. They don't have to evolve, even though the vocals on this album sound better than any other the band has put out. Wylde seems to have found the right harmonics.

If criticisms are valid, it might be that the album is too laid back. It's so laid back that it has an excellent feel overall but never becomes as memorable as some of their earlier work. Take it how you will, but bands like Black Label Society are allowed to make an album to add to their overall repertoire as opposed to always being a brilliant standalone.

Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is a sedated retro rocker. 

What really stands out on Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is that most of it is too soft to be considered proper metal. It leans much more toward classic rock, with an alternative vibe partly akin to grunge in the nineties and clean sensibilities in the seventies.

Sure, most of it has been refreshed to reflect the times. Perhaps the influences are just more apparent than ever before. Simply put, it's difficult to listen to My Dying Time without it conjuring up the names of several bands that came before Black Label Society.

My Dying Time is very listenable, even with its sparse lyrical contributions. The track is about making some bad choices, having a hard life as a result, and then being rewarded for it at the end of life. It's clearly not the lyrics that make it work as much as the world weary sound of it all.

Fields Of Unforgiveness has a bit of borrowed sound too. If not for Wylde's occasionally pinched vocals, it might not even be readily recognizable as a Black Label Society track. What does pin the song down to this album, however, is the theme. Many of the tracks are snapshots of the twilight of life and punctuated by the idea that the end of it will be the beginning of something else.

Both tracks are solid but not surprising. If you want to be surprised, skip down to Scars. As an acoustic-driven track, the song is one of the slowest on the album but it also captures the sentiment being expressed on the album perfectly: "Say your peace, for I'll be on my way. One last look, nothing left to say. As I turn my back, to walk away. I shall forgive, but I won't forget that day."

Similarly, Shades Of Gray carries a slow closer sound that will immediately be familiar to anyone who appreciates classic rock. It's different than anything else ever put out by Black Label Society. Even better, add the bonus track Nomad to any must-listen list.

Other highlights include the riff-driven Believe, the bluesy headbanger Damn The Flood, and the chug of Empty Promises. All of them are underpinned by what Black Label Society does best. They know how to deliver what their fans want and they deliver it constantly without much fuss or fretting. This is the band you turn to when you know exactly what you want — and that mean no frills or low and throaty rock.

Catacombs Of The Black Vatican By Black Label Society Buries 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Black Label Society is one of those bands that everyone struggles to put a number to. None of it is all that original or new or evolved or different, which makes it tempting to ding them. And yet, all of it is meticulously crafted and sounds exactly how it it supposed to sound. Overall, there really aren't any hits or misses, with Scars being among the most memorable because it stands so well alone.

You can find Catacombs Of The Black Vatican by Black Label Society on Amazon or download all 13 tracks (11 album tracks, and two bonus songs) from iTunes. Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is also available from Barnes & Noble. You can also catch this Los Angeles-based band on Facebook.
blog comments powered by Disqus