Machine Head are one of those bands that have never lived up to the promise they once held. Burn My Eyes, hailed as a great slab of post-thrash metal in the vein of the mighty Pantera, took the metal world by storm when it was released. But never since has the band been able to come up with something that would resemble their debut in terms of quality, splendour and intensity.
After years of flirting with other genres, like the stale nu-metal, the band finally recorded an album with Through the Ashes of Empires that looked like it could be something. And come 2007, the Head had set out to win back the hearts of the souls that had left them after their miserable escapades around the turning of the millenium. Robb Flynn and the men worked long and hard on their newest baby, The Blackening, and released it only a short while ago. Widely acclaimed as a huge return to form, surrounded by hype and all kinds of prejudices, it seemed like Machine Head finally had released an album that could challenge the throne so long occupied by their most senior release.
And it's safe to say the band finally sounds like they did on their debut, albeit with better production. The Pantera-esque heavy groove riffs are back, smashing your face and breaking you down to the ground. Robb Flynn does the trademark Phil Anselmo bark, and never relents in his musical and political tirade against the current state of the US. The mirror flatters thee not, as they say. Nothing new, but Machine Head have always been rooted in Bay Area thrash, and when they aren't going by the Pantera rulebook, they take out some Metallica or Slayer and incorporate that, not to mention the Battery cover which simply stomps all over your face.
So if this sounds like all the good thrash bands, has all the elements that made Pantera and Metallica so big, why does this only get a 3.5 rating? Because next to those two bands, Machine Head decided to go the lengthy metal song route, pumping some Rush and Dream Theater influences into the mix as well. Four songs breach the nine-minute mark, and while this is nothing that can't be digested, Machine Head do not have the technical capabilities like the prog metal masters to remain interesting for the duration of the song. Machine Head are no slouches, either, and the band present their vigorous riffs with crushing intensity, but a band like this is simply better off toning down the song lengths for the fans to digest. A thrash metal fan digs pure, raw energy and not the complex and intricate song rhythms prevalent in other metal genres. Plus the complex rhythms take away the focus from the main point of the genre.
However, Machine Head have to be given credit for experimenting with their sound and not making the same record twice (shortening this down would make the album become more like Burn My Eyes II). A band cannot live off its past successes always - unless you are the mighty Iron Maiden or Metallica - and MH does not yet have that status.
This may not be exactly the thing MH fans were looking for, but the band is at least back on form and firing on all levels, which can only be a good thing given the band's past output. If the band toned down the excesses and trimmed the fat on their next record, Machine Head could finally become what they promised to be way back when. Now, they're just a good band with their merits and flaws.