Review Summary: Not quite the new Master Of Puppets, but an excellent reaffirmation of Machine Head's strength.
*Keep in mind: this review is long.*
Trepidation. That’s possibly the best word I could use to describe listening to The Blackening
. “Why trepidation?”, I might be asked. Well, simply because looking at Machine Head’s track record, there’s the chance this album could fall flat on it’s face. Through The Ashes Of Empires
was a great album, just like Burn My Eyes
, but look at what happened following BME
…we had to wait nine years before we had a studio album that could again live up to Machine Head’s potential.
Thankfully, this time it’s not the case - Machine Head are getting back on form, and fast.
It takes a couple of minutes for the aforementioned trepidation to wear off, because when the album begins playing, all you hear is a distorted bass, Robb Flynn calling out, and an acoustic guitar playing several somewhat uninspired and bland notes. I almost couldn’t believe it at first; this was supposed to be their return to Burn My Eyes
After a minute and a half or so of this, finally, the heavy Machine Head style riffs kick in, and it’s back to business - as usual, the riffs sound somewhat sleek and modern, as if they’re simultaneously bought forward from the past, yet with a steely exterior that lets you know it’s 21st century music you’re listening to.
Clenching The Fists Of Dissent
is a damn fine opener; it’s not Imperium
as far as quality metal goes, but it’s certainly good nonetheless. It’s stuffed to the rafters with heavy riff-laden sections, plus there’s more than enough breakdowns to allow plenty of experimentation, plus more vocal hellfire from vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn (who is not the best vocalist of the metal genre, I agree, but the music works well with his voice, and he has the kind of spit and hatred in his voice to make you believe his band and his cause).
Aesthetics Of Hate
was the first song to be revealed from The Blackening
, and fair enough, it’s a song that reaches out to both the tech-heads that try to break down every album into smaller pieces, and yet it’s simple enough to bang your head to. It’s like the Davidian
of The Blackening
. The chorus lyrics are a prime example of what to expect from not only this song, but the entire album (“For the love of brother, I will sing this ***ing song: aesthetics of hate, I hope you burn in hell”). The rhythm section (comprised of bassist Adam Duce and long-time drummer Dave McClain) allow Flynn and lead guitarist Phil Demmel the chance to shine on this track. Again, the final fadeout of the track is pure Machine Head, but the rest of this song is a pure thrashathon.
Now I Lay Thee Down
and Beautiful Mourning
revert back to the classic Machine Head way of doing things: riffs upon riffs for around five minutes, which is something a little unexpected, considering much has been made of this album’s apparent advances in length and technicality.
Now I Lay Thee Down
is the star of this trio of oldies, possibly because it’s not as concerned with high-speed thrashing and instead turns the tempo right down. As the song continues, we get a fast-paced accompanying section to the blazing solo section, then we return to the beautiful introduction, yet the song now builds in power, and releases it for an almost emotional display of sliding notes up and down the fretboard and Flynn’s roar. If my description is a little vague, it’s because it can be a little hard to describe - it’s at its most emotional when the final lyrics come through (“Now, I, Lay, Thee, Down!”) They’ll win no points for originality here, but it still works for Machine Head.
is similarly good for it’s more considered approach and its sporadic approach when it comes to solos. Beautiful Mourning
, on the other hand, is more about chugging along with Slanderous
and Now I Lay Thee Down
, and does everything they do, albeit with less class and quality.
are often considered accompanying songs: Halo
is more of a ballad, whereas Wolves
doesn’t wait a moment to unleash the monster contained (indeed, the opening vocals make the command to “Unleash the wolves”). Halo
features many different interludes in which there’s no vocals, which allows each instrument to truly shine, and the song even opens up with a bass introduction (a nice touch from the now guitar introduction-all out warfare with all instruments), while Wolves
is a true riff lord paradise. The stark contrast between the pair stops when it comes to the expected blazing guitar solo sections in the two songs, which are expected of The Blackening
by now, and then it’s back to it’s original compisition. This is possibly the most obvious flaw of these two tracks; after things were flowing so beautifully for both tracks, Machine Head mess it all up by having a “guitargasm” and while both songs are able to recover strongly, you get the feeling that the reason they both reach nine minutes in length is because Demmel and, possibly more importantly, Flynn, may feel the need to prove themselves as guitarists.
A Farewell To Arms
keeps the speed right down, to allow the riffs to move and breathe freely, yet uses a mixture of his growling style and his clean singing - which works, surprisingly enough, but it’s not the vocals which help this track along. The track is completed with some guitar work that doesn’t detract from it, rather adds to it, as the vocals are kept to a minimum after the usual mid-way outburst of energy, for another - you guessed it - out-and-out shred fest. It’s certainly got the character of a closing track, and if it weren’t for Halo
, would be the standout track on this album.
As far as special edition extras go, you get a basic documentary of The Blackening
, a second documentary featuring some live footage, and their cover of Metallica’s Battery
(this is the UK version; the US special edition might differ) . The footage isn’t too bad, if a little short, and the Metallica cover is good, if a little too close to the original for some people’s liking. For Machine Head nuts, this will probably be worth paying a bit extra for, but for many people, Battery
was heard last year, especially in the UK where it was given away free as part of a Master Of Puppets
shows a vast improvement upon Through The Ashes Of Empires
, but there are several reasons why this didn’t score a perfect 10, or now, the revised score of 9; the hype surrounding it, the length, and the experimentation.
Firstly, the hype. This album’s been touted as being the new Master Of Puppets
, and for many people, this is indeed their modern version of the best Metallica album, both by the press and Robb Flynn (“This is our Master Of Puppets
!”). But such comparisons are bound to leave some disappointed, and this album is no different. Master Of Puppets
streamlined a genre, and there wasn’t a wasted moment on it, it was all carefully planned out. The Blackening
, unfortunately, doesn’t do that like Burn My Eyes
Which leads into my second point, the length. Much has been made of this album’s length, as most of the songs go over the five minute mark, and four of the songs near the ten minute mark. But the question I propose is: does it really need to be that long? For example, Clenching The Fists Of Dissent
opens with a minute and a half of bass ambience and the same acoustic guitar sections repeated. And there are plenty of sections where all you can hear are the instrumentalists going off on a tangent, and the amount of complete shred-fests on this album borderlines on the ridiculous.
Finally, the band themselves admitted many Rush and Dream Theater influences on the creation of this album. Admirable though it may be to head off in this direction, they simply cannot vary their music enough to keep it interesting for more than a hour. At times it works, such as during the breakdown parts at the end of most of the songs featured; though it’s a repeated process, they keep it fresh to avoid boredom. But why on earth both Halo
had to feature those middle shredding parts is beyond me - they should have been shortened down to seven minutes, with a sporadically played solo on top of the continual verses and choruses.
Yet despite these flaws, there’s so much that The Blackening
manages to get correct; not least of all, it gives a chance for Adam Duce and Dave McClain to stretch their wings, so to speak. McClain is a prominent feature in most of the tracks, and while Adam Duce can’t have that same distinction, his bass is used well (when it is heard over the insane amounts of guitar riffs, notes and solos).
I applaud Machine Head for experimenting, even if they don’t get it perfect, and there’s a decent mix between old and new style Machine Head (the three songs that are around the five minute mark represent the old) to attract new fans and keep older ones. The difference between this album, and say, Opeth’s Blackwater Park
, is that Opeth were accustomed to the progressive way of doing things, and where their music wanted to take them; at times, The Blackening
feels as if its in autopilot and is being allowed to guide itself.
None of this should deter you from taking the plunge with The Blackening
- you might be pleasantly surprised, or might be unpleasantly deterred. Its almost as if that’s the album’s primary objective: divide opinions. But you’ll never have one if you don’t see what the fuss is about.
A classy album that shows a band experimenting with their craft
- Aesthetics Of Hate
- Now I Lay Thee Down
- A Farewell To Arms