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Black Label Society - "The Song Remains Not The Same" (CD)

Black Label Society - "The Song Remains Not The Same" CD cover image

"The Song Remains Not The Same" track listing:

1. Overlord (Unplugged version)
2. Parade Of The Dead (Unplugged version)
3. Riders Of The Damned (Unplugged version)
4. Darkest Days (Unplugged version)
5. Juniors Eyes
6. Helpless
7. Bridge Over Troubled Water
8. Can't Find My Way Home
9. Darkest Days (featuring John Rich)
10. The First Noel

Reviewed by on May 11, 2011

"On one hand, Black Label Society's 'The Song Remains Not The Same' is a showcase for frontman Zakk Wylde's considerable abilities as a balladeer. On the other, it consists solely of tracks that most fans probably already have. "

One of the things that separates Black Label Society's Zakk Wylde from the rest of the headbanger crowd is his ability and willingness to explore quieter territory. Starting with Ozzy Osbourne's "Mama I'm Coming Home" back in the 1990s, Wylde has proven himself as adept at writing and performing acoustic material as he is at grinding out heavy riffs and shredding solos.

On his own, Wylde has recorded entire albums of mostly acoustic material, including 1996's "Book Of Shadows" and 2004's Black Label Society album "Hangover Music Vol. VI." Now, he's done it again with "The Song Remains Not The Same." The album doesn't come close to the genius of Wylde's first two acoustic-guitar-and-piano discs, but it has its share of worthwhile moments.

Unlike those two discs, which were made up of original material, "The Song Remains Not The Same" consists entirely of acoustic remakes of material from Black Label Society's previous album, "The Order Of The Black," and of the cover tunes that were released as bonus tracks on the various store- and online-exclusive versions of that album. Hence, the feeling that this is a bit of a throwaway effort, even before the disc hits the player.

To be fair, that impression is largely dispelled by the opening track, "Overlord," the acoustic version that far exceeds the plodding electric version. It definitely feels like it could've been a "Book Of Shadows" track, with just enough stinging electric licks over the acoustic riffing to remind you of Wylde's heavy metal roots.

"Parade Of The Dead" gets the most extensive remake, with the racing guitar riff replaced by gentle, elegaic piano. It's a little weird to hear Zakk singing about "the undying gods of death" and "the disease that must be fed" over the gentler music, but it mostly works.

Also surprisingly effective is the conversion of the grinding "Riders Of The Damned" to an Alice In Chains-style acoustic rocker. More questionable was the need to convert the already-a-ballad "Darkest Days" into an even-more gentle track, but the increased emphasis on the guitar works.

From there, the album wades into cover-tune territory, and that's when things start to feel a little spare. The conversion of the "Never Say Die"-era Black Sabbath track from a wah-wah guitar fueled tune to a piano ballad works, for the most part, with Zakk singing in a surprisingly non-Ozzy manner. Still, the absence of any guitar on the track is keenly felt. A later take on Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" fails to achieve any of the grandeur of the original, partly because of the sparse instrumentation, and partly because the song is simply not suited to Wylde's voice.

Zakk also fails up to live up to Steve Winwood's example on the Blind Faith cover "Can't Find My Way Home." What really does the track in, though (quite surprisingly) is Wylde's electric guitar solo, which feels completely cacophonous compared with the piano and synth orchestration backing it.

The sparse piano and strings actually help the cover of Neil Young's "Helpless," which, thanks to Wylde's vocal style, feels almost like a Skynrd track.

A second take on "Darkest Days," which features guest vocals from country crooner John Rich adds little interest, and the closing instrumental, "The First Noel," quite honestly, feels like it was added on to push the album past the 40-minute mark. It's pretty, but totally inconsequential — and it feels weird to hear a Christmas song on an album released in May.

On one hand, Black Label Society's "The Song Remains Not The Same" is a showcase for frontman Zakk Wylde's considerable abilities as a balladeer. On the other, it consists solely of tracks that most fans probably already have. That makes it hard to unconditionally recommend. Still, if you're looking to rest your sore neck after a bout of serious headbanging, there are worse ways to do it than sitting down with this disc and a bottle of your favorite booze. Something tells me that's just what Zakk had in mind.

Highs: "Overlord," "Riders Of The Damned" and "Helpless"

Lows: "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Can't Find My Way Home"

Bottom line: Zakk Wylde unplugs again, but this one falls short of his previous acoustic albums.

Rated 3.0 out of 5 skulls
3.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
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)