After an odds 'n' sods set and an acoustic-oriented live album, guitar hero Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society is ready to get back to "the normal Black Label, the heavy stuff again" -- and will do so with the April 8 release of its ninth studio album, "Catacombs of the Black Vatican."
"They're rock songs," Wylde tells Billboard of the 11 tracks that populate "Catacombs," BLS' first set of all original material since 2010's "The Order of the Black." In between the group released the covers-heavy "The Song Remains Not the Same" and the stripped-back concert recording "Unblackened." "It's how 'Order' was or whatever else. It was easier this time. They're rock songs; these aren't Mahavishnu Orchestra tunes with several parts and you've got to be tight. They're rock songs; it's that easy. There's no, like, four months of pre-production. If you're rolling with guys who know how to play their instruments, it takes two seconds."
Also making the recording easier, Wylde says, is that "Catacombs" marks the second time working in the Black Vatican studio, which is in a guest house on Wylde's 10-acre spread in outside Los Angeles.
"We just got an upgrade in the studio before we made ('Catacombs')," Wylde notes. "When we did the 'Order' record, that's when we christened the Black Vatican, getting the sound of he room and whole nine yards. Now the drum set is in there, set up and ready to go, all my amps, my guitars, all my crayons are set up in there, ready to use. So we don't take as much time mic-ing stuff and moving stuff around. If I want a clean guitar I know which (instrument) to grab and which amp to put it through. So it's really great now." And, Wylde adds, "It would have been really wonderful back in the drinking days, when I used to sleep over at the studio because I wasn't going to drive home. This way I could've crawled back into the main house -- or rolled into it."
Wylde says BLS recorded 15 songs for "Catacombs" and plans to use the remaining four as bonus tracks. The group hasn't shared any music with the public yet but has posted a teaser video in which Wylde tells viewers, "Face your fear. Accept your war. Destroy and conquer. Within the catacombs of the Black Vatican" while the words Strength, Determination, Merciless and Forever flash on the screen.
The album also marks BLS's first without founding rhythm guitarist Nick Catanese, who announced he was leaving the band, amicably earlier this year to concentrate on his other band, Kaldera -- ironically when Wylde was about to involve him in the recording process for the first time.
"He's never really played on the studio records," Wylde notes, "but this time I called him and said, 'Nick, do you want to come out and while I'm playing piano on certain songs you can just play acoustic guitar on certain things,' 'cause that's what we do as well. And he was like, 'Zakk, I'm knee deep in this thing, recording with these guys.' After that, when Nick called again, it was like, 'Zakk, I really want to sink my teeth into this thing. I just need to do it for me,' and I said, 'Dude, of course, man. I love ya, Nick.' You've always got a home here. Do what you got to do and kick some ass.' We still love him, man."
New guitarist Dario Lorina, meanwhile, played with Lizzy Borden and was hand-picked for the job by Wylde.
"We weren't gonna do an 'American Idol' cattle call or anything," Wylde says. "We flew him out to the Vatican and met him and had him do the Chippendale dance routine. I said, 'Is that a spray tan or a real tan?' and he goes 'That's a real tan,' so he was in. That's a vital element to a good guitar player," Wylde adds with a laugh.
Black Label Society will be headlining the Revolver Golden Gods Tour, which runs April 16-June 7, and will also perform at for Rock on the Range during May in Columbus, Ohio. This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the group's first album, "Sonic Brew," and Wylde says he'll "consider" doing something special, like playing the album in its entirety.
"It doesn't feel that long," he adds. "I think about someone like Jimmy Page; Led Zeppelin was, like, 12 years of his life, and he's still going. But that's still his life and still his band; those 12 years must've gone by in the blink of an eye, y'know?"
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- Zakk Wylde