Review Summary: Machine Head shed their prevalent "dumb metal" label with The Blackening, an album that sports rampant progressive influences and a large spike in precision and speed from their previous releases.
Machine Head have staked an early claim to the best metal album of 2007. Let the challengers come forth.
Why? Because, quite simply, The Blackening is better than the other (still good) Machine Head releases. The musicianship is infinitely more precise; each molten riff is executed to perfection, each solo perfectly articulated and played, each beat meshing perfectly with the rhythmic thrash guitar onslaught. The songs are longer and arranged with much more care and thought: there are at least two breakdowns on Clenching The Fists Of Dissent, and never once does it feel like Machine Head are playing for the moshers. On average, there is probably at least two solos a song. The clean sections are probably the biggest improvement. They connect the different aspects of each track perfectly, and are in tune with the lyricism and heartfelt enough to make the listener feel some of Rob Flynn's anguish. This is a new aspect in Machine Head's attack, to be sure. Check out that sorrowful, pleading clean section about a minute from the end of Slanderous if you don't believe me. You will be convinced.
Whereas typical Machine Head releases may have been slightly binary in structure, The Blackening takes an entirely new path. Indeed, the progressions and development in each of the tracks is so great and so smooth that you would have a hard time believing that these guys were once the dumbest and the toughest of the numerous dumb and tough in the thrash world. Take, for example, the ballad-ish Halo. Halo is a song built on melodic harmonies rather than rhythmic craziness. Instead of the heavy-handed, rather simple ballads that many thrash bands employ, the intricate harmonies of Halo are constructed with delicate, spidery guitar riffs and powerful vocal performances from Robert Flynn. Halo even shows shades of the famous Metallica ballad One with some machine gun riffing. Except, this time it's topped with a scorching solo. Brilliant, I tell you. Other greats are obviously the epic Clenching The Fists Of Disent and A Farewell To Arms. My other favorite would have to be Slanderous, which starts off with some complex ascending/descending riff dynamics before launching into a full blown thrasher, with an insanely catchy chorus to top it off. Oh, and one more excellent track: Now I Lay Thee Down. The riffing is a bit slower than the rest of the album, but the song carries an ominous, doomy tone to make up for it. And the chorus is positively mindblowing. A final positive: the bass playing, when it is heard, is brilliant. It can carry the melody seamlessly, and has a delicious warm and fuzzy tone.
My biggest negative (and there aren't many) with this album would have to be Machine Head's unwillingness to fully explore the possibilities of their clean passages. For example: Slanderous sports and excellent clean passage near the end of the song. You think that the song is going to fade out gently on that passage. Instead, Machine Head jump back in with a breakdown of sorts, ruining the mood. Also, I feel that Aesthetics Of Hate isn't quite up to par with the rest of the album. The last two minutes are kind of unnecessary: a heavy handed and awkward clean passage fades into a completely extraneous section that consists mostly of random guitar screeching. The song itself isn't anything special either: it's simply riffing regurgitated from the excellently executed thrash number preceding it, Beautiful Mourning. Rob Flynn's harsh vocals can get a bit grating in points, and the harsh backing vocals sound uncomfortably like metalcore shouting in points. Other than that, this is an excellent album.
This nearly got a 4.5, but ultimately just didn't have that extra oomph. Still, a superb album. Hopefully it doesn't grow off me as quickly as Through The Ashes Of Empires did...
Ok review, but I think you took a few ideas from how the lead singer was describing this album before it came out. Still, cant complain when the review is in my favor! Aesthetics of Hate rules too!This Message Edited On 04.28.07