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Black Label Society - "Unblackened" (2-CD Set)

Black Label Society - "Unblackened" 2-CD Set cover image

"Unblackened" track listing:

Disc One:

1. Losin' Your Mind
2. The Blessed Hellride
3. Sold My Soul
4. Road Back Home
5. Spoke In The Wheel
6. House Of Doom
7. Queen Of Sorrow
8. Machine Gun Man
9. Sweet Jesus
10. In This River
11. Throwin' It All Away

Disc Two:

1. Takilya (Estyabon)
2. Won't Find It Here
3. Rust
4. Speedball
5. I Thank You Child
6. Stillborn
7. Ain't No Sunshine
8. Lovin' Woman
9. Queen Of Sorrow (Unblackened Version)
10. Song For You
11. Won't Find It Here (Unblackened Version)
12. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Reviewed by on August 21, 2014

"Yes, Black Label Society's 'Unblackened' is a great live showcase for Zakk Wylde's acoustic material. Is it all that essential, even for fans of the band? Hardly."

It'd be easy to dismiss Black Label Society's mostly-live "Unblackened" as mere space-filler between studio albums. Most serious fans have at least studio versions of nearly every track here -- and did the mostly acoustic tunes from "Hangover Music Vol. VI" really need to have even more acoustic "Unblackened" versions made? Plus, haven't we had enough of Zakk Wylde doing the "Jar Of Flies" acoustic metal bit? What started out as revolutionary on "Book Of Shadows" has now become a bit of a crutch for the ex-Ozzy Osbourne ax-man.

And yet, when that banjo gives way to the thundering twin-guitar assault of Zakk Wylde and Nick Catanese on the opener, the old Pride & Glory chestnut "Losin' Your Mind," damned if I didn't find myself more impressed than I thought I'd be. Yeah, this live set does indulge some of Wylde's worst instincts, but there is plenty to love here as well.

For one thing, Wylde doesn't limit himself to the Black Label Society catalogue. As noted above, "Losin' Your Mind" makes a spectacular return, as does "Machine Gun Man" from the Pride & Glory days. Zakk's solo disc, "Book Of Shadows" also gets quite a bit of exposure, with a new version of "Sold My Soul" feeling particularly impressive. I also quite enjoyed hearing stuff off the often-ignored "Hangover Music Vol. VI," especially the killer "House Of Doom."

On the other hand, some of the tunes feel pretty much by rote. I get that "In This River," the tribute to Dimebag Darrell, had to be here, but the delivery falls pretty flat, as does the ill-advised cover of the classic Bill Withers soul song "Ain't No Sunshine."

Zakk's guitar work is spot-on here, but his vocal performance can be a bit spotty in places. His marble-mouthed take on "The Blessed Hellride" (which, ironically, is more electric than the album version) is especially notable in this regard.

As for the rest of the band, they're in great form, for the most part. Guest keyboardist Derek Sherinian blasts through the guitar solo "Speedball," keeping pace perfectly with Zakk's fast fretwork. Though the quieter take on "Stillborn" takes a bit to get used to, the shredding session that closes it out is nothing short of spectacular.

Yes, Black Label Society's "Unblackened" is a great live showcase for Zakk Wylde's acoustic material. Is it all that essential, even for fans of the band? Hardly. Still, the band's chops are excellent, the crowd is into it, and for all its acoustic trappings, it still rocks pretty mightily.

Highs: An eclectic selection of Zakk Wylde favorites going back to the Pride & Glory days.

Lows: A lackluster "In This River" and ill-advised cover of "Ain't No Sunshine" are the worst offenders.

Bottom line: A better-than-decent live showcase for Zakk Wylde's more acoustic tunes.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)