Whatever horrors there are hiding in the Catacombs of the Black Vatican they can’t possibly be any more terrifying than what’s yet to be discovered in Zakk Wylde’s scraggly beard. Nevertheless, the ninth album from the biker­metal doomsayers in Wylde’s Black Label Society is certainly gloomy and eerie in places, this cavernous dungeon of monstrously heavy riffs, deep ­dredging melodies, squealing solos and a few gritty ballads all haunted by painful memories and reeking of death.

Rummaging through the Catacombs of the Black Vatican, the old bones and skulls of Black Label Society’s past are encountered, but do not linger in those sealed­off vaults. Wylde certainly doesn’t. Although the brawny guitars, wicked grooves and rumbling rhythms found here have a familiar ring, there is a fresh vitality to this material that’s palpable, throwing everything good about Alice in Chains, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and even Southern rock in a boiling cauldron and casting timeless spells with those magical ingredients.

An absolute pile driver, its great mass heaving to and fro, “Fields of Unforgiveness” delivers a great pounding, while the stoned, churning blues of “Believe” is especially thick and meaty, its repeated riff not only powerful, but also memorable, seemingly feeding off its own energy. And in “My Dying Time,” another in a long line of grungy, riff­heavy tracks with elongated, almost graceful curves, Wylde, sounding more like Layne Staley than ever before, confronts his mortality without fear, whereas the growling “I’ve Gone Away” and a very dark, Black Sabbath­like “Empty Promises” – Wylde’s solo here is a shower of sparks – crawl through a sonic gutter bloody and vengeful. Strong, shifting melodic currents run through Catacombs of the Black Vatican, as it swerves and bends to the mighty will of its creators, little flowers of sonic beauty sprouting through cracks in the hard sonic cement. Nonetheless, thanks in large part of Wylde’s affecting vocals, the ballads “Angel of Mercy” and “Scars” somehow manage to sound both earthy and lush, each as pretty as anything in the Black Label Society canon, the latter inheriting its Southern accent directly from the Allman Brothers. Blessed be the Black Label Society.

Label: eOne Music