Album Review: Black Label Society – The Song Remains Not the Same


By gracious awesomeness of Black Label Society‘s 2010 headbanger, Order of the Black, I can forgive Zakk Wylde’s foray into American Idol performance (Hagar notwithstanding). Above everything else, the guitar god who recorded with a now-somewhat-faded Ozzy Osbourne continues to induce shock and awe, yielding zero disappointment at each of his turns. It is also a well-documented fact that Wylde has a sentimental side, much akin to something you might hear via Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates”–an example being Order track “Darkest Days”.

Black Label Society might not have been at its most creative when naming its recent acoustic effort, The Song Remains Not the Same; luckily, it stands to hinder the recording in no shape or form.

The Song Remains Not the Same rounds up four tracks from Order to be reworked in acoustic format, two more traditional tunes (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “The First Noel”), a guest appearance by John Rich (known as one half of the country duo Big & Rich), a Black Sabbath cover, and some bonuses from the Order sessions. At 10 songs, one of which appears twice in two different fashions, The Song Remains still feels as if it passes pretty quickly, which is unfortunate since the mood that Black Label Society holds throughout is very comfortable. In combining covers and B-sides and one idle guest star, you could ostensibly consider this BLS: Unplugged, holding its prestige to a higher degree while also showing that even I can’t name an album for shit.

After having heard “Overlord”, “Parade of the Dead”, and “Riders of the Damned” in their original metal context, acoustic renderings manage not to fall flat, once again proving such versions can sometimes outshine their previous incarnations–a fact Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots proved menacingly so, whereas KoRn made some question if nu-metal could really transition without scaring the living daylights out of us (and Amy Lee so could not save “Freak on a Leash [Unplugged]”). “Darkest Days” substitutes jaunty guitar for piano, while holding up rather well; it comes ’round a second time during John Rich’s addendum, showing that a kitschy country boy who co-wrote “Save A Horse…” can rock somewhat. A sign of Wylde’s diminishing rep, or Rich’s increasing one. I try to assume the latter, or else my head may implode.

Black Sabbath tune “Junior’s Eyes” feels adrift, and “Helpless” just kind of exists; “Bridge Over Troubled Water” hearkens back to Ozzy’s early-’00s single “Dreamer” in terms of mood, which circles the vibe back around, alongside “Can’t Find My Way Home”, and closer “The First Noel” just feels out of place entirely. Fact of the matter is, had this record been trimmed a little, we’d have a substantial EP to tie up any loose ends Order left behind.

The Song Remains Not the Same is, by all accounts, a respected effort from a band known to be very “down-to-earth” in its production and performance calibers. Wylde and company are typically not dullards and are digested easily all-around, in both metal and non-metal increments. This acoustic approach will no doubt bring new fans to the fold, though they might get the wrong idea if focusing too hard on its second act. I say trim the fat, stick to the good stuff, and be mindful that 2010’s release is a must-have to such a low-key, intimate companion piece.

Meanwhile… this edition of “Darkest Days” would make a fine funeral song.

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