Black Label Society - Catacombs of the Black Vatican - (5/10)
Published on April 7, 2014
Identity crisis…of the Black.
“It can’t be forgotten nor overstated that Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society equates to more than one man, more than a band, more than a brotherhood,” reads the press release accompanying the ninth record by Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican.
However, Zakk Wylde literally is Black Label Society. Up until the 2005, crossover smash, Mafia, Wylde exclusively handled all of Black Label Society’s instrumentation, besides drums; Guitar, Bass, Vocals: Wylde. To this day Wylde receives exclusive writing credit for all of Black Label Society’s original material.
Zakk Wylde: None So Black (Label Society).
If a second definitive member of Black Label Society needed to be nominated however, the clear candidate is guitarist Nick Catanese, who played with Wylde and his society of black labels since the band’s inception, all the way back in 1998 (although he doesn’t receive any performance credits until Mafia),1 before leaving “amicably” at the end of last year. Catanese has since been replaced by ex-Lizzy Borden axeman Dario Lorina.2
(This one speaks for itself really.)
Catacombs Of The Black Vatican seems to suggest that, either; Catanese played a much larger role in the band than anyone (including Wylde) credited him with, or if Wylde is solely responsible for Black Label Societies output, then the man has (at least temporarily) lost his mojo.
“Catacombs of the Black Vatican will stand as an enduring testament to Black Label Society’s sheer force of will and mastery of each and every musical neighborhood the hard rock titans choose to stomp through,” claims the press release, with Wylde adding, “We3 approach it [recording a new album] like lifting weights. You want to see if you can beat your bench from last time. It’s about beating what you did last time, sonically.”
That was certainly the case with Catacombs Of The Black Vatican’s predecessor, Order Of The Black4 (2010), which was undoubtedly the most Bombastic Black Label Society record since The Blessed Hellride (2003), and forcefully laid claim to its legacy with powerhouse tracks like “Crazy Horse” and “Overlord.” Catacombs Of the Black Vatican however is a meandering and tepid affair, which, if ultimately inoffensive, is clearly the band’s weakest outing to date.
Catacombs Of The Black Vatican lacks Black Label Society and Wylde’s distinctive “oomph!” The album’s flagship single, “My Dying Time,” is a swampy rumbler, invocative of Alice In Chains due to its vocal harmonies, with Wylde playing Jerry Cantrell to his own Layne Staley/William DuVall , which is most striking for not containing any of Wylde’s signature (and incessant) guitar-squealing, and is ultimately unsatisfying in that it seemingly builds and builds to nothing – its abrupt ending jarring the mellow, smoky mood it spent the last three-or-so minutes cultivating.
It’s only really “Damn The Flood” and “I’ve Gone Away” (the latter again having a distinct, Alice In Chains vibe about it) that embody Black Label Society’s trademark, heavy sleaze, and it’s only really on these tracks and “Angel Of Mercy” that Wylde really lets rip and lays claim to his reputation as one of the greatest shredders in the game.
Otherwise Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is steeped in uninspiring, mid-paced clunkers (“Fields Of Unforgiveness;” “Heart Of Darkness”) or otherwise, southern-tinged, acoustic affairs (“Angel Of Mercy;” “Shades Of Grey”) that rise above their lukewarm surroundings but feel out of place – Catacombs Of The Black Vatican not really having provided an appropriate context or lead into such sonic shifts in pace, which hardly allows them to re-capture the essence of 2004’s largely-acoustic and largely-successful Hangover Music, Vol VI.
“If you ask me, the difference between this album and the last eight or nine? It’s the song titles,” says Wylde,5 and certainly Black Label Society have been accused of merely treading water since Mafia. However, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican shows a distinctly different approach by Wylde and co. that sets it apart from – and beneath – the rest of the Black Label Society catalog.
Perhaps this shows a change in Wylde’s attitude, which could be supported by his filling the interim between Order Of The Black and Catacombs with the acoustic re-imagining collection The Song Remains Not The Same (2011), or perhaps Catanese’s contribution to the direction and output of Black Label Society was much larger than anyone gave him credit for.
Catacombs Of The Black Vatican isn’t going to damage Wylde’s legacy any, but it is the first Black Label Society album that comes without anything much in the way of recommending it.
2 Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is also the first Black Label Society album to feature Chad Szeliga of Breaking Benjamin fame, but that’s neither here nor there.
3 Notice here he says “we” not “I,” which would seem to support the first disjunct of my contention.
4 Hey Zakk, what’s your favorite color?
5 That would be the press release again.