Judge Bill Gibron tried to get Geddy Lee for this project, but Consuela never gave him the message.
The only thing missing is a snow machine and a chariot pulled by a team of pure white stallions.
I am a huge fan of Zakk Wylde. Not of his music, really, but of the whole unwashed biker badass persona he so carefully cultivates. From his days working with the blizzard known as Ozzy to his current gig fronting his own band, Black Label Society, he seems to ooze pure, potent rock 'n' roll. Power riffs pour out of him like beads of sweat and his gruff, grizzled facade clearly covers a thoughtful, caring artist who would probably snuggle up with a collection of kittens should no one be looking. Of course, this could all be crap, a pipedream read into a man who really wants to do very little except eat, drink, sleep, screw, and make music. Having seen him on That Metal Show and having reviewed other DVDs his group has put out, I still feel that Wylde is grossly misjudged. Heck, who else could pull off a guest spot on Aqua Teen Hunger Force as the session musician who helped Shake create a new 13 minute prog-style birthday song? Still, a softer Wylde might seem specious—that is, until you see the incredible Unblackened.
This "acoustic" inspired performance is like an Unplugged on steroids. The guitarist and his band run through a series of BLS classics, giving them a new gloriously grunge feel by simply slowing them down and letting the actual song (not some powerhouse performance) do the talking. There is a real Temple of the Dog/ Alice in Chains circa "Rooster" feel to the interpretations here, and we get a terrific sense of the strength that Wylde offers in every track. Starting out with the country tinged "Losin' My Mind" and running through "Sold My Soul," "Road Back Home," and "Queen of Sorrow," among others, the five piece combo accents the obvious guitar-ccentric material with carefully considered keyboards and vocal flourishes. We get terrific harmonies, some intense, slow burn showmanship, and the price of admission worth moments of Wylde, behind the piano, playing like a Hell's Angel take on Elton John. If you're used to seeing BLS in their all out, balls to the wall metal mode, this quieter, gentler version of the band may throw you off a bit. But it's still Wylde, and it's still sensational.
There isn't a weak moment here. The inherent drama in each selection is adjusted and amplified, allowing Wylde and his bandmates to extract the maximum effect. It's like watching Johnny Cash interpret Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt," except these are BLS songs and this is what such a showcase is meant to uncover. Sometimes, a dressed down version of an otherwise powerful rock tune is just that-otherwise epic material with its cajones removed. But on Unblackened, Wylde manages the near unthinkable-he turns anthems into attacks. No banter. No BS. Just Black Label Society and their skill set in full fury. If you love the Wylde-man but can't get your friends to cotton to his asskicking sense of cool, this would be the place to start. Even for someone like myself, working from a decent knowledge of his many musical outputs, this live concert had me digging back through the BLS catalog for a little compare and contrast. As a chance to see the man outside his usual whiplash leanings, Unblackened is brilliant. It's one of the best reimaginings of a singular sonic expression ever.
From a technical perspective, this Blu-ray release couldn't be any better. The 1080p, 1.78:1 widescreen image is so crisp and clear that you can see the individuals hairs in Wylde's signature beard. Even better, you can read the label on the aloe-laced water he constantly chugs. The performance is masked in a dark and dour color scheme but the blacks are strong and the overall effect is being there, among the audience, for such an amazing performance. Even better are the aural aspects of the release. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix is perfectly balanced, delivering a sublime combination of rock heft and personal passion. Bravo, Eagle Vision. Finally, we are treated to some interesting bonus features. Wylde made an appearance at a UK prison during one of his tours and this long form sit down, while crudely shot, is enlightening to say the least. We also get a music video for "Losin' My Mind," and interview with the musician, and a photo gallery. There are also two disc packages out there with a CD of the entire performance. Yours truly would recommend picking up both.
By definition, an true artist can take anything and filter it through their own particular aesthetic and turn it into something truly remarkable. That Zakk Wylde can do with his own back catalog remains a stunning confirmation of his talent and his songwriting ability. You may not dig everything Black Label Society has done, but this Blu-ray release will change your mind. Unblackened is unbelievable.
Not guilty. Just terrific.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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