Long have I been an admirer of Ozzy's longest serving six string ally Zakk Wylde. He of the manic vibrato/squeal harmonic (which he seems to pull out on any occasion, at any time, in the middle of any lick) and the southern/viking appearance. He has crafted an identifiable sound out of those EMG pickups no matter what context you hear him in, and he pretty much crafted the moments that brought Ozzy back to a semi respectable level of musicality on No Rest for the Wicked and No More Tears.
With his own band Black Label Society, Wylde has been somewhat hit and miss. Staying very true to metallic rock ideals, the material after a while can tend to get a little samey, in spite of some very strong moments.
But, go back further, and there are two gems in the discography - his first non-Ozzy record with his own band, Pride & Glory (1994), and his first solo record Book Of Shadows (1996.) Unlike much of his Black Label output, Zakk really emphasised the southern rock boogie influences on these two records, and also really showcased his singing (not just his yelling) and his acoustic and piano work. These two releases really contain some of his more memorable non-Ozzy moments.
And the good news is that the new live DVD Unblackened features a boatload of that material.
Billed as a release to showcase the more sensitive nature of Wylde and his band, to many observers that still could be a little misleading. There is plenty of gain cranking on a lot of these songs, and the low strings on his guitars still get a good 'chuggin' going throughout the set. But the first thing that strikes you is that the boys are all seated - not the normal set up for a metal show. (and immense kudos to Zakk for playing V shaped guitars sitting down... not the easiest thing in the world to do as I can attest.)
The next thing is the banjo intro of "Losin' Your Mind" - a telling sign that Wylde will be in a reflective mood through the gig - as the band whips through this cracking tune from Pride & Glory. OK, it is tuned with a little more forgiveness for the vocalist as are many of the older songs, but none of the energy is lost here. The performance is gritty and the groove kicks - the current band certainly understand the nature of this material.
The setlist attempts to stay along the mellow path from those early releases, but Black Label Society material is not ignored as we ease into "The Blessed Hellride" and then merge back into those early releases on "Sold My Soul" and "Road Back Home." Again, remember that with Zakk the term mellow is all relative - the gain knob still gets a workout.
A highlight for me is "I Thank You Child" showcasing old video footage of Zakk and daughter in duet on the song (until daughter gets bored!) A tender ode to being a father from Zakk - sincere and direct.
This is a quality production with great sound covering a very good period of Zakk's career. I hope it prompts a return to more southern fried hard rock from our Viking rock god.