Latest release: The Song Remains Not the Same (Riot!/Warner)

Whether it’s his new-found sobriety or the time of day this interview goes through – it’s early afternoon in California – but Zakk Wylde sounds much less the exuberant rock n’ roll animal than on other occasions I’ve been lucky enough to chat with him. When I ask what Black Label Society has planned between now and when they hit Australia with Soundwave, he seems almost reserved.

“We’re just scopin’ out some locations for the Unblackened CD we’re gonna do,” he says. “We’re gonna put together an acoustic thing. But you know, the solos will still be electric, so kinda similar to The Song Remains Not the Same. There’ll be strings, pedal steel guitar, electric piano, maybe a Hammond up there and maybe some guests. We’re talking about doing a complete acoustic show.”

While acoustic breaks aren’t unheard of at their shows, Unblackened is designed to be a complete live performance recorded for DVD, showing a different side to the usually super-amped Black Label Society. It’s something that Wylde and guitarist Nick Catanese have only briefly flirted with previously.

“Me and Nick did, you know, on the Book of Shadows record, me and Nick went out and supported that, and we [also] did one show with the strings. I mean, it definitely sounds killer. It’s a whole different thing. But the way we’re playing it there’ll still be some electric as well. Even with the acoustics, it’s gonna be a combination of everything.”

In many ways, Unblackened could be seen as an in-concert companion to last year’s The Song Remains Not the Same, the first complete set of acoustic material from Wylde since that initial solo album, Book of Shadows, more than 15 years ago.

“The thing is with Black Label, once we’re done doing… blasting away through a wall of Marshalls, usually at the end of the night [we’re] sitting around on the piano or whatever and I’ll just start doin’ mellow versions of the heavier songs, whether it’s “Parade of the Dead” or whatever,” Wylde says, explaining the idea for Song, “… and I just thought, you know, why don’t we just record these songs? You got the heavy record when you’re goin’ out on a Saturday night and then Sunday morning when you wake up you just put the mellow stuff on.”

Black Label Society has always offered some contrast on its albums with the timely placement of a subdued, often lyrical acoustic number, but as Zakk points out Song… is the sobering wind-down after the big night out. Something to relax to.

“It’s like if you wanna go to sleep at the end of the night, just put the headphones on and listen to the mellow stuff and pass out, man. Because like me, when I’m on the road I’m choosing to put the mellow stuff on. Whether it’s Beck or Seachange or Sarah McLachlan or whatever man. So that’s why we put that together. It’s an end-of-the-nighter.”

Those only really familiar with Zakk’s wild-man persona, always played to the hilt, may be surprised at his appreciation for McLachlan, the Canadian pop superstar. But the guitarist is evidently a huge fan. When iTunes approached Black Label Society to do the download-only Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good, Wylde went straight to her for inspiration.

“So we just Googled up some Sarah McLachlan and heard her doing all these Christmas songs and we’re going, ‘Why don’t we do that one, that one and that one?’”, he says. “Next thing you know, that’s how we did it. We just Black Labelised it.”

Wylde has led his Black Label Society now through nine remarkably consistent albums and EPs, a catalogue he has a right to be proud of. 2010’s Order of the Black was among many critics’ pick of the crop for that year and The Song Remains Not the Same also rated pretty highly, different though it is. As he tells it, every album is marking a place on the creative journey of himself and his band and he aims high for each one.

“Every album we do, we go in with the intention of doing the best record we can,” he says. “Depends on which side of the bed you woke up on that day, you know what I mean? Every album is like a snapshot in time. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, when they look back on their Led Zeppelin catalogue, they can look back and remember exactly where they were and what was goin’ on when they did each one of those records. To me, that’s an awesome thing.”

And while it appears that Zakk Wylde is in a mellower frame of mind at present, there’s little chance we’ll see that side of things during his tour here with the Soundwave Festival in February. Indeed, he virtually bristles at the suggestion that some might think he’s getting soft in his middle age.

“Oh no,” he says assuredly. “We’re gonna do the acoustic stuff and we’re gonna do the electric stuff. We’ve been out blasting away for the last 14 months, man.”

It’s been sometime since Black Label Society last toured Australia but when asked about coming out for Soundwave his somewhat reticent demeanor crumbles and a more familiar Zakk Wylde steps forth.

“We had a blast when we were down there last time,” he asserts. “It was a ball, so it’s gonna be killer this time, man.”

He perks up even more when the subject turns to his former mentor, his father figure and the godfather to his son, Jesse – Ozzy Osbourne. Despite being relieved of his position in Osbourne’s band two years ago, he still maintains a deep reverence and respect for the singer and is just as keen as anyone, perhaps even more so, to hear how the new Black Sabbath album will come out.

“Oh everything’s great man!” he says of his relationship with the Ozzman. “While we were out on the road my wife Barbranne was over there at the house for Ozzy’s birthday and everything like that, so everything’s great. He’s working on the Sabbath thing right now and that’s gonna be killer and I can’t wait for that. I still love him, man.”

Black Label Society plays Soundwave 2012:
25/2: Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD (SOLD OUT)
26/2: Sydney Showground, Sydney NSW (SOLD OUT)
2/3: Melbourne Showground, Melbourne VIC (SOLD OUT)
3/3: Bonython Park, Adelaide SA
5/3: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth WA

You can also catch them with Hellyeah, Black Tide and Holy Grail on the following dates-

28/2: The Forum, Melbourne
1/3- The Metro, Sydney- Licensed All Ages