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Black Label Society album returns to traditional style

By Evan Goad
On April 10, 2014

Zakk Wylde's masterpiece ensemble Black Label Society (BLS), a constantly evolving band - moreso in membership than sound or mentality - whose dynamic medley of hard rock legends demands the attention of any metal-head, moved forward with the release of its album "Catacombs of the Black Vatican" two days ago. Despite losing their long-time rhythm guitarst, Nick Catanese, and a second short-lived replacement drummer, Chad Szeliga, BLS had no problems in either creativity with writing or musical direction/compatability since the loss of both members and the recording of its new album. Wylde has claimed this in several interviews with outlets such as Ultimate-Guitar.com and Blabbermouth.net.
Catanese was the only other long-time member of the band, preceded and outlasted only by Wylde, and his separation has been attributed to growing focus on a side project. There was strong will to remain a member of BLS only if his focus was consistent with a constant devotion to its success. Catanese and Wylde have both attested to the amicability of the split and continuance of a positive mentality following his departure. Catanese was replaced by Dario Lorina of Lizzy Borden, while Szeliga was replaced by Jeff Fabb of Filter.
The new album and ninth studio recorded LP, released on April 7, is a return to the immortalized BLS style many of the band's listeners have grown to know and love, after a brief departure from its usual face-melting guitar solos, heavy reverb/distortion and slow-building metal riffs with squealing pinch harmonics.
This movement away from their traditional style was met with a generally positive reaction in both 2011 and 2013 with the releases of "The Song Remains Not the Same" and "Unblackened," respectively. The first was a compilation album BLS acoustically re-recorded and re-arranged with songs solely from their previous 2010 album, "Order of the Black," and added several cover songs. The second followed in suit but encompassed a much larger span of the band's life. Songs were cherry-picked from their discography in this live, psudeo-unplugged album which was met with great reception for its daring and well-adapted mix of the heavy style and acoustic elements, ringing true to the die-hard metal audiences both immediately and upon distribution.
Several songs on "Catacombs" are pulled from a similar objective and show the deeper, evenly matured side of BLS also shown on the previous two non-studio-original album releases. "Angel of Mercy" and "Scars," each with violin-backing and a powerfully emotional guitar solos, hold the same versatility displayed on these former records. However, this move does not take away from the integrity or legacy of the album or band. There is very much a standard of excellence instilled within them, along with an easily-heard devotion to metal lore; no selling-out here. "Shades of Gray," another ballad-like, slow song and the album's closer, however, seems to be influenced heavily by late-70s, early-80s classic rock like The Eagles (who Wylde has admitted to taking songwriting influence from) or other bands from that era in rock history. It doesn't work as much as the other two. It is a decent song, but does not sound natural or true to their body of work.
All other songs on the album are a triumphant and hard-hitting return to the more traditional BLS, metal-homage style. Listeners of any southern rock, metal or hard rock, can find enjoyment in listening. There is distinct influence from Wylde's alma mater, Ozzy Osbourne (once lead singer of Black Sabbath), and other grunge-era power-anthem producing bands like Alice in Chains. Most notably, their single "My Dying Time" along with "Beyond the Down" and bonus song "Dark Side of the Sun" were incredibly well done and heavy. The record seemed to lack a bit of lyrical angst and supreme diction displayed among their previous eight studio-releases.
 


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