BLACK LABEL SOCIETY
Zakk Wylde is one of a handful of contemporary rock/metal guitarists who can truly be labelled legendary for this virtuosic fretboard talents. Obviously propelled into widespread public recognition of such through the years he's spent as Ozzy Osbourne's axeman, in-between albums and tours with the Prince of Darkness, he's been carving out a rather successful parallel career for himself fronting Black Label Society for the past decade and a half. With a slew of albums to their name, and thus vast back catalogue of material, it seems only apt that Zakk took the decision to reinterpret some classic BLS tunes in a more stripped down format. Or, to be precise, BLS material and a large quantity of songs from 1994's eponymously titled 'Pride of Glory' album, and 1996 solo effort 'Book of Shadows'. And here we have the results in the form of 'Unblackened', a new Blu-ray release of a special show filmed in March this year at Club Nokia in LA. I say stripped down, but maybe "sat down" would be a more appropriate description as that's how the band chose to perform the gig. Seated throughout, it inherently has a more restrained vibe, although this is far from any kind of 'unplugged' show. Songs have most definitely been stripped of some of their rock/metal might but carry a greater weight in a different way in these reinterpreted versions as melodies are given more breathing space rather than being presented in a full-on metal attack. Acoustic guitar has been added as another layer although there are still distorted rock/metal chords resonating throughout and a healthy dose of Zakk's shredding virtuosity, underpinned by some hard-hitting drums and rich bass sounds. So yes, as I said, the songs still carry a lot of weight and sonic intensity. And aside from the staple BLS lineup - frontman Zakk, guitarist Nick Catanase, bassist John DeServio and sticksman Chad Szeliga - one-time Dream Theater keys man, Derek Sherinian, has been recruited just for this performance, bringing his wide-ranging Mellotron, Hammond, and piano talents, adding that extra bit of class to proceedings. Captured in HD glory, the crystal clear visuals are stunning, along with 2 fantastic audio selections - LPCM Stereo and DCS-HD Master Audio. There have been no cutting corners here.
The extras are sparse, but very tasty indeed. There's a six minute interview with Zakk where he explains his motivation behind the 'Unblackened' concept; a music video; a photo gallery and, the centre piece, some awesomely random footage under the banner of 'Zakk Visits HM Prison Stocken (UK)'. Preceding the latter is a textual, on-screen apology for the substandard visual/audio quality of the footage but it's more than acceptable for what it is, both visually and sound-wise - far superior than your average YouTube clip, for example. It's been adequately, rather than professionally, filmed. So what exactly is this footage? Why's Zakk visiting a prison? Is it as random as the title implies? Not really. What we have here is 55 minutes of Zakk appearing in front of a room of (unseen) prisoners; initially shredding his stuff on guitar for a few minutes, then singing, before settling down for a lengthy Q&A session with the inmates. He was there in a charitable capacity (I believe this is from 2010) to support an anti-violence and anti-bullying campaign. It's filmed from one static camera, permanently fixed on Zakk, and the raw, unedited footage is a delight to watch. Once the few minutes of music are out of the way, it's his subsequent nattering that's of genuine interest. The inmates pose questions to the man and he answers them, at length, talking candidly about a whole load of alternately amusing and insightful anecdotes. I mean, all the years he's spent hanging out and playing with Ozzy, he'll undoubtedly have fucking tons of bizarre stories to recount! The 'Unblackened' show, to be honest, is strong enough on its own but the prison footage is a very nice bonus indeed. I highly recommend this for not only BLS aficionados but, also, the casual Zakk fan. Fantastic stuff and a nice overall package.
Review by Mark Holmes
23rd Sept 2012
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) Thrown' It All Away; 12) Takillya (Estyabon); 13) Won't Find It Here; 14) Rust; 15) Speedball; 16) I Thank You Child; 17) Stillborn
BONUS FEATURES: Zakk Visits HM Prison Stocken (UK); Interview; Losin' Your Mind Video; Photo Gallery
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Seated throughout, it inherently has a more restrained vibe, although this is far from any kind of 'unplugged' show."