Whatever you do, don’t refer to “Unblackened” Black Label Society’s “acoustic album.” At least not around founder, frontman and resident guitar god Zakk Wylde.
“That’s why we called it ‘Unblackened’ instead of ‘Unplugged’ or some acoustic-type thing,” Wylde tells Billboard. “That’s not what it is. It’s not me just sitting around with an acoustic (guitar) or whatever, playing real quiet and pretty. This stuff is intense, too. And I’m playing piano. There’s some electric slide guitar. There’s a bunch of Marshalls for some of the choruses. It’s just another way to hear Black Label Society, y’know?”
“Unblackened,” which comes out Sept. 24 on CD, DVD and Blu-ray, captures Wylde and company mostly live at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, but it also has six new studio recordings — including a cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and “Song For You” and new versions of the BLS tracks “Queen of Sorrow,” “Won’t Find It Here” and “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” — recorded with a string section.
“That was an adventure,” Wylde says of the latter. “We had these four guys come down — union guys, right? They play two hours to the dot, then take a break and stay for one more hour — and we put the sheet music in front of them and we start playing and dude, it was right up there as far as disasters go with the fuckin’ Hindenberg, the fuckin’ Titanic, the fuckin’ Michael Dukakis running for president. We were laughing our fuckin’ balls off. (The string players) were like ‘We can stay an extra hour,’ and I go, ‘An extra HOUR! Are you out of your fuckin’ minds?! You’re gonna have to stay here for an extra fuckin’ two months!’ But they really wanted to do, so we worked it out.”
Wylde is no stranger to playing acoustic-flavored music; BLS has included unplugged-style segments in some of its headline shows, and he and guitarist Nick Cantanese will often play that way for radio station visits. The 2011 odds ‘n’ sods set “The Song Remains Not the Same” also included some acoustic tracks, including covers of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Helpless,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.” So embracing his inner troubadour was not a great stretch, Wylde says.
“I listen to that album ‘Sea Change’ by Beck all the time,” Wylde notes. “If I’m in the (tour bus) bunk or want to chill out, it’s just mellow from beginning to end, almost like a playlist of mellow stuff, real kicked-back. So I enjoy doing that, too.”
Wylde says “Unblackened” is also a nice counterpoint to BLS’ other live DVD and a response to fan requests to capture that quieter side of the band. And, he notes, “down the line, if we want to do, like, an ‘Unblackened’ tour, now everyone will know that that tour would be.”
There are no plans for that any time soon, however; in fact, Wylde says BLS “has just been writing, writing, writing every day since we got home” from Megadeth’s Gigantour and before long plans to be “back in the Black Vatican to make new Black Label Krispy Kremes of doom” — a follow up to 2010’s “Order of the Black,” in other words — with a hoped-for spring release followed by another round of touring.
“It’ll have all the heavy riffs and other stuff everyone knows and loves,” Wylde promises. “‘Order of the Black’ was already three years ago, which is pretty insane. But the whole time we’ve been working, touring and stuff like that; it’s not like we’ve been sitting around the house. It’s crazy because back in the beginning of Black Label we were pumping out an album a year and constantly touring. But don’t mind doing it this way, either.”