Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review of Judas Priest's Redeemer of Souls


With all the hubbub that has already built up over the release of Judas Priest's seventeenth studio album, I can't help but find parallels between it and 1997's Jugulator. A lot of pressure has been on the band as Redeemer of Souls is their first album since the controversial Nostradamus came out in 2008, the first to feature guitarist Richie Faulkner in place of founding shredder K. K. Downing, and is here amidst a three year strong "farewell tour" and rumors of a hiatus. But like Jugulator, it's a flawed effort that does make for a fun listen.

In a way similar to 2005's Angel of Retribution, Redeemer of Souls serves as a sampler of the different sounds that Priest's tried out through their career. The classic 80s albums are predictably referenced the most as the band often aims for accessible rockers when they aren't trying to rewrite Painkiller. There are a few exceptions to the rule as "Crossfire" rides a 70s blues groove, the plodding "Secrets of the Dead" invokes Rob Halford's Fight project, and "Sword of Damocles" is a theatrical waltz that sounds like something Blind Guardian would've put together.



Of course, the band members' performances appear to be the biggest point of contention and they are indeed a mixed bag. Halford can still deliver when he's in his comfort zone and Faulkner adequately keeps up with Glenn Tipton, but the higher screams do show their age and the production does make the guitars sound a little stilted at times. They do fare better than the rhythm section as usual with bassist Ian Hill being as invisible as ever and drummer Scott Travis offering a heavy but rather downplayed performance.

Thankfully the songwriting keeps things from straying into bargain bin territory. Things start off strong with "Dragonaut" serving as a high speed opener and the title track offering an upbeat groove reminiscent of "Hell Patrol." From there, "Halls of Valhalla" and "Battle Cry" are borderline epics in the vein of The Headless Children-era WASP, "Down in Flames" is a light but energetic rocker, and "Beginning of the End" serves as an airy closer. The bonus tracks are also pretty solid as "Snakebite" has an AC/DC swagger and "Never Forget" is an emotional swan song for Priest's legacy even if it is a bit saccharine...


Overall, Redeemer of Souls is a respectable outing if this does turn out to be Priest's last effort but is still pretty decent if it doesn't. Angel of Retribution was a little better at the sampler approach but there are plenty of songs to like even if there isn't an honest to god classic among them. I'd check in with Accept or Queensryche if you want to see 80s metal still going strong but this is certainly better than Nostradamus...

Highlights:
"Dragonaut"
"Halls of Valhalla"
"Sword of Damocles"
"Down in Flames"
"Battle Cry"

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 5: The Final Risks

So the fifth and final installment of my very first Nuzlocke Challenge is one that may be slightly anticlimactic. While the trek through Victory Road and the battles at the Pokemon League are considered to be the hardest parts of the game and the ultimate test of a trainer's abilities, they still aren't that nerve wracking if your team is diverse and strong enough. I had a few concerns with the approach since my team was a couple levels lower than they usually are when I play this game, but I still successfully pulled through.

 Victory Road is always my favorite part of the game due to its trainers posing a bigger challenge than those before due to their higher leveled, more diverse teams and this run was certainly no exception. I had a few close calls with a couple battles here and there but I got my Pokemon to the levels where I would be more confident in my clashes against the Elite Four. I even knocked Moltres out for sport and captured an Onix which I nicknamed MagicSnake.

Too bad I didn't find it in the Rock Tunnel. Could've summed up this entire challenge

Once I made it to the Indigo Plateau, I decided to suspend the Nuzlocke rules for the sake of finishing the game in one round with the best Pokemon in my roster. With that in mind, I definitely took a few more risks than I had anytime prior to this and a few surprising battles came out of it. This was also where I didn't worry so much about keeping my Pokemon's levels even, allowing me to see who would become the strongest links.

The battle with Lorelei's Ice types is usually the one I have the hardest time with on my usual files but this didn't seem to be the case with this run. Lucky and Sparkles were the only two Pokemon I really needed as Sparkles took out her Dewgong, Cloyster, and Slowbro while Lucky went after her Jynx. Lucky was eventually felled by Lorelei's Lapras but Sparkles quickly made short work of it. With that, I revived Lucky and moved to the next challenge.

Bruno, the Fighting type master, is easily the weakest member of the Elite Four, especially if you have a strong Flying or Psychic handy. But only wanting to use Elsa sparingly, I thought this one would be a little trickier than usual. However, two of my more overlooked Pokemon pulled through as Weed destroyed an Onix and his Hitmonchan while Roid Rage finished off the other Onix and surprisingly held his own against his Machamp.

I already made the Onix joke so here's a picture of a Mudkip. I heard you leik them.

With the absence of a strong Pokemon or two that knew Psychic and Ground type attacks (Kooopaaaa...), Agatha was most definitely the trickiest Elite Four member on this run as I didn't have a definite advantage against her. Sparkles led the way against one of her Gengars, Roid Rage took out her Golbat and Haunter, Weezy defeated her Arbok when Roid Rage was knocked out, and a bit of paralysis from Sparkles contributed to the fall of her last Gengar. Overall, a little trickier than usual but still pretty manageable.

Lance was the final member to the Elite Four to fight and another one that I normally don't find too challenging since Pokemon with a strong Ice attack or two are easy to come by. Sparkles destroyed Gyarados with a single Thunderbolt, Weezy knocked out his two Dragonairs but was defeated by Aerodactyl's Bite attack, Sparkles jumped back in to take Aerodactyl out, and his Dragonite was vanquished by Elsa's Ice Beam.

Then in true Gen I fashion, Asshat was the game's last opponent and the battle with him may have been the most personal I've fought since I played this game for the very first time. Lucky beat Pidgeot with a single Thunder but lost to Alakazam, Elsa avenged it and Koopa by Flying after Alakazam, Roid Rage barely won out against Rhydon, Sparkles made short work of another Gyarados, Roid Rage had to cover for Weezy after it lost to Arcanine, and Weed defeated Venusaur in one of the game's most drawn out battles. And then, once the dust cleared, Professor Oak came.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

So not wanting to bother with the whole Mewtwo debacle, I have decided to end my quest here as I almost always do. Upon finishing the Nuzlocke Challenge, I find myself feeling a little richer for the experience and wishing that the game had gone on for longer. It would've been nice if I had saved a Pokemon or two but the team I ended up with was certainly a strong one and came through in a lot more ways than I would've expected.

A slightly worn-out game served as more than just a nostalgia-based reward system and it even got me to think about a few philosophical points beyond the usual Pokemon theories. It just may end up being the only way I ever play through this game but I probably won't be blogging too much about any of my future Nuzlocke experiences.

Unless I can shell out more Pokemon memes. Everyone loves Pokemon memes.

The Hall of Famers:
Weed the Vileplume, Level 46
Roid Rage the Machoke, Level 47
Sparkles the Jolteon, Level 49
Lucky the Chansey, Level 46
Weezy the Seadra, Level 46
Elsa the Articuno, Level 50

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17
Madame the Butterfree, Level 24
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 24
G-G-Ghost the Haunter, Level 38
YouFatFuck the Snorlax, Level 30
King the Nidoking, Level 40
Jazz the Koffing, Level 31
Koopa the Blastoise, Level 44

On Reserve:
FourChan the Hitmonchan, Level 30
Scramble the Exeggutor, Level 25
Lapras the Lapras, Level 15
Miracles the Magneton, Level 32
Alfred the Tentacool, Level 10
Lord Helix the Omanyte, Level 30
Azagthoth the Kangaskhan, Level 61
MagicSnake the Onix, Level 39

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 4: Where Is Your God Now?

It feels redundant to say but the Nuzlocke Challenge is truly a give and take experience. While my previous installment largely dealt with loss, it was surprisingly easy to make my way back to the top and ran into a few surprising conveniences along the way. Of course, things do find a way of evening out so I have the approached the ending of this chapter on another somber note...

The ocean routes were conquered a little easier than anticipated and a baby Tentacool named Alfred was caught and sent to the PC along the way. Teaching Lucky moves like Thunder and Solar Beam allowed it to catch up to the rest of the team a little easier and made me rethink its status as a novelty addition. The trek through Seafoam Island was also rather smooth though perhaps another moment of questionable ethics as I put on some Super Repel so that the legendary Articuno would be my first encounter in the cave. However, a Seadra popped up as it was a few levels ahead of Lucky and was named Weezy upon its capture. But not wanting to waste the Repels, I used the Master Ball to catch Articuno ayway and nicknamed it Elsa before sending it to Bill's PC.

"Let It Go" is now stuck in your head. I'm not sorry

While I had expected a Seadra to merely serve as filler on my team until I could get to the PC at Cinnabar, it quickly proved to be another surprise addition. Its HP is horrible but its Special stat is quite good and teaching it moves like Blizzard and Hyper Beam made it a fierce competitor. It also helps that the only Pokemon I acquired on Cinnabar were the revitalized Omanyte from Mt. Moon (nicknamed Lord Helix of course) and a Level 31 Koffing named Jazz that was immediately killed by a Scientist's Electrode in the Pokemon Mansion. Weezy also proved to be quite helpful against Blaine's Fire types as it didn't suffer a single hit in battle, thus confirming my theory that Blaine is the easiest Gym Leader in the game.

But as I Surfed my way back up to Pallet Town, I decided that I would take a little detour before I claimed the Earth Badge in Viridian City. No journey through the First Generation is complete without an encounter with the dreaded Missingno. so I decided to make a temporary spot on my team for the glitching abomination. After a few misses that included a brief freeze that forced me to turn the game back to my last saving point, I managed to capture a Level 80 Missingno. which I nicknamed Azagthoth and quickly evolved to a Kangaskhan using one of the infinite Rare Candies that I acquired after defeating it (Promise I won't use any of them. That's fourth grade shit right there). Once I had my amusement, Azagthoth was sent to the PC where it shall wait for a chance to break out of its cyber prison and bring about the end to the world as we know it...

And running into that Level 136 Marowak didn't exactly make me feel any better about this theory either...

And with that interlude of madness out of the way, I cleared through the Viridian City Gym without any issues and defeated Giovanni's team without taking a single hit from any of his Pokemon. Not too much else to note there. You know you have a problem when your first two Gym Leaders are the hardest and the last two are the easiest...

Unfortunately, the high of victory was brought back to a halt as I decided to end today's round by challenging Asshat before we made our way to the Pokemon League. The battle ruled in my favor as every member of my team was put to the test, but the ultimate tragedy occurred as his Alakazam boosted its defenses and killed Koopa with a single Psychic attack. Fortunately, Weezy took it out after surviving a particularly brutal Psybeam and Weed defeated his Venusaur in an overwhelmingly drawn out fashion, but I was hoping that I would be able to hang on to my starter for the entirety of the game. I'm not too emotionally caught up in such thigns but you know your ten year old self is getting teary eyed when you have to release your Blastoise in the town just north of where you first got your Squirtle...

With all the badges now acquired, the last part of this challenge will deal with my journey through Victory Road, the defeat of the Elite Four, and claiming my right as Champion. Elsa has taken over Koopa's well worn spot on the team, proof that a Legendary is sometimes the only thing that can compensate for the loss of a starter, and I don't anticipate losing anyone else on our way there. Of course, there will likely be another surprise or two but this is now where we really have to expect the unexpected. You're going down, Asshat. You're going down.



Current Lineup:
Weed the Vileplume, Level 43
Roid Rage the Machoke, Level 43
Sparkles the Jolteon, Level 43
Lucky the Chansey, Level 43
Weezy the Seadra, Level 44
Elsa the Articuno, Level 50

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17
Madame the Butterfree, Level 24
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 24
G-G-Ghost the Haunter, Level 38
YouFatFuck the Snorlax, Level 30
King the Nidoking, Level 40
Jazz the Koffing, Level 31
Koopa the Blastoise, Level 44

On Reserve:
FourChan the Hitmonchan, Level 30
Scramble the Exeggutor, Level 25
Lapras the Lapras, Level 15
Miracles the Magneton, Level 32
Alfred the Tentacool, Level 10
Lord Helix the Omanyte, Level 30
Azagthoth the Kangaskhan, Level 61

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 3: Hail to the King

Today was a somber day as I learned the harshest lesson that the Nuzlocke Challenge teaches to everyone who dares to attempt it: No Pokemon is truly immortal. Those who take the challenge are initially frightened by the rules and what they entail, but you soon adjust to the rules and find that the game is not as intimidating as it seemed. Past experiences give you an edge so you find ways to overcome death, occasionally cheat it, and even come up with plans to summon it for the sake of your own personal gain. You gamble with lives but eventually have your perceived godhood stripped away as you put the wrong ones in the line of fire.

Wait, what was I talking about?

For the most part, the march to remove all traces of Team Rocket from the Silph Co. building in Saffron City went over about as well as expected. My team was at least ten levels higher than most of the Grunts' Pokemon and I knew the layout well enough to keep from getting too overwhelmed. I even defeated Asshat during our fifth battle with only three Pokemon and Giovanni are arguably even easier since I only needed two against him.

Unfortunately, the harshest blow came from the lone Rocket guarding the Boss. His Level 32 Cubone managed to survive G-G-Ghost's Mega Drain and knocked the Haunter out with a single Bone Club while I was at full health. So not only do I worry about the horrible implications of Rocket Grunts using Cubones as cannon fodder (Stockholm syndrome?) but also wonder how a Ghost Pokemon can truly take part in a Nuzlocke Challenge if it is already dead...

Keanu Reeves is similarly perplexed

Once G-G-Ghost was released and the Silph Co's Lapras was acquired, what I am now calling the PC Shuffle began as YouFatFuck the Snorlax was brought in to fill in the void as I went to the Saffron Gym to face Sabrina's Psychic types. While my lack of a truly strong Physical hitter did make me wonder what would happen, the Marsh Badge was successfully obtained without too much difficulty. Unfortunately, I overestimated YouFatFuck's abilities as it was killed by Sabrina's Mr. Mime, thus ending the obesity jokes before they even had a chance to truly begin...

From there, I decided to retrace my steps and went to explore the Power Plant by Cerulean City before I made my way back to Fuchsia City. A Leaf Stone was used to evolve Weed into a Vileplume and Lucky the Chansey was taken out of the PC though its attacks are still too weak to do more than occasionally Sing at random things. The Power Plant was somewhat risky due to the dangers of Lucky's bait and switch policy but Roid Rage and King's high defenses were able to withstand the renegade Voltorbs' Self Destruct attacks and a Magneton was captured and nicknamed Miracles for some unknown reason.

I'll just leave this here

But the battle against Zapdos proved to be an eerie parallel to the trek through Mt. Moon as King's defenses were not enough to protect it from a second Drill Peck maneuver, leaving Sparkles to defeat the legendary bird with a couple Thunderbolts. Unfortunately, no Moon Stone could be used to save it this time and the mighty Nidoking was laid to rest once I made my way back to Fuchsia City.

Choosing to end this installment right before my journey through the sea to the Seafoam and Cinnabar Islands, I am now left to wonder how the rest of this quest will go. This is normally the part of the game where even the Gym Leaders are too easy and I rest on my laurels as I prepare for the Elite Four, but the losses I have suffered lead me to believe that the days of a simple balancing act are over. On the bright side, Koopa, Sparkles, Weed, and Roid Rage will be strong enough to rely on and there will plenty of neat catches for me to choose from in the next few areas. Just remember that life is fragile and death is a cruel creature that can be turned against you right when you think you have tamed it.

Also, your rival's an orphan. Gotta catch 'em all!


Current Lineup:
Koopa the Blastoise, Level 41
Weed the Vileplume, Level 40
Roid Rage the Machoke, Level 40
Sparkles the Jolteon, Level 40
Lucky the Chansey, Level 28

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17
Madame the Butterfree, Level 24
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 24
G-G-Ghost the Haunter, Level 38
YouFatFuck the Snorlax, Level 30
King the Nidoking, Level 40

On Reserve:
FourChan the Hitmonchan, Level 30
Scramble the Exeggutor, Level 25
Lapras the Lapras, Level 15 (Sorry, forgot to name it)
Miracles the Magneton, Level 32

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 2: We are Adults

Well, it's been a while but I finally got to make some more progress on the Nuzlocke challenge after a long week of work and other shenanigans. At this point, the game isn't as much of an uphill battle as most of the team is significantly stronger than many of the opponents we're facing. This round certainly wasn't as dramatic as the one before it but there were still plenty of noteworthy moments.

After getting reacquainted with my team by means of decimating the trainers on Route 11 and Route 9, the Rock Tunnel proved to be a bigger game changer than I had anticipated. On one hand, I caught a Level 15 Machop which I nicknamed Roid Rage. I thought that it would die in the tunnel due to its lower level but I ended up keeping it on due to the fast rate that it was matching the rest of the team.
Roid Rage doing what he does

On the other hand, I lost two staples as Madame the Butterfree was taken out by a Geodude's Rock Throw and Cheater the Kadabra fell victim to a Graveler's particularly powerful Self Destruct. They were certainly tragic losses but they may have the most expendable members at the time as Madame would've eventually been outclassed by its more developed opponents and Cheater was a game breaker that I was never meant to have in the first place...

Fortunately, the routes surrounding Lavender Town and Celadon City proved to be a great area to strengthen the team and bring a few new members into the fold. The Eevee in Celadon City was evolved into a Jolteon nicknamed Sparkles as soon as I could acquire it, the Celadon City Gym and Rocket Game Corner were easily cleared, Roid Rage became a Machoke with the help of a conspicuously placed Rare Candy, and a Gastly named G-G-Ghost (Really starting to have too much fun with some of these nicknames) was caught at the Pokemon Tower and quickly evolved into Haunter thanks to a sadistically drawn out series of battles in the Fighting Dojo.

Basically this if you replaced these cats with a Haunter and about five Mankeys

I also have reached the stage in my journey where I am starting to catch more Pokemon than I ever will use due to my team being completely full and harder to take down than before. I earned a Hitmonchan named Fourchan (Sorry, no numbers for nicknames in Generation I) at the Fighting Dojo, caught the second of the two Snorlaxes and lovingly named it Youfatfuck, and successfully captured an Exeggcute named Scramble and a Chansey named Lucky in the Safari Zone. Part of me is rather disappointed that I won't get to use every Pokemon in my arsenal. I think I just want an excuse to put the Snorlax in my party so I can start yelling "Do it, Youfatfuck!" or "That's enough! Come back, Youfatfuck!"

Snorlax training is serious business

The rest of the round went by pretty smoothly as trainers on the routes to and from Fuchsia City were dealt with in my usual scorched earth policy and Koopa evolved into a Blastoise while facing some of the underlings in the Fuchsia City Gym. I chose to end this round in Saffron City right at the entrance of the Silph Co. building. There will be even more grinding ahead and we shall see who will make the biggest impacts from here. I should probably get something to eat now. Kind of haven't eaten since noon...

Current Lineup:
Koopa the Blastoise, Level 37
King the Nidoking, Level 36
Weed the Gloom, 36
Roid Rage the Machoke, Level 36
Sparkles the Jolteon, Level 36
G-G-Ghost the Haunter, Level 36

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17
Madame the Butterfree, Level 24
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 24

On Reserve:
Fourchan the Hitmonchan, Level 30
Youfatfuck the Snorlax, Level 30
Scamble the Exeggutor, Level 25
Lucky the Chansey, Level 26

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Psychic Shorts Nuzlocke Challenge, Part 1: The Trickster Messiah

So because I should really use this blog for more than just music reviews, I thought it would be a neat idea to spend the next couple entries talking about my experiences trying my hand at the Nuzlocke Challenge on Pokemon Red. For those who may be unfamiliar, the Nuzlocke Challenge is when you play a Pokemon game with three basic rules: 1) The only Pokemon you can catch are the first ones encountered in a given area, 2) All of your Pokemon have to be nicknamed, and 3) If a Pokemon faints, you must release it.

Naturally, these rules do make for an emotional and challenging game for even the most seasoned players. I have known about this method of play since college and had been afraid to try it until very recently. But as a person who has the first generation of Pokemon games more or less memorized, it was only inevitable that I would give it a shot and I was quite excited when my mom brought up a copy of Pokemon Red when she came to visit this past weekend.

Pictured: Me about to hit New Game

Before I go into details, I must admit that I had a hell of a time getting this show on the road. There were a few times when I started a file and had managed to get into a fight or two only for the game to suddenly freeze and force me to restart since I had forgotten to save. Perhaps I just have a cartridge that has seen better days. Perhaps there is some force out there that wanted me to start things off in a certain way and wouldn't stop glitching until I did...

Not that I want to start pointing fingers...
 But once I finally had a proper game going, things started out as they usually do. I chose Squirtle, my favorite starter, and nicknamed it Koopa right before I used it to win my first battle against my rival, Asshat (Truly, I am the beacon of maturity). From there, I caught a male Nidoran nicknamed King on Route 22 and a Caterpie named Madame which evolved into a Metapod while I was in Viridian Forest. After some quick grinding with the newcomers, I beat my rival a second time and earned my first badge as Brock was easily laid to waste with a few well placed Bubbles.

The game has a slight spike in difficulty once you clear the first Gym as more Trainers frequent the routes between cities and their Pokemon jump a couple levels, but progress continued to be made. Madame evolved into a Butterfree on Route 3 and a Zubat named Charles was the first Pokemon to be caught at Mt. Moon (to the collective surprise of no one) while Koopa and King respectively evolved to Wartortle and Nidorino as we mowed our way through the mountain's various residents.

Mt. Moon was also the site of the game's first moment of drama when a freshly evolved King fought against a Rocket Grunt's Level 16 Raticate, a battle that is one of the game's more obnoxious based on past experiences. A particularly brutal Hyper Fang resulted in the Nidorino's defeat and Koopa was forced to finish the Raticate off in his place. Having acquired the Moon Stone before this exchange, I decided to use it on the now felled King before I would release it as a tribute to what had become one of the team's most powerful members. However, the Stone actually resurrected him as his evolved form, Nidoking, thus allowing him to rejoin the quest. I can't tell if this could be considered cheating or not since I honestly did not know that such a revival would take place, but it appears that this adventure may have its own messiah in development.

Now what's this I hear about some kind of fossil?

Once Mt. Moon was cleared, the next challenge was at the Cerulean City Gym. Now, I actually think Misty may be the hardest Gym Leader in the game due to the limited options available at this point if you didn't start with Bulbasaur and my team didn't exactly have much of an advantage. Fortunately, Koopa was at a high enough Level where its Mega Punch could used victoriously against all of the Gym's Pokemon, including Misty's Level 21 Starmie. A third battle with Asshat was similarly victorious.

But another dramatic turn of events came about after the competitors on Nugget Bridge were all dealt with. I went into the tall grass of Route 25 searching for an Oddish to teach the Cut ability to only to find a Pidgey which was eliminated before it could be caught. Knowing that I now would have to add a Pidgey to my party as per the rules, I continued to wander about the grass only to find an Abra as my next encounter. On mere impulse, I attempted to catch it and was actually successful when its Teleport ability had failed. Knowing that this action was in open violation of the Nuzlocke rules and that I was in possession of the classic game breaking Psychic type, I decided to nickname it Cheater and it quickly became a Kadabra. Unfortunately, Route 25 was also the site of the Nuzlocke's first true casualty as Charles the Zubat fell to a Spearow's Fury Attack at Level 17.

Just make it look like an accident

After getting the SS Ticket from Bill and the Dig TM from a Rocket in Cerulean, the game got back to a simpler point while still offering some challenges in balancing out the team. A Level 15 Oddish named Weed was luckily caught on Route 6 and was soon evolved into a Gloom and taught the Cut ability while aboard the S.S. Anne. Once the ship had been cleared, Koopa's Dig ability in conjunction with King's Ground type made the Thunder Badge an especially easy one to earn. I decided to end the first part here as I had put in about four hours of gameplay at this point.

So far, the Nuzlocke Challenge has actually been a lot more manageable than I thought it would be. The fact that I do know this game so well has led to a lot of things being skewed in my favor but having to balance a team consisting of the first Pokemon caught in every area has made things tricky. It's especially interesting to use Pokemon like Zubat and Butterfree as they are ones that I have rarely caught on my more recent ventures. I am quite anxious to see what other Pokemon end up in my party and I promise that there won't be as many bent rules on my next installment. Until then, here's a look at the roster so far...

Current Lineup:
Koopa the Wartortle, Level 22
King the Nidoking: Level 23
Madame the Butterfree, Level 21
Cheater the Kadabra, Level 21
Weed the Gloom, Level 21

The Fallen:
Charles the Zubat, Level 17

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review of Black Label Society's Catacombs of the Black Vatican


With this being the first Black Label Society album to come out since 2010's Order Of The Black, it's hard to tell if the Zakk Wylde vehicle is planning their output more strategically at this point or merely resting on their laurels. They're toured relentlessly, dabbled with some acoustic work, and gone through a flurry of drummers that led to Breaking Benjamin's Chad Szeliga playing on here. Fortunately, on Catacombs Of The Black Vatican, no one would've expected the changes to affect this merry band of berzerkers.

 Seeing how Zakk Wylde lovingly described this album as the same set of songs with different titles, it isn't too surprising to see it sharing an identical tone with Order Of The Black. The production has the same spit shine, the songwriting is still done in that Lynyrd Skynyrd through Alice In Chains mode, and it's a little hard to tell if Zakk would rather have his music be defined by his Guitar Center chugs or his Ozzy-esque layering.

But this album is set apart by a more somber execution than compared to the last few efforts. It's not exactly a depressing listen but there aren't any violent tracks and several of the heavier numbers do have a rather world weary outlook as evidenced by lead single "My Dying Time." In addition, the ballads may be their heartfelt since Hangover Music with "Angel of Mercy" bringing a great southern rock flair and "Shades of Gray" closing things out with a sweet blues beat.


Fortunately, the heavier tracks are still enjoyable eevn if there isn't a "Godspeed Hellbound" among them. "Believe" and "Beyond The Down" unleash the album's most memorable grooves in a no-bullshit fashion and "Damn The Flood" may have the loosest spring in its step. But the album's strongest highlight comes in the form of "Empty Promises," a slow track defined by its communion of churning guitars and suspenseful drumming. It's pretty damn epic by Black Label standards and perhaps one of the best they've written to date.

Overall, Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is one of those albums that offers a few neat tracks but ultimately does exactly what you expect. I would still recommend The Blessed Hellride to an unfamiliar listener, but the usual fans will find plenty of enjoyment and naysayers will get more to ignore. Black Label's been on a good roll lately; let's just hope it won't be another four years before the next batch of titles shows up.

Highlights:
"Believe"
"Angel of Mercy"
"Beyond the Down"
"Empty Promises"
"Shades of Gray"