Not quite an "unplugged" album, Unblackened finds guitar hero Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society scaling back the fury and showing their plaintive side with a live album of reworked tracks. Although they aren't completely stripped of their heaviness, with plenty of searing solos and squealing harmonics punctuating the songs, the set list featured here has had the intensity dialed down from blistering hard rock to hard-ish rock. While it seems like it would be easy for a lot of these tracks to dip into "power ballad" territory, these mellower arrangement reveal the bluesy underbelly at the heart of the Wylde's songwriting. Rather than revealing that Black Label Society has a softer side, Unblackened does one better and shows that the band's music has a much wider range of emotions than the casual observer might have thought possible. On top of the live performance, the two-disc set also features some studio cuts, including covers of Leon Russell's "A Song for You" and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," which feature string accompaniments that provide an element of elegance to balance Wylde's gravely crooning. Though it's a less than ideal introduction to the band for newcomers to dip their toes into, Unblackened is an album that will provide longtime fans a whole new way of approaching these songs. ~ Gregory Heaney
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