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The Echo of a Creative Abyss - 58%

JamesIII, January 3rd, 2010

Bay Area metal band Machine Head came onto the scene pretty strong in 1994 with their debut Burn My Eyes. It became a success in Europe and America, and the band even recieved praise from Kerry King (something he would rescind a few years later.) It only seems natural that Machine Head would seek to duplicate this sound, as if it worked once, and it will work again.

The problem with The More Things Change is that it is caught between two worlds. On one side, we have Burn My Eyes, which was a solid post-thrash offering. On the other side, we have a gravitational pull towards mallcore, which drags down the album considerably though this is not to be confused with nu-metal. Some stylistic commonalities are there, such as more bass prominence in the mix, though the bass itself is never degraded to that slap bass technique nu-metal is known. Another problem is the guitar tone of the album, which is horribly muddy. This was a common thing in the 90's, as a number of bands did this, including Ronnie James Dio on "Institutional Man" a year before. It creates an interesting sound, albeit one that grows tiring after about seven minutes into the album.

Concerning the music offered, we have three categories of songs. Each of these categories contain roughly the same number of songs, although the last one I'll discuss has four. Since that one in particular is the lesser of the three, you can imagine the end score isn't going to be spectacular.

The first category are those songs that scale back ambitions and long winded song lengths. These songs work the best, exactly the same way Burn My Eyes played out. "Ten Ton Hammer" is the first, and the lesser of these three and showcases the added melody in the band's music. "Take My Scars" begins with that awful introduction but otherwise plays out in good fashion. "Blistering" is the last of these, and again, establishes itself as one of the better songs here. Even with these three, its apparent Rob Flynn's baritone singing voice is both forced and strained, as it does not come off as fresh as it did before.

The next category are those songs that are longer and/or have obvious flaws in them. "Spine" comes to mind here, as its a good song with more energetic moments but it comes off sounding like a medley of two unrelated songs. This is bridged only by a mid-section that meanders a bit much. "Violate" is different and slightly better, as it slowly builds over seven minutes to a thrashy end section. This plays out very similarly to how "A Nation on Fire" did on the debut, albeit it takes too long to get there. "Bay of Pigs" is a thrashier number and shorter, but it sounds rushed and fails to grab me in the way "Blood for Blood" did.

The final category is the least of these and unfortunately holds the most songs. "Struck A Nerve" belongs here, as it is the most disappointing track. It begins well, starts to manifest itself into something worthwhile then simply ends. To boot, Flynn's "come on, come on, come on" is hovering awfully close to mallcore tough guy posturing. "Down to None" is a complete throwaway, it meanders and never becomes anything worthwhile. "The Frontlines" is slightly better, but again, nothing worthwhile. The closer in "Blood of the Zodiac" also fits here, and while its better than the other three in this particular category, it too suffers from structural meandering. I generally like it when closers add a final sense of climactic energy in a song, or better yet when it compiles previous songs' ideas into something of a well written mixture of the album itself. "Blood of the Zodiac" does this to some extent, but given that this album is marked by a decline in songwriting and stagnation, its no wonder the song ended up like this.

I can't throw this album under the bus as it has some redeeming moments. I tend to enjoy some of these songs still, although as a whole I don't listen to it much. The problem is simply that Machine Head was torn in two different directions here, looking for something new while wanting to remain in a comfort zone. Such outings rarely manifest into anything incredible, unless well written and executed, which this is obviously not. For fans of Machine Head and/or post-thrash, this is something to look into just be wary of the flaws I mentioned earlier in this review. Its still a good album, but its far from anything excellent.

Tops: "Ten Ton Hammer," "Take My Scars," "Blistering"