If you thought you knew all about Black Label Society, you need to hear Zakk Wylde and company’s latest 2x Live release Unblackened. Recorded in high definition to an excited crowd at Club Nokia in L.A., the release features the bearded guitar warrior dropping knowledge on fools like it is easy on track after great track. You can just put this on and escape for a little while into bluesy, heavy metal biker escapism. Unblackened presents BLS classics in a new dynamic, with heavy use of acoustics and a stripped down feel, but scorching solos and intensity still in place. it is kind of like if Jar Of Flies by Alice In Chains was a halfway heavier record.
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This is one of the better live documents I have had the pleasure of enjoying recently. Opener “Losin’ Your Mind” into a pitch perfect version of my favorite BLS song “The Blessed Hellride” sets the pace for many highlights to come. Fans of Zakk’s under discussed piano strength will also enjoy this release, especially “House Of Doom”. That song is maybe the standout of the release, just hypnotic and somber with that chill you got back in the day hearing something like “November Rain” for the first time. It’s a very immersive live experience with grit and charm but no bullshit. Pride & Glory and Book Of Shadows tunes also make this a must have.
Fan favorite and probably most popular Black Label track “Stillborn” gets a real work over here, paired down and hammered into shape as a lonely ballad that really brings out the feeling of emptiness and grief in Wylde’s well known lyrics. It’s fucking killer. I love when bands can teak their recognizable songs and do a good job starling with new takes on the familiar, be it Clutch redoing arrangements live or someone like the much bootlegged Dax Riggs performing numerous variations of the same tune live before he decides on how he is going to track it for an album (go find all the versions of the Dax tune “Scarlett of Heaven Nor Hell” and witness some amazing shit).
This is essential for any Black Label completist, I have to say. New fans will also find a good place to jump on here as the performances are all powerful. Everyone will have some song they wished was on here but the band have a lot of tunes. I would have liked a few more Mafia tracks, but it is a good sampling of a range of Zakk’s stuff. A studio cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” is another nice included surprise, kind of leaving you with a weary light peering in the window of an abandoned dive bar feeling, bone tired but resolved to keep heading towards the dawn.