November 15, 2013 by Dan Swinhoe
Black Label Society – Unblackened
Zakk Wylde’s never been afraid to show his gentler side. From Ozzy fronted ballad like ‘Mama, I’m Coming Home’ right up to 2011’s The Song Remains Not the Same, unplugged acoustic tracks have long been a forte of Zakk’s. In Unblackened, we’re given a full stripped down live acoustic album, featuring classic mellow BLS tracks and rarely aired Book Of Shadows/Pride & Glory material finally performed after too long in the wilderness.
The majority of the material was already semi-acoustic based, such as ‘House of Doom’ and ‘Queen Of Sorrow’ from the excellent Hangover Music Vol. VI, which are all given the energetic boost live performance brings. But it’s where the songs have been reworked that Zakk’s songwriting prowess really shines. On the album proper, the mighty ‘Stillborn’ transforms from riff-heavy shredder to epic ballad. While the extra studio recordings give whole new takes on various songs. The P&G track ‘Lovin’ Woman’ is taken down a notch and given a string orchestra, ‘Queen of Sorrow’ becomes a morose tearjerker.
Unlike BLS’ previous live album, Alcohol Fueled Brutality Live +5, the sound is crisp, and the bonus studio tracks provide added incentives for the hardcore fans. Unblackened isn’t a classic in the mould of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged, but it’s a solid and enjoyable take on the more laid back side of the Label’s repertoire.
Vista Chino – Peace
The inception of Vista Chino wasn’t any easy one. From a ‘Garcia play Kyuss’ tour to today via a lawsuit with Josh Homme has dragged the Kyuss name through more mud than was really necessary, but to all the fans this is still a long-awaited follow up to …And The Circus Leaves Town in all but name.
Featuring 3/4 of Kyuss and replacing guitarist Homme with Belgian six-stringer Bruno Fevery, Peace is the stoner album many thought would never happen. But not only was it well worth the wait, it’s probably the best stoner album of the year.
John Garcia’s vocals are as strong as ever, and from the stomping ‘Dargona Dragona’ to the the hypnotic psychosis of ‘Planets 1 & 2’, Fevery’s guitar work is excellent (despite some reviewers singling his contribution out as ‘boring’). The record as a whole is perhaps closer to Garcia’s other band Slo Burn than Blues For The Red Sun, and more relaxed than the band’s previous work, but there’s very little to detract from the quality on show.
It may have been a long time coming, but Kyuss are back, and they’re as good as ever.
Witherscape – The Inheritance
Swedish multi-instrumentalist Dan Swanö has long enjoyed hero status amongst a hardcore group of metal fans. Swanö has often occupied the same progressive Death Metal space as Opeth, but rarely shared the limelight in the same way.
In his latest release, he joins up with mighty moustache wearer and multi-instrumentist Ragnar Widerberg to form Witherscape. Their album, The Inheritance, is a 45 minute concept album that spans the entire spectrum of progressive rock several times over. There’s lashings of synth, constant extreme time changes that jump rom searing shredding to acoustic passages and back in a flash. Swanö’s vocals switch from almost Dio-esque roar to guttural growl just as often as the music changes, making for a varied listen, even if the cohesion is sometimes lost.
Fans of Swanö’s previous work will find plenty to like, especially for anyone who enjoyed his solo Moontower record. For those new to his work, Opeth but with far stronger 70s prog overtones is the easiest way to describe what to find on here. One of the most adventurous records released this year, although sometimes suffers from being so uneven in styles.