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Retitle: "The Weakening" - 50%

Wacke, July 15th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2011, CD + DVD, Roadrunner Records (Digipak)

After The Blackening was dropped in 2007, Machine Head once more cemented themselves as one of the strongest forces of modern metal. After years of putting out nu metal-esque albums, the band had gained a somewhat stained reputation. It's up to every individual to debate themselves whether or not Machine Head deserved all the bad rep or not, but they (i.e. frontman and founding member Robb Flynn) do indeed come across as being somewhat of a bunch of trend-hoppers. The Blackening sure wasn't an exception in this regard. While definitely sounding heavier and more "metal" than the band had done since the mid-90's, it still followed a typical groovy metalcore-esque formula of its time.

After touring the world in support of the band's massively successful 2007 album for a few years, the band finally released a new album in 2011. Unto The Locust is more or less the natural progression you'd expect the band to go for after such an album as The Blackening. It's clear that the band opted to keep that successful recipe boiling in the kitchen pot as there are not a whole lot of changes, despite four whole years passing by in between the albums' releases. The most noticeable differences are perhaps how Unto The Locust doesn't have as many lengthy tracks as its predecessor, as well as being somewhat less heavy in favor of a slightly more "easy accessed" direction.

As the album kicks off with "I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)", it's already evident that the band has tried to evolve the classical influences which were largely introduced on the previous album. I can't help but get the feeling that it seems somewhat forced upon the music, like an obvious attempt at trying to make the music sound "epic" or whatever, but to little avail. Apart from the classical elements, the songs are as I mentioned earlier more easy accessed this time around. Tracks like "This Is The End" is kind of similar to "Halo" in how it's built, featuring a clean acoustic intro which breaks out into a quite heavy banger, completed with a rather whiney clean-sung chorus. The band also gives us a purer semi-acoustic performance in the dark, modern power ballad "Darkness Within", whose sound feels quite innovative but not far-fetched for MH standards.

The musicianship on this album is one of the greatest highlights. Everyone's a very competent musician with the only exception possibly being Robb's vocal skills. The man can shout his way through songs but his clean vocals still leave a few things to be desired. Robb's (and Phil's) guitar work, however, is just great. Machine Head's got some of the strongest twin- and dual-guitar work going on in modern/popular metal. Dave McClain is as always a real powerhouse drummer delivering all the good tom fills and whatnot, while Adam Duce provides some monstrous bass lines and harmonic back-up vocals. The production, which was once more handled by Robb, is also clean and crisp. It works well for the songs and manages to enhance them to their full potential as well.

While Unto The Locust is not really a bad album, it left me feeling disappointed. I thought The Blackening was quite excellent but this album just sounds weak and pale in comparison. All the real heavy and thrashy moments on The Blackening have been largely neglected on this album in favor of more poppy approaches. "Who We Are" for instance has got a very whiney and annoying children's choir singing the chorus. "Darkness Within" on the other hand sounds like a real cringe-fest which would make every edgy emo-kid soak himself for days. I just don't like these approaches at all. I miss the heavy Machine Head I used to know and love.

At the end of the day, seeing how many similarities this album bears to The Blackening, the proper title for this should've just been "The Weakening" instead. That much better sums up what this album is, as well as what musical direction the band has continued to strive for on subsequent releases.