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When this album came out, metal fans were mostly split into two groups: those who decided it was time to draw the line and never listen to Machine Head ever again, and those who shat their pants in excitement. I was 15 years old at the time and probably had to throw away that pair of trousers for good. For 15 year old me, this was one of my very favourite albums and I thought that the material offered on here was easily Machine Head's finest, perhaps the finest in all my collection. Now, I'm not so sure: I don't listen to Machine Head too often, they don't excite me in the way they used to, this album gets an average number of listens. Plus, I don't soil my pants anymore. (Disclaimer: I did not shit myself when I was 15, I was well trained.)
Nevertheless, this should be the best Machine Head album, because the level of ability on show is phenomenal, though I think the whole thing doesn't come together as well as it appears. Now, I don't believe that MH are a thrash band and I don't really bother about genre distinctions when I choose what to listen to, so my sole focus is on whether the music is good. What I do notice now is that the music on 'The Blackening' is probably the purest heavy metal (I mean that it's taking cues from traditional bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden) on any of their albums, maybe tying with 'Burn My Eyes' on that front. In fact, to compare MH and Metallica side by side, what conclusions would you draw about 'The Blackening' and 'Death Magnetic'? And which album, with its long songs, kind-of-progressive-kind-of-not structures, and modern-sounding semi-thrash riffs came first? Anyway, we do get a lot of classic features resurfacing in MH's sound, notably solos, melodies, inventive bass lines, even a little twin guitar here and there. There's also more of a thrash influence, though it remains just an influence and not as large a one as some people would have you believe. We are definitely in the realm of modern metal; not necessarily groove metal, which does appear, but also metalcore and that kind of non-specific subgenre that I would put Devildriver in.
The album sounds...good. There are some good riffs on each song, which I must say don't always carry the whole way through the track (the unwieldy opener and closer) or are used with too much repetition, such as on 'Slanderous', which rides just a couple of riffs for five minutes and relies on the impact of that admittedly raging groove riff just one too many times. There are a couple of riffs that you might pick out as thrash, like the first riff on 'Clenching the Fists of Dissent' or that motherfucker on 'Aesthetics of Hate'. They might be thrashy if they were played in a thrashy style, but with the low tuning of the guitar and more modern drumming patterns, they end up a little wide of that target and no worse for it. There are a couple of riffs like the verse riff of 'Beautiful Mourning' that just stink, yet then many of the slower parts pick up a lot of power from the tone and modern style that allows simple ideas to sound impressively big. Some real surprises emerge: 'Halo''s chorus is a revolving melody that fits wonderfully into its intricate solo; 'Wolves' has a riff after the second chorus that uses every string on the guitar and fits the song perfectly; the solos on almost every song are absolute belters and are wanting in no respect, whether that be skill, planning, or excitement.
This album is about the guitarists and I can't help but think that a different drumming style would endear MH more to the purists, since Dave McClain does fill up a fair bit of the sound with a fairly average performance. He is so busy, trying all sorts of different beats and fills, that in the end it seems a shame that nothing really sticks or enhances the performance. Actually, the drums are too weak for the production of this album, so that they have very little impact beyond modulating the tempo of the songs. Adam Duce is certainly not anywhere near the front of the action, but his bass shines through at certain moments (the chorus of 'Now I Lay Thee Down' being a good example) and shows a level of invention that perhaps needs more exposure. I don't want to say a great deal about Robb Flynn's vocals, though this may suffice - what if MH got themselves a lead singer and let Flynn concentrate on guitar? His voice doesn't sound great during either his cleans or his shouts, and he's too gruff to give an album like this the finesse that it deserves.
15 year old me wasn't wrong particularly - this is an album worth paying attention to. However, part of me now wishes that MH would re-record it without an eye on the commercial market, since there are too many disparate elements to fit comfortably in some of the songs. Three of them are simply too long, while sometimes the level of inventiveness suddenly drops off and there is a stinking riff or vocal to fuck up the atmosphere, which is one thing that 'Burn My Eyes' didn't have - that was generally more consistent in style. If Machine Head could write a song like two thirds of 'Wolves' or like the first half of 'Aesthetics of Hate' or like the solo in 'Halo', then maybe found a singer who could match the standards of the musicianship, they would be almighty. The problem is that - for a band with such outstanding ability and potential - they fail to carry their vision to its goal.
I came across this band through the most unlikely source after hearing the song "Ten Ton Hammer" on MTV of all places. Intrigued by the band's slammy/groovy style, I was determined to pursue the band, and fortunately enough for me, "The Blackening" would have been my next obstacle from this band. I wouldn't go as far as to say that this modern metal gem was a gateway album for me, although this album undoubtedly opened my mind to the heavier stuff associated with thrash metal and death metal, I usually view "gateway" metal bands to be associated with the infamous styles of metalcore and nu metal genres in the way that you can never really go back to listening to those styles of music after listening to more extreme sub-genres of metal.
However the beauty of this album is that unlike metalcore and nu metal, this album is still very much listenable after you have discovered those more slightly extreme styles. I remember hearing that main riff to the song, "Halo" back when I was in high school and just completely loving the shit out of it. It, like many other songs on this album have yet to decay even remotely.
I think the main feature of this album that makes it such a gem would be the regular crossovers in time signatures. Most people criticise this album and write it off as "a failed attempt at thrash metal" (or something along the lines of that) which I always see as a rather narrow-minded statement as one of the main characteristics of groove metal since the early 90's has been its whenever necessary changes in tempo. The most notable examples of this lie within the tracks, "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" and "Aesthetics of Hate".
One thing also worth crediting this album for, which judging by the other reviews would be a rather infamous view, is the way that the song writing/song structures are very unpredictable and unique. A shining example of this would be "Beautiful Mourning", which after a somewhat eerie intro, shortly explodes into an all out thrash attack, however with many melodic and progressive elements to accompany it.
One other thing worth noting about this album is how, as ferocious and enjoyable as "Burn My Eyes" and "The More Things Change..." were, its safe to say that you really only needed your index finger to play the rhythm parts in most cases for both albums. And we are all too familiar with Rob and co's idiotic decision to crossover into nu metal waters towards the end of the 90's which limited their technical boundaries more than ever. However "The Blackening" saw a complete revolution in the band's technicality what with an increase of aspects such as dual solos, and also the backing vocals that they had been mildly experiment edwith in Through the Ashes of Empires.
First off, the cover art is badass. It's pretty much the main reason I got this album in the first place. This album pretty much sounds like heavier, groovier, more extreme 80's thrash to me. I remember the first time I listened to it when I was getting into metal, and I was really put off by what I thought back then was super brutal and spooky... How times have changed. On to the review:
Production-wise, there's not much to complain about. All the instruments can be heard and the guitars have an excellent heavy, groovy tone. The bass is somewhat audible for music this heavy, but not when the dual guitars and blast-beats are pounding away. The vocals are produced well, they have a gritty feel.
The guitar playing on this album is actually really good. You have some really heavy, catchy riffs and the soloing is on point for the most part when it isn't just a couple notes played fast over and over again (good thing this doesn't happen too often). The playing quality in general works for this music. The drumming is less outstanding than the guitars. Blast-beats are used quite often and the drums have a good tone. The bass playing is good, it pretty much follows the guitars for the majority of the album and isn't audible most of the time. Vocals are pretty rough and powerful but not death metal growly/shrieky style. The delivery is quite unclear at some points and I find it annoying to have to look up lyrics for a non-death metal band.
The issue with this album isn't the actual playing, it's the songwriting. First of all, the lyrics are a mostly very typical antiwar/antireligion/angsty/meandmyfriendsaresotough type of deal. With the exception of some songs, the lyrics can get very "tough-guy" based, hence me naming this kind of stuff "Bro-Metal." Overall, the lyrics tend to get annoying because of the genericness.
Next, is the song lengths. I don't really get what the point is of having songs this long. I admit that the 9+ minute songs are entertaining at first, but at some point is just becomes noise to me. These guys are no Garden Of Shadows or Opeth, and they can't make longer songs that are entertaining the whole way through. Strangely though, the best moments on this album take place at the beginning of these long songs (first song, "Halo," last song) before getting boring.
My final problem with the album is the inconsistency. Some of the songs are fun and head-bangable, but others are a chore to listen through. For example, "Clenching The Fists Of Dissent" is a very nice song, but then there are songs like "Beautiful Mourning" and "Wolves" that don't that don't have much appeal for me.
This album has eight tracks. Four of them are good to great, and the other four are bad to mediocre. Honestly, if you're into this kind of metal (if you're a fan of Pantera for example), I recommend this album because it is a fun listen, mostly. Not a mediocre album, but not a particularly great one either, hence the 65.
I used to love Machine Head. Burn my Eyes is still a great album despite my tastes moving on a long way in the years since 'Davidian' first blew my mind. Some people say The Blackening tops their debut. What a load of bollocks! I seem to remember this not only getting various album of the year awards, but even getting named album of the decade by one rag. Must've been a slow decade for new albums in the 2000's. Suffice to say, i don't like this album and i sold it a while ago.
Admittedly this starts off with an absolutely huge thrash attack in 'Clenching the Fists of Dissent'. The riffs come thick and fast on this one while Flynn spouts off about war and politics etc. Some of his better lyrics but that isn't saying much. Nice guitar solos and a kind of cheesy chanting part suitable for the live setting. It's a long song but mostly it's a very good one. Speaking of long songs, this album is dominated by them. Great if you can write like Opeth or Dream Theater but unfortunately for Robb Flynn he can't write good long songs very often.
'Beautiful Mourning' starts with Flynn yelling 'Fuck You All' and this is the exact moment where you know it's business as usual for MH, all fake tough guy bullshit from here on. Dull song too. 'Aesthetics of Hate' continues with this formula. While the lyrics are a noble attempt at attacking some guy who insulted the then-recently deceased Dimebag Darrell, to be honest i just got sick of Flynn doing the same long rant before playing this song live EVERY SINGLE TIME! The song has some awesome lead guitar in it but has a boring, lengthy ending and yet more annoying tough guy lyrics.
Of the other 5 songs, all i really remember is 'Slanderous' has terrible lyrics even by MH standards, 'Now I Lay Thee Down' is a dreadful semi ballad, and 'Halo' is an overlong widdly guitar fest with bad lyrics and too many trademark MH guitar pinches. The last 2 tracks are so dull and long that i can't really remember much about them other than that i hated them. Musically speaking, the band probably play better on this album than on any before it, particularly the lead guitar work, but this counts for very little when the songs are so bad.
So that's an excellent opening song, a few nice guitar solos and harmonies all mixed in among plenty of riffs ranging from very good to plain and boring. It's also yet another trendy genre hop by Robb Flynn to semi-thrash when that revival kicked in. This is better than the 2 nu-metal albums they did in terms of musicality but at least those much maligned albums had memorable (memorably bad) songs. This is just boring and overrated.
Listen to 'Clenching the Fists of Dissent' and maybe 'Halo'. Avoid the rest like the plague!
Machine Head certainly felt they had some redemption to pull off. They went on pretty much an overhaul of their entire previous sound. Through The Ashes Of Empires had a solid, if lyrically immature foundation to build upon and expand with. The Blackening is a blistering example of what happens when a band goes all out with their style and pushes it to it's very limits. This album is the point where the infantile sounds of Through The Ashes Of Empires grow to fit the big boy pants and mature into the monstrous juggernaut it was meant to be.
The sound of The Blackening is built on solid mixtures of riffs with a strong progressive slant and mixed vocal delivery. The mixed vocals actually come out very well on this album as the clean singing is just as effective as dealing the songs' messages out as Flynn's usual bark. Robb's clean singing has finally caught up as it was terrible on The Burning Red and Supercharger, decent but patchy on Through The Ashes Of Empires, and finally consistently good on The Blackening. The lyrics of this album have regained a lot of lost intelligence and maturity and focus more on societal, philosophical, and inner struggles. There is some remaining tough-guy attitude here, but enough to actually seem tough, not corny. The instrumental playing, finally is pushed to much more complex levels as the guitars alternate between weighty groove riffs, energetic thrash charges, and soaring, operatic melodies to get across the emotion and meaning of The Blackening's songs.
A grand, almost imperial start to the album is put forth with Clenching The Fists Of Dissent. This song is a protest anthem set to grandiose proportions with a quiet intro of acoustic guitars giving way to a martial introduction of the lead guitar ended by a crashing riff that leads us into a powerful charge. Robb leads the rally and lets out an all out attack on guitars building tension slowly and later shredding like a madman across the song giving way to a crescendo point int the middle of the song where chants are made to fight build still more tension before finally climaxing. This song has all the makings of a superior intro and gives a good impression of the rest of the album.
A barrage of riffage, soaring melodies and Robb's improved clean singing make many of the songs into brilliant pieces of metallic gold. It progresses through different emotions and attitudes all throughout with each and every song having more content and drive to it than the last. other masterful moments on The Blackening include the soaring melodies of Beautiful Mourning; the insidious, twisting riffs of Aesthetics Of Hate, the gnarly shredding of Slanderous and Wolves. Flaming aggression and beautiful rhythms are combined in an almost operatic style on many of these tracks.
Now I Lay Thee Down has the operatic feel most prominently as sorrowful yet crushing riffs are played with Flynn providing an atmosphere of undiluted passion, sorrow, and later, fury. Halo is a towering monolith of a song with a mashing riff to boot and an almost story like beginning, middle, and end. Finally, A Farewell To Arms wraps the album up on a stellar note providing an offer of solid impending doom after emotionally building on a low starting note and coming down on us like the apocalypse and emanating so much sorrow and anger that it climaxes and ends in a firestorm as an outlet for so much tension and emotion leading us out of this album.
Machine Head really managed to blow me away with this one. They matured and exploded forward into a masterwork of their own style. this album is brilliantly well done and manages to excite and move at every turn. The Blackening is definitely one I would recommend to anyone looking to get into metal and is a must have for anyone who is either a fan of or interested in Machine Head.
The Blackening, the sixth record by American post-thrash/groove metal outfit Machine Head, is an overlong exercise in attempting to stay awake for its duration. The music on this record is a jumbled up amalgamation of third rate thrash metal, groove metal, hardcore and traces of nu-metal where none of the traces of the above sub-genres are well written enough to stand out on their own. The composed music is structurally very simple and comprises of mediocre riffs and leads which are repeated at least a dozen of times in a track just to extend its duration. The music being extremely simple, technical performances are simply not worth mentioning. The vocals when aggressive are lame Phil Anselmo ripped off shouts that sound more like the vocalist being raped rather than being angry. Though nothing special, the lead work is decent and works as the highlight of many of the tracks. In making the music sound angry, the band looses focus in making the music catchy and listenable. The choruses are lame, many a times featuring a very hideous melodic breakdown which is compounded by the fact that Rob Flynn cannot hold a note steady. Pantera Walk, this is not. The tracks are long just for the sake of being long. Progressions attempted in the tracks are very horrible and lack a general sense of cohesion in them.
The tracks that stand out include Clenching The Fists Of Dissent and Aesthetics of Hate. Both of the above tracks, though overlong, contain at least some parts where the music is fast and thrashy. The former does contain some very horrible pace changes and it sounds hideous when the music gets mid-paced. Now I Lay Thee Down, Halo, Slanderous and A Farewell To Arms are all boring, mid-paced and overlong tracks with none of the musical elements presented in the tracks working properly. Now I Lay Thee Down especially contains a very horribly written chorus and is an abomination at best. Wolves contains some decent sections in its overlong nine minute duration but are sandwiched between moments of insane mediocrity and thus as a whole turns out to be nothing more than a failure.
The fact that the album was highly praised by main-stream media at its release, being hailed as a modern masterpiece of thrash metal when the said sub-genre was actually quite niggard in the messed up jumble of ideas that were present in the compositions, is one of the biggest jokes of the decade. The shitty song-writing and composition coupled with even worse execution makes this album unfit to hear even once. Bottom-line; The Blackening is not recommended to any fan of thrash metal or even groove metal whose fans might be able to sympathize with the album with a warning to stay away from it.
The Blackening has gotten a lot of hype, it was heralded as a big comeback when it came out, and five years later it is still talked about. I'm not quite sure what they're coming back to, they were never very good and this album is loaded with awful nu-metal shit, going overboard with chugging and still revolving around the terrible nu-metal shouter who sings worse than Anders Friden's worst croaking. Much worse. What they're trying to do here is a monstrosity - dragging out the same old nu-metal shit with flavor of the week thrashmetalcore and a lot of really bad lead guitar playing. All of that is end-to-end, which explains the four songs that add up to ~40 minutes. It's awful. Machine Head are a very crude sum of their components, and a bullet-point list offers better organization than any song on the album.
-Nu metal chugging that's not even catchy, devoid of the catchy grooves that anchor the genre as their main hooks.
-Leftover mallcore riffs reworked into weak metalcore grooves that that could pass off as extras from an early Chimaira album.
-An occasional piece that sounds like some sort of unoriginal metalcore/thrash like Trivium.
-Lame radio rock choruses with a singer that doesn't even have the charisma of a typical butt rock singer, sort of like Puddle of Mudd but less memorable. Read everything that All That Remains' detractors say about their singer in the last five years, this is as bad as people say that is.
-Completely aimless random melodic noodling, often harmonized, that goes nowhere. It's not a guitar solo that grabs the feeling of the song and soars with it, it's more like an amateur chopping through 16th notes at a moderate pace with no idea where he's going with it, nor any idea where it started.
These components have been slapped together by a lot of alternative hard rock, nu-metal, and groove/metalcore bands, but the songwriting here is a major detractor. Two songs are over ten minutes, another two are over nine, and they go absolutely nowhere really slowly. "Halo" drags on whole hopping between a nu metal groove and a wussy chorus until they're both worn out, then an extended noodling section that brings you to the halfway point. A third of the way into each song I'm begging for it to be over, and halfway through I don't know what they could even be trying to do. There are also a handful of long, distant sounding intros/outros that rival the intensity of an opening band's soundcheck. They might be going for something atmospheric, which is a very poor decision when the intro could wear out the welcome of a song that would be terrible without it.
There are a few good moments on the album. "Aesthetics of Hate" starts out with some decent riffing, and the final track has a decent melodic section buried over six minutes in. One of each done well in over an hour, contrasting with the rest of the album that's no good at all. A broken clock is right twice a day, but apparently they couldn't sort out any of the mediocrity which fills most of the running time. The vocals are unforgivably awful throughout the whole album, but it seems that Robb Flynn could do better, as it sounds like he actually tries to sing on the Iron Maiden cover that's a bonus track - on all of the album tracks, he whines like he belongs on the Family Values Tour.
The most glaring failure of this album is that the veteran nu-metal band isn't even good at being nu-metal. They don't have the funk and swagger of Korn or E.Town Concrete, who borrow it from hip-hop. They don't have the driving feel of Static X or Powerman 5000, who chug on one or two power chords like they mean it, and also know when to end a song. They don't even have the obnoxious and truly offensive waggle of Limp Bizkit. Machine Head are delusional about being a shitty nu metal band, they're not even good at it, and by throwing all the shit they want to be into the mix, they put together something that's in the basement of nu-metal with Kittie, though at least they seem to embrace the spectacle they put on. It's not shameless like that, it's shameful nu-metal that tries to not be what it is, it tries to be something else that it can't be at the same time, and it comes out in these awful ten minute misadventures. They're too concerned with mixing in some Pantera-aping and throwing in lots of solos that they couldn't do a single one of them well.
Ten minute nu-metal songs, what the fuck?
They were slowly, but surely gaining momentum with albums like The More Things Change…, Supercharger and Through the Ashes of Empires, but what put Machine Head on the global map was their landmark album, The Blackening. Filled with heavy riffs and rhythms and steeped in rich atmosphere, as well as incredibly relatable lyrics, this album stripped metal’s sounds down to its bare roots and reminded everyone how powerful the good music is.
When people think metal, the stereotype often includes the gruff or screamed vocals heard from the likes of Slayer, Cannibal Corpse and even Metallica. While Machine Head uses this style, they’ve been able to incorporate clean vocals, spoken parts and even whispered parts into the album. What makes them unique is their ability to jump from these quieter, acoustic parts into this full-blown metal attack, proving power doesn’t always need to come from sheer volume. Songs like Halo and A Farewell to Arms really showcase this talent, while the into of Clenching the Fists of Dissent sounded like something you’d find out of Metallica’s Black Album.
Now, the guitars are important for any metal band, and most bands will put in a decent amount of time to make their guitar parts worthwhile. For me, The Blackening really shows the listener the internal conflict between guitars and the vocalist, and just how amazing great guitar parts can be. With trademark riffs coming from Beautiful Mourning and Wolves, as well as Halo. Now I Lay Thee Down also includes clean vocals with thick electric guitars, giving listeners a different combination to try out. However, I’d love to hear the bass more in songs such as Halo. Hearing the bass line gives the intro a whole new timbre that changes the entire vibe, as well as preparing us for the heaviness that is yet to come.
Robb Flynn has usually been the main lyrist for the band, and has garnered a reputation for being excellent with words. He opens Clenching the Fists of Dissent, A Farewell to Arms and Beautiful Mourning with simple phrases and/or single words that really grab your attention before moving into themes of war and revolution, or discussing the idea of murder and death in Now I Lay Thee Down. Flynn also figures out 1001 ways one can feel disgust towards oneself in Slanderous and a general dissent toward Christianity, while Wolves just seethes rage in the form of….well, wolves.
It should also be said that Machine Head loves long, long songs with the occasional long, long name. Often bands drag out the songs to get them and have lots of filler to get them to 9 or 10 minutes, but the songs Machine Head does sound better as they get longer, and fans have actually complained about the clipped versions of songs (go check out the offical music video of Halo on Youtube if you want some proof).
One nice thing that longer songs do allow is solos, whether it is guitar solos, drum solos or just pure instrumentals. Machine Head took full advantage of this and put at least one solo in every song, even two in a couple of them! Even better, it didn’t sound like filler, like in the case of Iron Maiden’s Dream of Mirrors, where it sounded great for the first 5-6 minutes, and then both you and they realize that they need more stuff to do for the rest of the song and it just sounds like it could’ve been that much better organized.
After listening to The Blackening several times, I now understand how it helped propel them into the mainstream metal scene. With memorable solos, beautifully written lyrics and a general sense of what metal is, these guys have obviously worked hard to get this far.
I will start this with a bang: I had a boring Sunday afternoon listening to this album.
At first I heard that it had longer songs. Obviously that raised in me a concern about filler material. However after listening to the song "Aesthetics of Hate" those thoughts disappeared from my mind, and I was motivated into it. What I couldn't guess was that the aforementioned song was the worthiest material off that album.
This album is typically seen by Machine Head fans as their best album of all time. In fact, it was promoted by mainstream music magazines as "this generation's Master of Puppets". Which in some way makes sense: it's the most overrated metal album of this generation from a kilometer away. Is it bad? No, by no means. Still, it's much worse than everyone says it is, not to mention that it is much worse than the material this band has recorded up to 1997. Even their previous album manages to be better than this. And why? Because it is redundant. Everything that they do in this album has already been done before so many times that there's no one in the planet who can have a perfect account. As a consequence, while the first half of the album is exciting and thrashing, the other half feels tiring and beaten.
Given that this album is trying hard to capture the spirit of the great classic thrash metal albums of the late 80s, the riffs are its forte. The addition of Phil Demmel back in 2003 resulted in a significant improvement on the band, and that can be heard in tracks like "Beautiful Morning" (less than five minutes, but still a beast) and "Aesthetics of Hate", arguably the best track in the album. There's also a new, more melodic influence on the band, which results in the neo-classical feel of tracks like "Now I Lay Thee Down". However, in this album that neo-classical feel won't be as vital as in their next. Overall, the riffing makes the band shift away from its Biohazard-inspired groove thrash antics of Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change..., becoming closer to a technical thrash-like sound, with cues of bands like Annihilator and Coroner, although Adam Duce's hard-sounding bass still makes it sound a bit like 1994.
The drums are also a point of interest on this album. I've always put Dave McClain below Chris Kontos, and I still do, but The Blackening showcased that McClain is quite a drummer. He's precise, he's harsh, he's technical, and his style fits the music quite well, such as in the intro for "Halo". I have to give him merit for that, even if this is not the best we've seen from this band (*cough* "The Rage to Overcome" *cough*).
Flynn's vocals are one of two factors that further contribute for this album to sound beaten after a while. In this album, we see absolutely nothing new in his vocal style. We already knew, Robb, you can sing, scream, yell, swear and growl. And we already knew you could write songs about religion, war and struggle. Apart from the brilliant anti-anti-metal protest of "Aesthetics of Hate" (a reply to the eponymous article by the American fascist William Grim, who dared to disrespect Dimebag Darrell), there's nothing which hasn't been seen before.
The other factor is that the band jumped in the long song bandwagon, making the album's redundancy even worse. Two of the songs (out of 8) last over 10 minutes. That's a great thing to do when you've actually got a lot of musically revolutionary ideas to fit in one song (just look at Edge of Sanity), but - as I've stated before - this album contains almost nothing new to fans of this band or genre. The result is that these songs stand simply to drag the album, which is sad.
The Blackening is most certainly not a bad album. In fact it's quite good, riffy and thrashing, as you'd expect. The question is that, unlike Machine Head's two first albums, it does not contain any new or unexpected elements. It may be a pretty solid album, and better than anything these guys have done with Ahrue Luster, but in no way this is their best album.
I never listened to Machine Head before The Blackening came out a few years ago. I was into Vio-Lence had my token copy of Eternal Nightmare (an album any thrash metal aficionado should own) but by that point I kind of had outgrown an insensible appetite for thrash metal and had filled myself instead of doses with progressive metal and black metal, usually depending on who I was with at the time. Either way, both parties who I was spending time with tended to despise Machine Head and described them as nothing more than Robb Flynn's latest attempt to try to make some money and milk popular tastes. So I was rather surprised when The Blackening was recommended to me by a friend of mine who is a guitar junkie and loves nothing more than copious amounts of shredding in his music. I would've done a review of the album at that time, but I felt like I had to listen to the rest of Machine Head's discography to gauge it against everything else, especially when so many people I knew absolutely refused to give the album a chance or despised it. That idea was really put away in the back of my mind, until now.
What I can tell you now is that do not get, as I call it, "Blackened" when it comes to "The Blackening". What I mean is, don't let the opinions of others jade you when it comes to this album. Now I know you're thinking "Isn't that what I should do with all forms of art, music included? Make my own opinions about it?" Yes but considering the fact that music is being sold as a product and we often have to purchase others music for enjoyment, people now do appreciate a little consumer advice. This is one of those albums that I've heard very little clear middle ground on. People absolutely love this album and consider it the greatest thing since Master of Puppets, or others despise it. So when it comes to The Blackening, that makes it one of the most difficult albums I've ever reviewed.
After listening to this album after I got it and listening to it this day, I can recognize why the person who recommended me this album recommended me this album. I didn't at first. His favorite band is Dream Theater and he also worships Symphony X. Bands like Nevermore, Fates Warning, and many similar acts are among his favorite metal bands to listen to. Understandably, I found this odd because, as I had grown to understand, Machine Head was a quite straightforward band musically. I mean, they did put out some seriously mallcore material in the late 1990s and early part of the previous decade before 2003's Ashes to an Empire, and even before that their music was hardly advanced. This brings me into the first stereotype, the first thing you can be "Blackened" by, when it comes to The Blackening. Despite what a lot of people will say, The Blackening is a very musically progressive album. No one who has honestly listened to this album can deny that. It may not be the most progressive album, but Machine Head took a big leap of faith here trying out the mixing in of progressive time and some key changes into their music. For the most part, I have to say it works. Machine Head chicanes in and out of some very wickedly complex riffs and drumming patterns before going into a lot of mellow and ambient sections and it all works very well! The band are still heavy and retain a certain edge that not only make the songs sound exciting, they also make them sound shorter. For an album that's rife with quite a few long pieces, they don't really sound that long. A lot of progressive metal bands cannot say that about their songs, and Machine Head really succeeds in this regard very welly.
The guitars and the drums are really equals on this album. What I love was that both the guitars and drums match each other so well, but there are not many moments where I can say the guitar was following the drums outright or vice versa. The riffs on The Blackening really stand out in that regard, as a lot of these newer American metal bands that play the post-thrash/grove metal stuff that Machine Head plays will frequently go into a lot of one or two chord palm muted chugging to go along with lame double bass plodding. For I'd say over ninety percent of The Blackening, that is the case. Each pick stroke in the riff just seems to hit at you and highlight some grander mood that Machine Head is trying to achieve with each riff. I absolutely love it, it makes the music sound wonderfully powerful and prevents it from falling into a lot of the traps that Machine Head fell into the past. It doesn't sound completely boring, it doesn't sound contrite, and it actually sounds powerful. You throw that in with some very good lead guitar work from Robb and Phil Demmel and you have a very good recipe for success.
What also blows me away here is the drum work by Dave McClain. I had heard rumors that McClain was among the most well rounded drummers in metal today, that he had a very good of speed, rhythm, technicality, and feel that few others can get to. What I can tell you after listening to The Blackening is that many of those people are right. His drum work is phenomenal. I can't think of many albums, by any band out there, that had as well rounded and good of a drum performance as this one did. This is an album that I think all aspiring metal drummers must listen to. Because, on The Blackening, the drums don't just blend into the background to hold a rhythm. Nor do they overpower everything and get downright obnoxious. The drum-work on The Blackening is so good that it actually propels the songs and the song moods and atmospheres forward, more so then the guitars do! And with the quality of some of the riffs on here, that is truly a testament as to just how good it is. When you consider all the time changes played at the speeds that they are played at, the poly-rhythms that McClain sometimes gets into, and the creativity he puts in, it really sounds just brutally wonderful.
This however is when things start to go awry. The one thing that really irks me about The Blackening is Mr. Flynn's vocals. Robb's standard vocals as a whole are really not that bad. They're loud, they sound reasonably angry, and are pretty forceful. There are some pretty catchy moments to here with The Blackening, moments that do make you feel enraged the way that the songs and Robb sound. Many of the choruses are memorable sounding thanks to some catchy vocal patterns. So what is wrong? Well it starts that Mr. Flynn seems to really lack any sense of tonal range at all. Robb can do the pissed off growling/barking pretty well. The more operatic clean vocals on songs like Halo and Now I Lay Thee Down really don't sound bad, they're actually rather good (despite what many people will tell you). But there is absolutely no middle ground between these two styles. I congratulate Robb for adding the clean vocals into Machine Head's music when it came to The Blackening, but really that is about it. So while The Blackening is more vocally varied than anything that came before it in Machine Head's catalog, you have to realize that is not something is very special. And the middle ground between the operatic clean vocals is really really not good at all. Much of the problem is that the middle ground for Robb reveals another weakness for him, that he really only knows how to sing loud. That is an issue that many metal vocalists have, but they compensate for it by not throwing in other styles of vocals into the music. Then you can't even think that all they can do is sing loud, because you don't know what else they can sing! The vocal passages sometimes just sound misplaced, as there are weird chanty and clean sections in parts where I don't think they should be or drag on for far too long, like in Clenching The Fists of Descent and Aesthetics of Hate.
I also take issue with the fact that bassist Adam Duce is barely existent on this album. While The Blackening is a bassy album, I do wonder how much of that low end actually comes from Mr. Duce, and not just the B tuned guitars of Robb and Phil. The bass lines here are pathetically simple, and anyone who knows how to drop tune their bass low enough can play them with their eyes closed. Aside from a small glimpse on the track Halo, you hardly even hear Duce throughout The Blackening. His role is purely supportive and he does very little to make his presence known on this album, and as a fellow bassist that really disappoints me. But then again he is so thin on talent that I sort of question why I even wish he stood out more.
What really angers me about The Blackening however, are the absolutely awful lyrics. There is no other way to put it, the lyrics on The Blackening are terrible. There are several reasons why. The overall lyrical themes in The Blackening have essentially do with how Robb Flynn saw the USA and the rest of the world in 2007 and he was, well, disgusted with it. That is all good and fun Robb, and normally I would not mind. I love political themed lyrics that make you think about social issues. But the problem with these lyrics are that you get the feeling that Robb is not leaving room for the listener to , but he's rather acting like he knows everything and he's one hundred percent right about everything. Part of that, I will admit, is the lack of tonal and volume variation, but it is also perpetuated by the fact that the lyrics just get downright cheesy. Clenching The Fists of Descent is pretty much this; Bark Bark Bark The Bush Administration lied about Iraq bark bark bark it's all about the oil bark bark bark how could they lie to us? Replace the barking with rapping, and it sounds like a Rage Against The Machine album. It is the same thing on the second Iraq War themed track, A Farewell to Arms. A tad less barking perhaps, but replaced by utterly sympathetic melodramatic crooning. You really get that sense through all the socially themed lyrics on The Blackening. Halo, Machine Head's ode to anti-Christianity, puts this on full display. The lyrics try to make Machine Head sound like some kind of middle of the field anti-christian rebel who is stuck between a reformer and a generally evil person who wants to destroy Christianity in the name of Satan. Pick a side man!
Perhaps the most embarrassing lyrical moment on The Blackening though occurs on it's best song musically, Aesthetics of Hate. The lyrics of this song are, in a nut shell, about stereotyping. Specifically, how Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Pantera fame, was stereotyped by some evangelist Christian as a devil worshiping heretic who was undoubtedly going to hell because of the fact he was a metal musician, after he was murdered. Now I have no problem with tributes to people who died in music, but I do not like it when musicians make such tributes personal. I just could not help thinking "Get over it Robb! Dimebag is dead and he's not coming back!" when I listened to this profanity ridden diatribe. That's another issue I have with these lyrics, there is way too much profanity going on! You don't need to swear to sound angry and tough, and I do not understand why Robb felt he needed to do this on The Blackening to get his point across.
I do very much though appreciate the mix on this album. It is a good mix overall. The guitars have a wonderfully bright tone and sound very heavy nonetheless. The bass, while buried, is there and provides that extra meatiness to make sure it does not sound totally stale. The vocals are very clear and right out in front, where they belong. What sounds the best though are the drums. McClain's kit sounds like a drum kit, the cymbals cut amazingly, and I love the double bass sound. A great album in terms of the studio work, and I am very impressed with it.
Don't get blackened by The Blackening. The best way to decide if this is a good album, like any piece of music or work of art, is just go out and experience it for yourself. I can hope that when you do listen to it, you are not completely blackened by the opinions of others who may not give this album a chance, or praise it overtly like it is the second coming of metal christ.
As we all know, Machine Head's overall rating isn't that high. Most of their albums are one a low percentage and this album is also a part of that, it may be their best one, but there's nothing stellar about it either. Let's face the fact that this band didn't have a good run as we'd want them to, however it's quite understandable because, like their albums, this band in total didn't make the cut.
Where to begin? Let's start with Rob Flynn (vocals and rhythm guitar), the James Hetfield wannabe. If he wants to be like present day Hetfield? He's doing a good job. His vocals are just plain terrible, out of key and really bland, on songs like "Halo" and "Aesthetics of Hate" he did well with harmonic vocals but that's it. To make things easier for the (small) fanbase to understand, he's meant to be a guitar player and not a vocalist, plain and simple. Rob Flynn portrays himself as a badass in this album, or at least tries to, in reality he has a badass reputation of a five year-old school yard bully.He tries way too hard with his metal appearance and presence and I believe it can be done easily, unfortunately trying too hard leads to failure in most cases. My verdict for Flynn is: find a real job and just stop singing all together, please.
I'll admit, the only reason why this album got 50% was because of the songs "Halo", "Aesthetics of Hate" and "Slanderous". They had some really good riffs and licks, the solos on "Halo" were good, but on the other two they were sloppy and just plain terrible. I have absolutely no idea what they plan to acheive by adding a "static" effect to their shredding, it just leads us to believe that our headphones are broken. It's either an attempt at being different, or it's just because their skill is lacking. Either way, the solos and guitars in general suck because of this, sure there's some skill in the songs mentioned, but the rest just shows how sloppy and lazy they really are. Just play guitar normally like every other band out there.
The drums were great, I really like them. They were fast, edgy and brutal which is really important in metal music, if you don't have a good drummer it can lead to failure. However, I felt like the drummer was literally carrying the band, making some brutal cymbal slams to make the music sound better and brutal. It's basically like a mask covering the true uglyness of Machine Head, end of story there. The bassist had some good grooves going, he displayed some amateur rumbles and whatever, but he at least did better than the guitars in this album 90% of the time.
I basically downloaded this album expecting great results and just ended up hating the band in the end. This album is nothing but pure disappointment and crappy effects, vocals and solos. You shouldn't buy this album unless you are really into shitty music and enjoy the feeling of disappointment, long story short: these guys are nothing but Metallica wannabes, where the vocalist thinks he's the next (St. Anger era ) James Hetfield and that they have the same song lengths as Metallica (longest song time is approximately 10 minutes long). So if you like the sounds of "modern Metallica" and like some pointless angt-filled lyrics, by all means buy it. If not, spend your money on a better album.
If I remember rightly, back in 2007 every kiss ass rock magazine hailed this as the next "Master of puppets". That's the trouble with commercial reviews, they hear an album and compare it to the only band they know: Metallica. "Master of puppets" although not the fastest thrash album, still plays circles around this album. And any way, "Master of puppets" is probably the best metal album of all time, and I cannot believe people are saying this has budged it off of it's throne. This is a re-hash of older sounds Machine Head had explored: groove, nu-metal, metalcore, only they pass off a few neo-thrash riffs with a current thrash resurgance evidently looming at this point. Fuck me, this band have hopped from genre to genre, depending on what was popular. It makes me wonder if Robb Flynn's better days in Vio-Lence, were a trend adhering exploit. Is my whole association with Robb Flynn a lie? If so why the fuck do I bother, waiting for the next Machine Head album? Probably because there are a few good bits here and there, but I would respect them a lot more if they stuck to one sound. Now exploring new sounds is great, freedom to you for it, but isn't it funny Machine Head only play what is popular within metal at the time? People give Metallica shit for "Load" or "St. Anger" or whatever, but why do people never bring up Machine Head's "Supercharger", which is one of the worst post-thrash albums I have heard since Anthrax released "The sound of white noise", in fact the latter is more tolerable than the former. Now Machine Head never set out to be the same as Vio-Lence, I respect that, but this album plays it painfully safe. It has been created to be accessible, but they add raw oldschool elements here and there, and the uninitiated will surely be blown away being inducted to such sounds for the first time. People need to stop watching glossy, accessible, radio-friendly rock channels, and do a bit of fucking homework. How hard can it be this day in age? We managed in the 80's, long before the internet...grrrr!
The highlight tracks here are: "Clenching the fists of dissent", "Wolves", and "Aesthetics of hate". Even as the best tracks there are elements of the same predictable groove and metalcore. "Wolves" as my favourite track, flattens anything Machine Head have probably ever written...period. The riffs are exicting, the tempo changes capture the attention, and the breakdowns actually work this time around. The vocals are slightly lacking, for real thrash vocals are required for such a song, but Flynn's second rate Anselmo vocals will have to do I guess. "Aesthetics of hate" has quite a moving story behind it, and there are a few catchy riffs. The opening track, has a long drawn out acoustic passage, which sounds okay, but it goes on and on...and the background is layered with computer altered vocals by Robb. The riff that kicks it off which is the inevitable "boom" is predictable, but very catchy and more thrash orientated. The rest of the album, is to please the fans of the last fifteen years. Some average nu-metal undertones are painfully obvious still, and the whole grungey vibe like Alice In Chains still comes to a head, against influences of the likes of the more emotional sides of Black Label Society or Pantera. And a hint of fellow label buddies Trivium seep in and out, and if the above was tolerable then this surely takes the fucking biscuit! But even if the riffs are quite catchy, the lyrics are quasi-intelligent at least, it seems Flynn only knows what is going on in the airwaves, but not in the actual world. You can do better for 2007, and if you think this is a full on thrash assault, then either you are still in denial those Vio-Lence days are gone like a fart in the wind, or you need to stop listening to Trivium and get out the fucking house once in a while!
Ah, Machine Head. One of the most criticized bands of recent years. Like Metallica before them, they befell the pressures of the mainstream media, and for two consecutively disappointing albums, tortured the ears of saddened fans. Their debut was stunning, a masterpiece of blended genres; Groove-tinged Thrash Metal, with a hint of Industrial thrown in. They then went to release the equally great “The More Things Change…”, but was all too similar in sound to its predecessor. The band could not have sunk any lower. But then 2003 saw the release of “Through the Ashes of Empires”. This was Machine Head’s blistering return to greatness. With the addition of Robb Flynn’s former band mate, lead guitarist Phil Demmel, the band had shown the world what it could do. After several very successful tours and a live DVD, Machine Head returned to the studio. Four years wait and anticipation brought the world to 2007, when they released The Blackening…
The album starts off with the ominous sound of a much distorted call from a mosque. “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” begins the album with a quiet and peaceful acoustic riff repeated over, the addition of a snare and Robb Flynn screaming anti-war propaganda in the background builds up the tension. The tension breaks out into one of the most technically mind-blowing riffs Machine Head have ever performed. The bass and drums kick in as Flynn’s scream of “WAR!” launches the listener into a ten minute marvel of Thrash Metal. With finger-melting lead interludes, an almost constant double bass pedal performance from drummer Dave McClain and unforgiving breakdowns, the song fades out leaving the listener’s heart thumping.
Track number 2, subtly titled “Beautiful Mourning” is no less powerful. With the Flynn’s brutal scream of “FUCK YOU ALL!” opening the track, the pounding drums slow to Flynn’s terrifying vocal performance. The guitar work of Demmel is truly excellent, with a short solo from him sending the song flying from a breakdown straight into the cleanly sung finish.
The third track, “Aesthetics of Hate”, is a true example of how for Machine Head has come through these long years. Beginning with a quite chilling guitar riff that ultimately chases the listener throughout the seven minute thrash attack, sets the scene for this showcase of Demmel and Flynn’s tight guitar work. This song is, at the end of the day, a middle finger to a man who slandered Dimebag Darrell, as well as a tribute to the guitar legend. The lyrics are gut-wrenching and the bass performance is superb throughout. The drums are relentless and skillful. Several solos from the guitarists lead to the flawless cries for divine intervention from Flynn, and the track concludes with an almost “Raining Blood” reminiscent combination of screeching guitars and staggered floor toms.
“Now I Lay Thee Down” is similarly emotive lyrically to “Aesthetics of Hate”. They follow a story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Musically, it is incredibly varied, opening with a very soft guitar riff that, like “Aesthetics of Hate”, return time and time again throughout the song. The drums are melodic, matching the bass perfectly, and the tap interlude from Demmel is incredible. The solos, however, are the really special things about this song; the two guitarists trade off in a sort-of battle, each turn separated by a rendition of the main riff. The song ends violently after a brilliantly sung bridge.
The pick-slide of “Slanderous”, followed by the very technical guitar work, and the complex drums, make this a very memorable track. A five minute thrash attack against racism and prejudice, this is where Machine Head show their controversial lyrical genius. With the several uses of the “N-word”, this song delivers a brutal beat-down to injustice. Once again, the axe-men show their skill, but Demmel’s solos are once again a high point for this song. Concluding with another rendition of the blistering riff in the intro, Machine Head have left the listener breathless.
“Halo”. From the very peaceful intro, to the ultimate, thrashing conclusion, this is the song that Machine Head were born to write. The intro builds at a fast pace, via use of an accelerating double bass pedal, opening up into a technically amazing riff, the guitarists show their skills here. Flynn’s vocal performance is outstanding here, as his screams break out into a very energizing cleanly sung section with bassist Adam Duce. The chorus is sung over an equally memorable high-end riff, and pounding drums and tom rolls. After the second chorus, the song collapses into that chilling intro riff. The breakdown is brutal; Robb Flynn’s screams take the listener by surprise. The drum performance is melodic and precise. But the breakdown ends abruptly; Phil Demmel unleashes the most blistering and mind-blowing solo on the album yet. The drums and bass kick in to follow the lead work through a minute long journey showcasing Phil Demmel’s incredible guitar abilities. With some of the most complex tapping, shredding and sweep picking around, and a staggering dual lead finish to it, the solo in itself is a masterpiece and is probably one of the most intense solos ever recorded. The soft singing of Flynn breaks into an epic finish; with Duce singing, Flynn screaming, the song breaks back into a very Thrashy, and pick-slide filled ride to the end of this nine minute epic.
“Wolves” kicks in where “Halo” left off. A blood curdling vocal opening, followed by another awesome lead break from Demmel sets the scene for the rest of the song. The almost constant double bass drumming from McClain is outstanding. The lengthy, but none the less entertaining, instrumental bridge, and leading to another guitar trade off between Demmel and Flynn, the song comes abruptly to a halt, with Flynn’s voice echoing into the distance.
After the sonic assault that was “Wolves”, one can only hope that the final track from this audio journey would be something somewhat more relaxing. The listener is allowed two and a half minutes of soft singing backed by similarly peaceful guitars and cymbal orientated drum work. But, like the first track of The Blackening, apprehension is slowly becoming stronger, until the song breaks out into a somewhat slower but none the less heavy track. The lyrics are target at the Iraq War, and suit the song perfectly. The singing is, once again, very powerful, and fits in very well with the pounding bass line and guitar work. The song eventually breaks into a brilliant Thrash Metal finish, with a very fast riff, and another very impressive solo from Demmel, with a very heavy focus on complex tapping. The song culminates in the form of staggered floor toms and cymbals, slowing the track from the Thrash Metal guitar work. Flynn’s whispering of the title as the screeching of a guitar fades out, leaving the listener truly impressed.
This may well be one of the best albums ever recorded, with the quality comparable to that of Master of Puppets. Even if you don’t agree with that, listening to The Blackening will ultimately leave you a changed person. It is such a shame that this phenomenal piece of Metal wasn’t recorded twenty years earlier, for it would’ve put the output of the Big Four at the time to shame. This is an outstanding performance by the whole band. This truly has shown the world what to expect from the Bay Area four-piece, and will make them reconsider ever doubting them. Machine Head have created their masterpiece.
On the review I wrote for "Burn My Eyes," I mentioned in the very first paragraph the unusual take on Machine Head's music by the metal world. As I said on that review, Machine Head is generally both overrated by the fans and overcriticized by the detractors with few taking the middle ground. No album in this band's recorded history makes this statement any louder than "The Blackening." Naturally, as with most big names in the States, this album was hyped up a storm upon its release and remains so even now over two years after its release. Heralded as something of a "triumphant return to thrash," I particularly see that it is certainly not, but more of a combination of numerous influences and styles to create a different kind of Machine Head.
Just as it was overrated by various media stations and fanboys giddy with excitement, so has it become a favored target of the usual Machine Head hate crowd. I'm guessing since it bears the name "Machine Head," its worth mockery and downtrodding, and I have little right to rain on that particular parade. I, however, attempt to formulate an opinion about a certain album and band based entirely on the music on display, not who a band is, who they were, or who it is that makes up the bulk of their listening audience. Combine that with the fact that I long ago realized this band was not a thrash band, regardless of terms like "post-thrash" and "half-thrash," I have since begun to enjoy Machine Head's music. Since I do not rubber stamp bands, and usually take them for what they are, it allows me to enjoy the music at hand, as opposed to writing this album off as a thrash metal parody, a concept of which is particularly misguided considering this album has little to do with thrash anyway.
All of that being said, I would also be remiss if I didn't take a particular stand on this album. I don't see "The Blackening" as revolutionary, nor the new face of thrash metal, because again folks, this isn't a thrash album. Instead, I see Machine Head grabbing at a new concept of songwriting and in the end finding new directions for creativity but also finding a few dead-ends. To this end, I point to the excessively long song durations. Apparently, as of the last few years, if a band can pull some 7 or 8 minute songs out of their asses they are suddenly branded as a "pioneering" force in heavy metal music. Opeth has been doing it for years, and regardless of the actual quality of their albums, they are still seen as absolutely stunning. More notable would be Metallica, who proceeded to wow audiences with excessive song lengths on "Death Magnetic," and bathed in the undeserved praise for what was an otherwise halfway decent album. "The Blackening" suffers from this same issue, but I'd argue comes off a little less half-assed than "Death Magnetic."
An example of excessive lengths comes right from the get go on "Clenching the Fists of Dissent." After the clean guitar sections, the song itself cooks relatively well and establishes itself as one of the best songs here. You get a few thrashier sections, a quiet section, some post-thrash sections that remind me of "Burn My Eyes" to some degree. I personally would love a slimmer version of this song, but for what it is, I can't honestly complain as its fairly decent given the current status of American heavy metal. "Aesthetics of Hate" also pumps some adrenaline into the fray, albeit with some useless sections that come in but ultimately don't ruin the listen as a whole. That seems to be a recurring theme on this album; excessive song lengths with good parts, even some great ones, but a load of unnecessary breakdowns and metalcore tendencies or other pointless sections that come in and damage the quality of the songs.
"Now I Lay Thee Down" continues with some good moments, but again a little too long. The only song I can't honestly complain about would be "Slanderous," which fires on all cylinders and comes the closest to this album's supposed "thrash metal" style. It still doesn't quite get there entirely, but it comes pretty damn close. Not surprisingly, "Slanderous" is one of the best songs on here and is only a little more than five minutes in length. Another excellent track that doesn't seem to suffer from those overlong durations would be "Wolves," which comes out on top of most of what is on display here. The good songs here definitely help to stem the tide of mediocrity considering the Metallica cover in "Battery," which suffers tremedously thanks to Flynn's sub-par vocal performance which effectively ruins the cover. It seems strange that Flynn would pick that song, as if it hasn't been covered enough already. If the band being covered had to be Metallica, a song off "Ride the Lightning" would have been far more acceptable than one chosen off the "Master of Puppets" album, which was obviously done so the majority of listeners would recognize the song title.
My final verdict is that "The Blackening" should not be placed on a pedestal and crowned as some remarkable achievement. At the same time, I don't see it fit to crush this album beneath a nine pound hammer. There is some good quality music on display here, but the misguided concept of "long songs make epic songs" is in full force here and as usual falls flat on some occasions. Still, I can't blame this band for trying as their successes often outweigh the majority of the American metal scene, not to mention the majority of famous band names they share the tabloids with. What "The Blackening" ultimately amounts to is a respectable attempt at a new direction for Machine Head, one that paradoxically is both superior to "Burn My Eyes" but then seems to be inferior since the band was concise and confident on that album and not so much here. In the end, "The Blackening" is something of a sign to me that Machine Head is evolving for the better, but they haven't latched onto something truly spectacular yet, regardless of what the media would have us believe.
Machine Head has been an arguably infamous band since their 1999 album The Burning Red, when they grouped with nu-metal tycoon Ross Robinson and attempted to do rap metal. Luckily for the fans, 2004 album Through the Ashes of Empires was a sort of homecoming to their half-thrash/groove metal. Expectations were mixed: while some optimistic fans assured they would be even more metal-Oriented on their 2007 release, The Blackening, others said they would eventually return to their nu-metal Era.
My expectations were mixed before hearing the album. During the first minute of "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" the album's first track, I was confused, for it seemed that they had nu-metal Elements as well as groove metal ones. I was certainly proven wrong in the next 9 minutes. The first track wasn't at all a nu-metal track, but an energic 10 minute song about revolution. The revolution theme would be present all along the album, along with murder and war themes. Rob Flynn has overcomed his outstanding performance in "Through the Ashes..." and become an even more solid frontman, in a performance that seems to say that he's no longer the "pseudo-rapper" he used to be in The Burning Red-Supercharger era. The energy and rage present in the first track is also present in the next 2 tracks. Flynn absolutely knows how to put emotions of anger into the songs, even though the lyrics they sing aren't quite smart as one would expect (Beautiful Mourning, Wolves and Slanderous are proofs of that).
Now I Lay Thee Down is a bizarre but exquisite song about love & murder, Aesthetics of Hate is a homage to Pantera's guitarist Dimebag Darrell and also a response to a defaming article a journalist made about him; Halo is an anti-religion declaration which is kind of dull at the beginning but very passionate at the end, and Wolves is an overlong but still kind of entertaining song about war. They surely don't have the best lyrics, but that comes to be irrelevant compared to the virtuosity they have while playing those songs. Flynn's not alone at putting feeling to their themes. Phil Demmel's distortioned guitar riffs fit perfectly into the songs atmosphere. Dave McClain's drumming doesn't dissappoint either, as he's always proven the talent he has since "The More Things Change". Adam Duce isn't quite present in the album as the other 3 integrants, but he's still a good bassist throughout the album.
The way the album itself goes it's really good. It begins with an energizing tracks trio, and then becomes a little bit slower but keeping the heavyness of the first three tracks. The way the album ends, however, is in my opinion an utter masterpiece. A Farewell to Arms not only has the lyric deepness the rest of the album is lacking of, but is also the best way to end the album, with a mixing of softness and heavyness in a single song.
Overall, The Blackening surprised me, because although I thought Machine Head would do another groove metal album like their first album Burn My Eyes, I never imagined that it would surpass it in almost everything, from the sound quality to the way these guys play their instrument. Hopes are high for their next album, because in my opinion, the Blackening has been not also the ratification of their comeback to groove metal, but the best effort they've come up with in nearly 20 years of their career.
The definition of a farce, as noted in The American Heritage Dictionary, is “A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect.” Although the other definitions accompanying this one also bear some similarity to the musical situation that this term applies to here, this particular one is the most applicable as it explains not only the musical end result of “The Blackening” in it’s entirety, but also the manner in which most people seemed to react to it when it came out. To better understand the nature of why this album is somewhat pleasing musically, though entirely devoid of any sort of credible thrash metal merit, one has to take into account the nature of this band from its very inception.
Machine Head was, first and foremost, the creation of a musician who intended to remain an item on the airwaves, as opposed to someone who creates metal out of any knowable sense of individuality. Robb Flynn is essentially the archetype for a thrash metal hipster, as ridiculous as the concept may seem. Every album put out by this outfit, which he has always had full control over, has been an exercise in 2nd rate worship of whatever seemingly aggressive type of music was edging its way into the Top 40. After seeing the success of bands like Trivium, who merged some elements of old school Metallica with their own groovy brand of metalcore, which happens to carry some similar roots with the groove and mallcore styles already emulated by this particular outfit, good ole Flynn decided yet again that one bandwagon is just as good as the last one, provided there is an established act that has already tested it and taken the risks beforehand.
In keeping with this, the musical nature of “The Blackening” succeeds in being original only in the sense that the newer style being utilized is multi-faceted enough to allow the band some compositional liberties between songs. It is now okay to play fast, provided that it’s not for the whole song and only for a certain amount of time between comical harmonized choruses and groovy, repetitive 2 or 3 note fits of buffoonery. Solos have actually become cool again so we have a golden opportunity for some lead guitar window dressing, so let’s bring in Phil Demmel and see if we can rope in some old fans of Vio-Lence who would otherwise want nothing to do with this band. Although we now have the foundation of what would be something akin to a heavy metal meets Broadway style farcical satire, the true joke is only knowable to those third persons not watching just the show, but also the audience and seeing the punch line of the jest realized in how people foolishly laude this mediocre yet moderately enjoyable album as some sort of pinnacle of metal music.
As a member of the true audience that is viewing all of these elements, my first giggle came in right square at the beginning of the album’s overlong opening track “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent”. Although this proves to be one of the more thrashing songs and ultimately one of the better songs on here, the acoustic intro is utterly comical sounding. I take into account repetitive intros like that of Metallica’s “Battery”, which strangely enough also appears on this album, clueing the listener in immediately of which creative well Flynn is going to, which happens to be one that’s been visited repeatedly for almost 2 decades. The next 3 minutes that follow are fairly decent half-thrash, definitely not of the quality heard on “Eternal Nightmare”, but close enough to get your head banging. Afterwards we get to a couple of groovy, Pantera-like sections which are somewhat annoying vocally, but not overtly offensive, before getting back to the fury during the guitar solos. There’s a couple of goofy moments where Flynn’s vocals get so wrapped up in Phil Anselmo worship that they loose any identity they’ve ever had, minus one really cringe-worthy quiet section where we get a taste of the metalcore nonsense that will plague most of the rest of this album, but otherwise this song tends to stay consistently solid.
From here on in, the album gradually deteriorates into an odd mishmash of Metallica, Pantera, Trivium, and Killswitch Engage worship. “Beautiful Disaster” continues the half-thrash, groovy metalcore hybrid of the opener, but with a much greater emphasis on the latter. There are a couple of repetitive, though fairly decent speed metal riffs on here, but the vocal work on here is just downright revolting. Half of the time Flynn literally sounds like either Jonathan Davis or some other hack who sings like a bad version of Eddie Vedder and screams like a bitch being anally violated with the jagged end of a broken billiard cue. “Aesthetics Of Hate” sees the band redeeming itself a little with something resembling a thrash song, although still coated with some pseudo-melodic breakdowns with annoying clean sung vocals and sporting 1 minute of pointless guitar noise in order to drag out a 5 minute song into something that appears to be more epic in scope.
By this point, the band has basically put forth enough thrashing riffs to get away with resorting back to their groovy, radio friendly ways with “Now I Lay Thee Down”. There is basically no discernable distinction between this song and Machine Head’s founding credo of slowed down, dumb-down riff fragments and repetitive, mid-tempo rock drumming with bad vocals. This song could have been a b-side to either of this band’s first two albums, and it seems that many professed fans of Vio-Lence who otherwise don’t like this band don’t take notice between all the flashy metalcore surrounding it. “Slanderous” definitely goes a little closer to a speed metal sound, although it takes a good while to get going. In fact, during most of this album the band seems to save their best riffs for when the guitar solos come in, which tends to defeat the purpose of having them at all.
The rest of this album sees the band resorting back to what gave a somewhat better impression at the beginning; increasing the song length and trying to get at least a few good ideas out in the process. The results are two overlong groove metal songs in “Halo” and “A Farewell To Arms”, both of which could be half as long and still be boring, and the best song on here “Wolves”. Say what you will about Flynn’s semi-decent Phil Anselmo vocal worship, this song manages to stay interesting throughout most of its duration, save a few lousy breakdowns here and there. The riffs all tend to be a little less memorable than that one principle riff on the album’s opener, but as a song this one is the most consistent and also the least metalcore oriented. With better vocals, this might pass for some sort of epic variant on Vio-Lence’s work on “Oppressing The Masses”. The cover of “Battery” basically goes through the motions, and other than a weak, flat as hell vocal job by Flynn, does not distinguish itself in any way, as if it’s on here just so the band can say they covered a Metallica song. For someone who was once attached to a great Bay Area thrash band, it’s embarrassing that Flynn gets his hat handed to him by Ensiferum, a band that plays epic folk metal, when it comes to covering the band credited with pioneering the thrash style.
Taking all of this into account, I am tickled pink at the pretentious nature of all these various music media outlets that were proclaiming this as some sort of new classic of the thrash metal revival, because this is not a thrash album. At best, this is a half decent metalcore album with bad vocals and a few amazing guitar solos. A couple of these songs aren’t bad, but as a whole, I can get more enjoyment out of hearing Trivium’s “The Crusade”, which is in itself a testimony to the limited faculties of the metal genre they represent. Only someone with a limited knowledge of thrash metal’s origins or an all out disdain for albums that defined the genre in the mid 80s could lavish this album with so much moronic praise and call it a new thrash standard.
The final and most ironic punch line that closes this metallic farce is that despite all of the glaring flaws present here, this is Machine Head’s greatest album to date. Despite the obvious mainstream pandering exhibited here, musically this is more enjoyable than “Burn My Eyes” or “The More Things Change”, let alone the garbage that followed them. If you can stomach albums like Killswitch Engage’s “Alive Or Just Breathing” or Trivium’s “The Crusade”, or maybe even Pantera’s “Reinventing The Steel”, you might like this. Just don’t mistake this for being what some have claimed it to be, namely a genuine return to the thrash metal style that is being properly realized by other acts to this day.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-archives.com) on September 25, 2008.
Right at the start I have to say that I'm a huge Machine Head fan boy. When I first heard Burn My Eyes in 1994 it had a huge impact on me. Songs like Davidian, Death Church and Old were crushing thrash anthems that alleviated many evenings of boredom. The album has also, over the years become incredibly influential. In fact, i think that debut album has been plagiarised non stop by a whole host of more recent metal-core bands.
After the seminal debut, the band sort of lost their way. In the face of huge media hype and the overblown marketing of their label Roadrunner, Machine Head just seemed to crumple. By the time the fourth album Supercharger came round, the band was a shadow of their former selves. Pandering to the trends of the time had become the norm for Machine Head and while I still loved the debut the rest of the albums left me completely cold.
Then in 2004, Machine Head rose almost phoenix like. The band released their best album since their debut with Through The Ashes Of Empires. While that album was heavy and marked a return to their thrash style it still had a few cringe worthy moments (particularly some of Robb's clean singing that sounded like Korn-lite).
So it's 2007 now and Machine Head released their sixth studio album. Named The Blackening, the pre-release buzz and hype surrounding this release made it seem like 1996 all over again when the band was on the verge of releasing their second album The More Things Change. The album leaked onto the Internet a few months before the actual release and I've been listening to this album for a few months now.
The album has a few things going for it. First, some killer riffs courtesy of Flynn and his old partner in Vio-Lence Phill Demell. The lead playing too is pretty good through out the album and I think Demell is a lot more comfortable with the band now than he was on the previous album. Dave McLane has to be one of the most underrated metal drummers around today and while his performance on The Blackening is not as flashy at it was on Through The Ashes... he pulls off a terrific performance behind the kit. Adam Duce has always held up the bottom end competently and on The Blackening you can hear him a lot more clearly than before.
So anyway, we all know that these chaps can play but what about the music ? What about the songs ? Are they any good ? Well, the answer's a bit tricky. The songs are all long. Two of the 8 songs on this album are over 10 minutes long. Now, for a thrash metal band, 10 minute songs are a tricky affair and for a Thrash metal band that has steadily flirted with trends, a ten minute song is something that could be disastrous. Machine Head for the most part, manage to pull it off. The songs are filled with some kick ass thrash riffs, some great lead playing and a rhythm section thats very very tight. At the same time, there are these parts on almost every single song that seem to be there only to please the 14 year old Trivium fan. Case in part is the intro to Now I Lay Thee Down which sounds like something the Deftones may do. Robb Flynn's clean vocals have always been a bit weak and its no different here. Especially when he tries to do the whole soaring melodic clean vocal type thing that Killswitch Engage popularised.
Still this is Machine Head and when they throw commercial considerations out of the window they can write a brutal heavy as fuck thrash metal song. Aesthetics of Hate and the blistering Beautiful Mourning stand out on the album for just being completely unapologetic angry thrash metal songs. Album opener Clenching The Fists Of Dissent is over ten minutes long and is a pretty good song as well. The centre piece of the album though is the lengthy and melodic Halo. I'm sure thousands of metal core kids are going to love this song. Mixing catchy melodic parts with Machine Head's trademark riffing and some more clean singing from Flynn, the song seems written for the live audience and targeted at the trendy scene kids. I'm pretty sure the twin lead workout in the middle of the song is going to make a lot of these kids cum. Halo isn't a bad song. It just seems manufactured.
And that really sums up the problem with The Blackening. There are some truly awesome guitar parts on this album. Some terrific songs as well but at the end of the day, it seems like these songs got so fucking long simply because the band wanted to fit in parts to please all their fans. Something for the old loyals who had stuck around faithfully and something for the new generation of fans who think Trivium is the next best thing to sliced bread.
What I'm left with is a strange album and even after about 6 months of listening to this I can't decide how much I like/ hate the songs. For a band of this stature, it is quite disappointing that The Blackening seems a little dull and is guilty of pandering to trends. It's not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination but at the same time I was expecting a lot more this time around.
Is this a return to form for vocalist Robb Flynn and the rest of Machine Head? Well, if you put into consideration that three of the last five albums were radio-ready nu metal sludge, than yeah, I guess it is a return to form. But don't start believeing that all the hype and press that The Blackening has been getting is true. It's impressive, a great turn-around after the very bland and boring Through The Ashes of Empires, but it's by no means as revolutionary as these hype-makers are making you believe.
Lyrical-wise, Machine Head does nothing that pushes or raises the bar of what they have made before. Not that the bar was set too high anyway. "A Farewell To Arms" deals with the Iraq war, which is sort of different than previous subjects, but the real lyrical focus here is what all their other albums have been about: love, war, organized religion, and the same exact "don't-fuck-with-me" attitude that Pantera and Lamb Of God have.
But the real difference between The Blackening and previous Machine Head albums is the length of the songs. Having ten minute, epically long songs can be a double edged sword for many bands: it can make things more interesting, like on Opeth's albums, or it can make things extremely monotonous, like on Metallica's Load and St. Anger. The Blackening falls subject to both of these outcomes here. The tempo changes and the crazy-fast and surprisingly technical solos make a simple, four-minute groove thrash song into a ten-minute monster that never gets old. But songs such as "Halo" and "Wolves" have nearly the exact same riffs, so it's hard to even distinguish between the two.
If I had to name an ironclad reason on why The Blackening doesn't totally kick ass, I would have to say that Robb Flynn's vocals are the culprit. When he screams, he sounds like a disconcerting mix of Corey Taylor and Howard Jones, which is really not as bad as it might sound on paper. But when he sings, it's a completely different story. It seems as if this guy is crying as he sings, and if that's not bad enough for a fucking thrash metal album, he does it frequently. Bring on the thrash, and not the weepy moaning.
So Machine Head has discovered progressive metal, incorperated it into their bread-and-butter thrash, and everyone goes nuts about it. And let me be the first to tell you (but I'm not, look at all the other reviews here) that this is completely untrue. It's solid, and may even end up as one of the best metal albums of the year, but it's nowhere near the standard to which it is held. In fact, I listened to Burn My Eyes three times after I listened to this album. Any album that makes you want to listen to that band's past work, is not a revolutionary one.
I'll admit, the very first time I listened to this, it really didn't get me. But since then, oh my how it has grown on me. Like nothing else. It's now ranking among my favourite albums of all time, and I would confidently proclaim it not only Machine Head's best effort to date, but THE album of their career, the one that will define them. I'm heaping a lot of praise on it, I know, but I think it's deserved. I just can't stop listening, it's all so good, such a beautiful piece of work. It's got it all: awesome, crunching riffs, excellent solos, forceful vocals, good, intelligent song-writing, and all of it is put together so skillfully. There's simply not a SINGLE bad moment in the album. We even have, as a nice bonus, their recent cover of Metallica's seminal thrash masterpiece "Battery".
The best description, other than all this shameless praise, is a blending of mid-era Pantera thrash (Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display of Power) with modern metalcore. That's part of it's excellence: I'm not a huge fan of metalcore, it just lacks some of the elements of melody, and moves too far away from the core song structures and techniques of heavy metal. But this is like metalcore with added heavy and added metal, and it's a gorgeous result. Slow or fast, meoldic or brutal, thoughtful or just plain violent, it succeeds every time.
Aesthetics of Hate is a lovely scream of hatred at William Grim, a man who wrote an article hailing the murder of Dimebag Darrell and labelling the genre of metal as worthless. This song is one big "Fuck you" to him. "Clenching the Fists" is an excellent opener, really showcasing the band's talents, and I'm betting it'll become a stable part of their live set-list. Slanderous is a perfect anthem for anyone pissed off at labels and stereotypes, and in A Farewell To Arms we have one of the most stirring and powerful closing songs of this kind of music.
It also stands out as something quite original: while influences are obvious, it's a nice interesting new flavour of metal that I haven't truly heard before. Don't try it unless you're after something aggressive. But if you do want something like that, you won't go wrong here. The guitars, drums, vocals, it all makes it a very nice album for those in an angry mood. It perfectly shows off what's good about metal: the anger, the aggression, but directed as a driving force to not accept injustice and to stand together as people who love this kind of music. Many will agree they liked the look of such long songs, and they don't disappoint at all. They never get boring, never seem to stretch themselves, it's just so well crafted. Not just done, but really crafted. The lyrics stand out as intelligent, and the vocals are just the right side of death grunts, not going so far as that, but still being very brutal indeed. I've heard a lot of comparison between Trivium's "The Crusade" and Metallica's "Master of Puppets", sometimes meant in a good way, sometimes bad, and I don't agree with either in the slightest, such a comparison is idiotic rubbish. But here, in The Blackening, I feel we have something that is much more worthy of comparison, not necessarily in general sound, but in the core structure and quality of the work.
Hype. Quite a double edged sword when it comes to new releases, rising bands, or upcoming tours. If done correctly, it can get those who would not normally be associated with certain acts to become fans, or at least follow the band more closely then they would otherwise. If not, well, the results could be somewhat disastrous, leading to over-expectation and disappointment. Every year certain bands jump onto the hype machine with varying results. With 2007's The Blackening, Machine Head took this gamble, and for quite awhile now, we've had to hear about how heavy, progressive, and kick *** it is. Or something to that effect. And with early reviews of The Blackening popping up across the net, it seems critics were taking a liking to the album's direction. The hype machine is still plugging away, I see. However, I am not what you would call the biggest Machine Head fan, and despite all the praise flying around, I was still feeling pretty sceptical about what they could produce. After all, this is Machine Head. Unsurprisingly, I was quite right about The Blackening. It isn't really that special…at all.
Two things, bands and their albums rather, come to mind when I listen to The Blackening. The first is a more appropriate comparison when it comes to actual sound. In 1991, Dark Angel followed released the disappointing Time Does Not Heal, an album which proudly stated "9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs!" There may have been 246 riffs, there may not have been, but what I do know for sure was that Time Does Not Heal was a colossal waste of time. For a more modern example, there's DragonForce. And who doesn't know DragonForce's musical formula, one that seems like it focuses more and being faster than the speed of sound than, well, sounding good. Their breakthrough record, Inhuman Rampage, not unlike Time Does Not Heal, was pretty bland and uninspired. Only instead of 246 riffs in 67 minutes it had a million riffs in 56 minutes. Or something. So why did I write 149 words on two mediocre albums and mention The Blackening only once? Because The Blackening feels exactly like these two albums. It has riffs galore; for the most part, these are terribly boring groove riffs, but there are some thrashy guitar lines, solos and harmonies as well. But mostly bland, soulless groove riffs which got old almost as quickly as any other metal trend.
However, the comparison to both of those albums does not end there. In effort to create ultra heavy, br00tal, tr00 metal and incorporate what frontman and guitarist Rob Flynn claims to be 20-30 different riffs – molten riffs at that – half of The Blackening is home to songs exceeding at least six minutes in length. Four of these five tracks pass the nine minute mark. Yes that's right, 9 minutes. Some bands can and are rather good at writing superb nine minute epics. See Iron Maiden and Opeth. Machine Head is not one of these bands. I may have mentioned something similar to this in a different review about as different band (I've definitely thought about doing it in the past), but I'm not quite sure you could find a more appropriate place to apply such a description. Machine Head's two longest pieces, Clenching the Fists of Dissent and A Farewell to Arms are 10:35 and 10:12 respectively. Unsurprisingly, both are completely unlistenable. Clenching the Fists of Dissent starts out decently enough with a mix of clean guitars and light distortion for about one minute forty seconds, before reverting to mediocre thrash guitar and horrid Phil Anselmo impressions from Flynn. Chugging, shouting, chugging, shouting, and more chugging follows and you've pretty much listened to the whole album before the opening song is half over. Honestly, Clenching the Fists of Dissent was a horrible way to start the album, as it does nothing, save for maybe causing one to pull his or her hair out. And give the listener a bad (yet accurate) impression of what is too come.
Admittedly, The Blackening does improve with the three middle tracks, Beautiful, Slanderous, and Now I Lay Thee Down, but even these tracks are far from enjoyable. Slanderous and Now I Lay Thee Down are the two strongest tracks, and start out fairly decently with interesting guitar riffs. Luckily, we also get a break from Rob's ear splitting shout with some clean vocals, and while these clean vocals are not exceptionally crafted, they're far stronger than the alternative. Ultimately, the three middle tracks are just average groove tracks (meaning that they're fairly terrible), but I would definitely take nine Slanderous-es what Machine Head has offered here. They're much easier to digest and for all their shortcomings, are far more enjoyable than the likes of Wolves or Halo.
As much as I would like to say otherwise, there were a few redeemable parts of The Blackening. Not many, mind you, but on occasion they managed to put together some fairly solid passages. For the most part, this revolves around the guitar tandem, Phil Demmel and Rob Flynn. Something I will not deny the pair is their skill on the axe. No, they aren't mind blowingly great and you wouldn't mix them up with Rusty Cooley or John Petrucci, but every now and then they pull of some thrashy riff, solo, or harmony which could make one smile, I suppose. The solos fit the music fairly well, and are almost always blazing fast or as Flynn would probably put it "metallic and molten." Unfortunately, Machine Head does not make use of these techniques enough for them to make a difference, and they are really overshadowed by the listless riffing.
Overall, Machine Head's 2007 offering and sixth album, The Blackening, is probably one of the weakest, most overrated albums of the year. While I can se many enjoying it, due to its horrid song writing, equally unpleasant vocals, and aside from a few moments in every song, mediocre instrumental performances, I will not be one of these people. I'm not sure if Machine Head can do better than this, as I have not really listened to any Machine Head in the past, but one would assume they can as The Blackening never really does anything to warrant more than two listens. It gets progressively worse with each listen, and unless you're into wasting 61 minutes of your life I do not recommend checking this out. If The Blackening did not include any of the 9-10 minute jam sessions, it would probably be a more interesting listen, though only a 40, maybe 50 at most. Just as with Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal or DragonForce's Inhuman Rampage, I don't bother checking this out. Seriously.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
Machine Head are a band often slandered – and for a good reason. The band has a grand total of six decent tracks over a career spanning fifteen years. Now that’s a roughly one listenable track every 3 years. Considering that five of these decent tracks appeared on their debut, Machine Head have slid pretty fast from their peak (which wasn’t high at all) on Burn My Eyes and they finally hit rock bottom with Supercharger which left them with an all but empty fan base. Their change of style resulted in their entire metal fan base’s evapouration (these ‘fans’ themselves being blind sheep who couldn’t see discern the conspicuous signs of Machine Head’s devolution or tell the difference between true thrash and false thrash) and with Supercharger even their newly acquired mallcore fans and the trend-hopper crowd turned away leaving the band in shambles. Normally, you’d expect Robb to just wrap up, pick up the pieces, apologize for unleashing abomination upon abomination to the metal crowd and leave the scene once and for all. Unfortunately, Robb was far from normal. So what did he do? Take a well-timed break and then resurrect Machine Head claiming they had ‘returned to their thrash roots’. Of course, the blind sheep once again flocked to Robb and the gullible newer metal fans (exposed to such rotting aberrations as Korn and Limp Bizkit) caught on as well, claiming Machine Head to be their ‘favourite thrash band’ just because they couldn’t handle real thrash. Machine Head’s Through the Ashes of Empires was subsequently released and was a groove-mallcore crossover album with lyrics tailored to the mallcore crowd, complete with whiny lyrics and Robb wagging a finger at his biological parents who had abandoned him. While he didn’t give a damn about his biological parents earlier or didn’t make such a fuss about their admittedly heinous act, here he whines and whines over it just so he can appeal to goth fags and mallcore kiddies. Anyone who criticized him was labeled unsympathetic and thus Robb succeeded, Through the Ashes was a huge success and Machine Head became the ‘in’ thing once again. Now, 3 years later and riding on Through the Ashes’ success, what would Robb do?
Jump on the metalcore bandwagon, of course! I mean, if they changed style once what prevents them from changing again? Here we have an album filled with all the clichés of metalcore. The riffs are either excessively melodic or blatantly mallcore in nature, even the groove riffs lack bite especially in the longer tracks. The solos are much better and longer too than usual Machine Head fare which deemphasizes soloing. Of course, this was a necessity, if MH stuck to their usual soloing antics they would be outplayed by three-fourths of the metal bands out there which would be a mighty shame. Speaking of shame, MH doesn’t just rip off Killswitch Engage musically, but also vocally. Robb Flynn’s clean vocals are more pronounced here and besides its miraculous ability to induce vomiting in any real metal fan, it also sounds almost exactly like Howard Jones of KsE! This too is a pre-requisite considering the genre MH just entered. The lyrics are usual MH whining, Robb Flynn has a penchant for being silly and acting like a disparaged youth. Even though he’s somewhere in his higher 30’s, all the guy can think of is hatred, hatred and more hatred. I can’t help but pity Dave McClain’s position in this stagnant band he is the band member who most often shines here – pounding the drums with fury and passion. Phil too left Vio-lence for the more lucrative (money-wise) MH and I know this decision of his will stick on his conscience for very long.
On a song level, ‘Clenching the Fists of Dissent’ is the only above average song here with that intro riff and the solo section with the pumping drumming and deadly riffing. Of course, the length mars the song once again with the last 4 minutes being complete filler. ‘Slanderous’ starts off quite well (despite being disturbingly melodeath) but falls as soon as it should actually be ready to take off. ‘Halo’, ‘Wolves’ and ‘A Farewell To Arms’ have their moments as well but sadly, these are few and far between and only serve to raise them just above the dung heap that is the rest of the album. The long songs are grossly overlong, but I don’t mind the length because it is in these very songs that MH doesn’t mind sneaking in the few bearable riffs the album has. Often, a good idea is picked up but readily discarded in favour of an already abused melody line or some hardcore-style mosh riffing. The rest of the songs are awful, they are a complete mockery of metal and deserve the cold shoulder or rather the cold ear. Which mortal could come up with something so offensive to the ears as this I have no clue. The worst of the lot is ‘Now I Lay Thee Down’ with Robb Flynn exercising his vocal cords, or as I prefer to call them – the ear rapists with some carefully crafted KsE style clean vocal ‘harmonies’.
To conclude, you only need to know one thing about the album – AVOID. Every time you buy this album, Robb Flynn laughs from his mallcore throne at your stupidity. The album gets 10 points for ‘Clenching The Fists of Dissent’ and 10 more for the isolated segments in the rest that manage to impress. This is definitely MH’s best stuff since Burn My Eyes, but that isn’t anything to be proud of.
Machine Head – The Blackening (2007)
Much has been said about Machine Head’s most recent work – the aptly titled “The Blackening” –, pretty much all the buzz being overwhelmingly positive. Some of the reviews have seemed a little bit over-the-top – Maximum Metal called this album “the greatest heavy metal of all time” – and as far as I was concerned, MH were still recovering from their five-year nu-metal binge. “Through the Ashes of Empires” showed great promise, and was a very good album, producing excellent songs such as “Imperium”, “Seasons Wither”, and the creepy and brutal eight-minute ballad, “Descend the Shades of Night.” When I heard that they were working on a new album that would contain only eight tracks – most of them well over five minutes and two of them exceeding ten minutes – I must admit I had my hopes set fairly high. Could they possibly pull it off again, using the same reliable formula as TTAOE? Could they finally break free of the despicable world of nu-metal and finally gain they respect they once had circa “Burn My Eyes?” Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to say that they not only could; they did.
“The Blackening” is a staggering behemoth of an album. It is one of the greatest progressions I have ever seen by any musical group, and with it MH have finally regained their heavy metal crown. Old MH fans must be forewarned, however: “The Blackening” sounds nothing like “Burn My Eyes,” nor does it sound like anything else they have ever done before. TTAOE was merely a stepping stone towards this masterpiece. There is not a single song that is out of place, not a single riff or drum roll that isn’t absolutely perfect. Rob Flynn and company took the time to sit down, play their fucking asses off, and produce an album of the highest quality. It is one hour and one minute of ingenious songwriting, and you will never be bored for a second. It takes a lot for a band to write a song over nine minutes, and still keep me interested. Few bands – among them are Nile and Neurosis – have achieved this feat without being overly repetitious, and it is a journey only made more perilous by complex and lightening-fast songwriting. MH prove themselves worthy of that list not once, but four times on “The Blackening.” “Clenching the Fists of Dissent,” “Halo,” “Wolves,” and “A Farewell to Arms” all pass the test with flying the colors; the last track is not only the best closing track I have ever heard – it outdoes “Descend the Shades of Night” by a mile – but also one of the best metal songs of the past ten years.
“Beautiful Morning,” “Aesthetics of Hate” and “Slanderous” are brutal, venomous thrashers which juxtapose some melodic singing with sickeningly fast riffage. “Now I Lay Thee Down” is the only song on the album that could be described as a ballad. Being one of the shorter tracks on the album, it’s also one of the best. Flynn reaches emotional heights here rarely seen in metal. I cannot possibly describe in words how awesome these eight tracks are. They have been described as groove and thrash, and honestly I’d add prog to that list without a moment’s hesitation. But in reality, you cannot pigeonhole music like this; it is like nothing you will have ever heard before. As for the musicianship, MH have again exceeded my expectations. It’s as if they took all the great hooks, leads, blasts, and rolls from TTAOE, multiplied them by ten, and then improved on all of them. Bravo to all of the musicians here, most especially Robb Flynn. Not only is his guitar work awesome as always, but his vocal abilities have improved greatly, as well. He tends to veer away from the “whinier” singing seen on TTAOE and really showcases his singing here. Also enhanced are his growls and screams here; they are harder-hitting, more guttural, and far more menacing.
I could go on and on about how incredible this album is. It is a landmark not only for thrash, groove and progressive metal, but for heavy metal as a whole. No one saw this coming, not even myself. I thought – reasonably – that TTAOE was going to be the best thing MH ever put out; boy was I wrong. MH have crafted a unique and skull-crushing sound and have not only made an album better than BME or TTAOE, but also better than most metal releases today. It is going to be difficult to find a candidate worthy enough to take “The Blackening’s” place as the best album of 2007.
After Machine Head's classic Burn My Eyes, things only seemed to go downhill for the band. They became more commercial and churned out a few inexcusably lame nu-metal albums (a la Fear Factory) before returning somewhat to their roots on the more recent Through The Ashes of Empires. WIth 2007's The Blackening, Machine Head have found themselves at a crossroads somewhere between the revived Exodus and Killswitch Engage. Some may like this new incarnation; others, notsomuch. But you can't deny its sheer fist-pumping, headbanging power.
The album starts off slowly with Clenching The Fists of Dissent, a 10-minute opener. Wait, what the hell? Ten minutes? I thought it was tacitly understood that thrash bands reach their maximum at Metallica's eight and a half. Well, in any event, we're given a soft, classical guitar bit that explodes into a groovy thrash riff. Sound like Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning? Well, yeah, it's pretty much a direct ripoff and a tad cliched at this point. But that doesn't mean it's bad. Personally, I dislike Rob Flynn's riffing style- groovy, Pantera-esque bits mixed with natural harmonics and effects here and there. It sounds too overproduced to my ears, but that's just me. The acoustic bits on The Blackening are horribly recorded, sounding hollow and boring. The band's been around for more than a decade; haven't they figured out yet that it is possible to use acoustic guitars for clean portions of metal albums? Instead, they opt for having a dreadfully bad clean tone that just makes it sound hokey. But I digress.
Next we have Beautiful Mourning and Aesthetics of Hate. When Flynn bellows "FUCK YOU ALLLLLL!" at the beginning of the former, you will feel it like a blow to the jugular. The badass meter on this one is filled to the top for this record, believe me. Unfortunately, it often descends into nu-metal-fueled stupidity, such as on Aesthetics of Hate. Sure, it's fast, thrashy, and angry, but the lyrics are just a poor excuse to curse a bunch. Ironically, the song is best when Flynn whispers eerily "May the hand of God strike you down..." Unfortunately, Beautiful Mourning shows us the first evidence of Machine Head's metalcore tendencies, with a boring and whiny clean chorus.
Now I Lay Thee Down is a great number, slower and more moody. A bit nu-metal but the crushing riffs save it from being lame. Some great vocal work on this song as well. Slanderous is nice and fast, but the riffs often get annoying and repetitive. Halo is alright but has another Killswitch Engage-esque chorus. Wolves is just a great song. I can't believe no other band has started a song with the lyrics "UNLEASH THE WOLVES!" yet, as it seems to lend itself very well-suited to the music. Wolves has a number of great solos, which are almost too prevalent on this album, but they're so good it's hard to complain.
Lastly, we have A Farewell To Arms. If you thought Metallica's One was the be-all and end-all of war ballads in metal, well, this will prove you wrong. It begins with a truly haunting vocal melody and turns into an operatic, catchy chorus that manages to refrain from being whiny. After a few minutes of this, Flynn simply decides to break you in half over his knee with crushing riff after crushing riff. These first few minutes may be slow, but it's arranged so well and the music is so creepy that you won't notice. About halfway through, everything stops and Flynn demands: "So is this how we live? Or is this how we DIE?" and a completely asskicking barrage of metal storms through your wall like the Kool-Aid guy and gives your unborn child an abortion. Yeah, it's just that badass. An epic solo (lots of tapping- to think they're not trying to one-up Metallica with this one would be foolish) and some more purely awesome riffs close one of the best metal songs in years.
A few of the tracks are polished turds (Beautiful Mourning and Halo in particular), but even those have some great and semi-redeeming moments. With this much material (toppping the one hour mark by 58 seconds), almost any thrash fan can find something here to love. It comes off as a bit bloated/pretentious/nu-metally at times, but the good material is so good you really won't care. If you like Pantera, Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, and the like, you must pick this record up.
When Machine Head recorded their last album 'Through The Ashes Of Empires', they had just recruited old Robb Flynn friend and former Vio-Lence guitarist Phil Demmel to fil in the second guitar duties. Now, I'm certain that Demmel is half the reason that that album is the big fucking deal it is. Sure, he came in after the writing process, but I'm certain that if it weren't for him those little bonuses such as guitar harmonies and thrash based solos wouldn't be there. Though Machine Head have had the element of thrash, they've never really dealt with guitar harmonies nor solo trade off's or anything of the kind. Though Demmel didn't write any of those songs, I'm certain he fixed them up. Hear the demo to 'Descend The Shades Of Night', it's terrible. I wreckon he'd be the reason it turned out to be the epic it is.
Then of course, Machine Head re-released the album with a new song. 'Seasons Wither', a track that Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel wrote together. Though the song was very suitable for the album and flowed well within it, there was a noticeable difference between that song and the others. For instance, it sure as fuck was faster. It wasn't 'Blood For Blood' fast, but it was faster. The other thing was that it had this clean vocal harmony mid-way, that always reminded me of Killswitch Engage. This wasn't a bad thing though, the song worked well and turned out to pretty much be a highlight on the album. Being that this song was the first proper collaberation of Demmel and Flynn, you could tell that this was a preview of things to come.
So in saying that, this album is the extended 'Seasons Wither'. Even though they've reached faster tempo's, it's faster in total compared to any previous releases. It's jam packed with guitar solos, guitar harmonies, fast paced riffs, intense drumming, occasionally quite interesting bass work and some strong vocals. I think I'm probably most surprised (in a good way) by Robb Flynn's ability to write some solid leads. I never thought he was a bad guitarist, and he has had his fair share of good solo's before (ala Take My Scars), but he's never really tried to prove himself. That's of course worked to the bands advantage cause he's always been suiting, but yeah and what not.
Of course, Phil still owns in the lead work. His solos are solid. He has some damn good times on this record. You can tell that he's the reason this band is far more thrash now. I wreckon being that the old Vio-Lence guitarists are again reunited, and that Phil has always been working on thrash-based stuff and will always be a thrash-based guitarist, Flynny-boy has suddenly been recharged by speed. It sounds more like he's just reliving good times. Getting back into the old habbits that he lost with Vio-Lence.
Musically, this album is all that it should be. There's a definite progression in Machine Head's sound and it's pretty damn welcome. The songs are far more interesting with structure, causing some of these songs to go up to ten and a half minutes in length. The riffs at times are far more complex than anything they've done before. They have one of their best slower-paced feel-groove songs on here ('Now I Lay Thee Down'), a great tribute to Creeping Death within plenty of solid riffs and solos ('Gripping The Fist Of Dissent'), and an epic closing track that does more than remain mid-paced ('A Farewell To Arms').
Any let-downs? Well, ultimately I think 'Ashes' was better. Basically, I don't bother comparing to old-school Machine Head, because that's long dead and gone now. Personally, my favourite album is 'The More Things Change'. I dig its massive latino gangster grooves, and it has some of their best tracks in groove ('Take My Scars'), thrashcore ('Struck A Nerve') and in epic ('Blood of the Zodiac', 'Spine'). Being that the first two albums are underlayed with gangster-rap based grooves, I don't think it's coming back. One Robb changed from proper gangster to white-trash wigger ('From This Day') that sound was permanently removed, and no matter how much you might want 'Burn My Eyes' (or in my case, 'Change') back, it's not coming.
Of course, getting back on topic, I think 'Ashes' work a little better in its simplicity. It's great that Machine Head can finally experiment a bit more with arrangements and riffs, but 'Ashes' was so solid just due to how between the two main epics ('Imperium', 'Descends') there was plenty of massive fucking groove-thrash tracks that stood tall on individually and together. Sure, there was less thrash, less harmonies, less solo's, but I think that's what kind of made it work a little better. There was less of that and more of other stuff, thus slightly more of a nice contrast. As great as the two main epics on this album are ('Clenching', 'Farewell') and as much as they may go in places you may have wanted Machine Head to go, in their complexity they, yes, do stand tall, just not as tall as some of their previous efforts.
One thing that has bothered me, but hast taken me a while to figure out is the metalcore influence. The music itself on this album doesn't really hold much resemblence to metalcore, and could probably stand tall on its own if it weren't for the vocals. As strong and suiting the vocals are, there is plenty of big Killswitch-style vocal harmonies on this album, and it sort of throws you off. Not in a bad way mind you, cause they're quite suitable, but more of in the way that it's sort of unexpected. I realised how this bothers me though. As happy as I am with the bands progression on this album, this isn't the album I wanted Machine Head to release. No, no. This is the album I wanted Killswitch Engage to release.
Killswitch started off with their first major label debut 'Alive or Just Breathing', and created a big amount of hype due to their at the time unique sound. Suddenly, out goes Jesse and in comes Howard and they release 'The End Of Heartache', and though it's damn good, it's not quite as good. Still, it works very well and stands damn strong. Then they release their new album, and though the formula has changed a bit (less chugga-chugga breakdowns, more diversity in vocal structure), it's just another Killswitch Engage album essentially. Saying that, my problem with the new Machine Head is the fact that this is not the album I wanted Machine Head to release, but rather wanted Killswitch Engage to release. It has enough in it to remain faithful to Killswitch fans, but also goes way further and dealves into other territories. I suppose as far as Machine Head goes, I was kind of hoping for more a darl-tinged thrash album. I kind of got that, but it was slightly corrupted by the date of writing and release.
Still, that's a minor complaint really. The album's fucking solid, and works damn well. It's definitely worth checking out. The only thing I'm curious about is how this shit goes down live. I suppose with time we're to find out.
From the looks of it I thought this was going to be Machine Head’s best album. The songs were long (I like long epic songs) and I liked their latest release a lot better than everything they did before it. Things looked promising and it turned out to be their best indeed. Of course this is good thing but I still felt disappointed by it since it’s far from the masterpiece I hoped for.
The album starts with an intro which sounds very promising and after a minute or so the album actually starts with a burst out into a riff. And here is where things go wrong; although it doesn’t sound bad it’s just mediocre riff with mediocre vocals by Rob. The song evolves and a solo turns up which is, well how do I say it, incredible. I always loved their soloing and this is top-notch shredding here. The song closes with some more mediocre riffing and singing by Rob and leaves me pretty much unimpressed. The song is 10 minutes and although it’s not bad (the solo was obviously the best part) it just isn’t very good either. It can tell you the same with the second song, mediocre riffs, cool solo and sometimes even whiney annoying vocals. Third song, same story but it’s a notch better.
Now starts the fourth song and the album finally becomes a little more interesting. The vocals are better here and most importantly the riffs are actually something worthwhile to listen to. Not something to write home about but it’s a step up from the start.
The albums second half is immediately of to a bad start with Slanderous. To be quite frank it’s a horrible song and that’s mostly due the lyrics “I love you, why do I hate my father. I hate you, why do I hate myself”. What, are they an emo band now? Thank God it doesn’t get any worse than this and luckily for Machine Head they close the album with 3 actual good songs. All of them surpass the 9 minutes mark, have long intros and extended solos but hey I love that in music so no problemo. Wolves is by far the best song on this album with good riffs and excellent solos, so that pushes this album lot higher than it would have been without this song.
So all in all, this is a good release but as you’ve read I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. The vocals aren’t good most of the time and they sometimes tend to sound very whiney. The riffs are mediocre although some are actually somewhat good. The reason I still gave it a 67 is because there is a nice vibe flowing trough this album. It’s nice listening to it, even if some parts aren’t that good, the solos are great most of the time though. The feeling I get with this album is that Machine Head took a lot more time with this album. They tried to mature in their song writing and they succeeded in that since the songs are well composed. I also feel like they aren’t jumping on any bandwagon here anymore, but try to be themselves finally. The only thing missing in this story is mind-blowing music because that’s just not here.
Written for www.musicmademe.com