Review Summary: This album contends for the greatest machine head album ever, and certainly one of the best metal albums of the 21st century, if your a Machine Head fan, if not I shall try to persuade you. Some may find its length difficult to bear.
Isn't it about time a proper Machine Head fan reviewed this album? First and foremost I'd like to say the staff member who gave this album 1 star also gave Triviums "Ember to Inferno" 2 stars...and said Halo was the worst song on the album and also rated the epic Clenching the Fists of Dissent as rubbish. I reviewed this album song by song so don't be afraid of all that I have written.
Starting with a bit of history, Machine Head had turned a 10 year decline in album sales with Through the Ashes of Empires, and toured strongly in support of it, which with the addition of Phil Demmel as a permanent guitarist brought the bands confidence up to new levels (see the DVD Elegies for some spectacular live playing and interviews) and the only thing they could possibly do was to use that confidence to create a truly awesome record...as with the “The More Things Change...”now I'm really going to divide opinion but that album was a mile and a half away form the classic Burn My Eyes, but that’s a different argument. At first 22 songs were written for the album and these were narrowed down to 8 to go on the record.
Starting from the start, Clenching the Fists of Dissent is the perfect way to open such an album. It begins with some acoustic and drums, and builds, and builds, to the first of many breakdowns when the heavy distorted guitars come in playing a truly shattering riff. Then Robb starts singing. Now if you care to read the lyrics off this album, some do sound like they have been taken from comic books but something about this song resonate. Or maybe I'm just a simple minded teenager. But the singing, well roaring I find good (if you want to hear Robb sing download Machine Heads cover of Hallowed be Thy Name) and the chorus is a typical Machine Head shouter. I love it. The song continues as such till the next chorus then everything changes. Normally as this is a pretty long song I just replay the two choruses then the rest, not that it is bad however it is different. There are several break downs and the song structure changes, this is the part where I feel Machine Head have really progressed by leaps and bounds, they control the song perfectly and it progresses to where they want it to. Ending with a final "CHANGE! Clenching to hope!” All in all, a great way to start and album but a little long, which will bring my rating down to 4.5/5
Next comes Beautiful Mourning, for me this is the best song on the album and one of the best Machine Head have ever written. Heavy riffs, good lyrics and singing and a great song structure couple together to make a great song. However unlike most of the songs on this album it is not the chorus that stays in the mind, the section after the chorus, heavy riffing come sin then Robb sings "This lifetime, in sorrow, god let the angels die, this is our last goodbye" see what I mean about the lyrics? However it is sung beautifully and ends the song fantastically. Brilliant song. 5/5 (lyrics may confuse some people though)
Aesthetics of Hate, the tribute to the great Dimebad Darrell, while many bands offer tributes in their albums to the great man (Triviums "The Crusade" for example") This one is extra special as it is played with Dime's own equipment, and has a different take on his murder...good shouty lyrics, bass and fantastic soloing make the first 5 or so minutes brilliant, but the shouty lyrics at the end of the song are too...you wouldn't want to play them loud (long live memories, live in freedom vicariously, defend tenfold his honor we'll always uphold). The end of the song however finishes with some pointless scraping which may be symbolic for something but really ruin the song. This brings my overall mark down to 4.5/5, however definitely one of their best if you skip the last minute or so.
The nearest Machine Head get to a ballad on this album is Now I Lay Thee Down. The song is Romeo and Juliet style but with messed up lyrics, still makes a good song with great singing from Robb and overall great guitar playing from the gods. The song starts with an individual guitar, then both guitars explode into the main riff, which is genius and the song melds with it perfectly, the chorus is great but the standout in this song is the solo. This is mind-blowing and brilliant, if you’re a guitarist (I don’t know much about the difficulty of solos) and you can play that you have won my respect. The song ends with the chorus, sung with a little more vigor and I was left wanting more...4.5/5 for brilliant soloing and singing loses half a star for repetition. (Dream over etc wears on me, I like Robb’s shouting)
Instead of being picked up nicely after the Now I Lay Thee Down, Machine Head instead decide to make you remember why they are still the best in the business with a complete arse kicking of a song. Slanderous. Anyone who has read the lyrics will understand there is a bit more to this song than Machine Heads previous efforts at criticizing society (Blank Generation for example). The song starts with an awesome ascending/descending riff that did the same for me as the opening seconds of Davidian (big bang, big crash, big guitar, big song). The song progresses down the familiar shouty we are bad-ass hear us roar Machine Head style, but then, a bit after the solo the song breaks...and Robb starts almost pleading. Big change from old Machine Head and marks this song out as a change in direction from the gods and a definite return to form (if Through the Ashes of Empires wasn't enough). All in all, great song has some scratching but the guitar playing is so good that I can forgive that. Brilliant song 5/5, full points for originality (I'm going to get killed for that but oh well prove me wrong)
Now for the pinnacle of the whole album, Machine Head make you wait 5 songs for this beauty and boy was it worth the wait. Halo is simply epic, great guitar work , great bass, great drumming, great soloing, great singing, great chorus, great everything. Song starts with some bass rumbling then into the main riff, verses are good and impacting, the chorus however, is a whole new level, the first time I heard it I just thought, wow they managed to make 4 words rhyme well done, then I read the lyrics, sang along to it. And I was hooked. Brilliant song. After tow choruses the song breaks and goes crap in my opinion, Robb does some horrible bellowing and there is some substandard riffs that nearly killed the song for me. The drumming however remains excellent (Dave McClain is one of the most brilliant drummers EVER; he never abuses the double kick unlike Travis of Trivium). However this is all made up for by the truly masterful solo which really sets this song apart. The solo is absolute brilliance from the gods, I don't care if it’s easy to play, you write the damn thing, and it is pure genius. Then the song breaks again and Robb does some more almost cooing like in Slanderous. Setting this song apart form everything their other material. The song then finishes with a final energetic chorus and some vigorous guitar. Brilliant. 5/5
Wolves is a bit of a rampage of riffs and solo's with a bridge that is better than the chorus...the song itself is about the strength of the pack and gangs etc. Great song, but a little long and can be a trek to get through, saying that it is brilliant but after the last 6 songs the long song format does start to wear. Instead listen to this song individually in a playlist to enjoy it. Its great number of riffs and awesome soles coupled with the rapid pace (not quite as fast as Struck a Nerve off The More Things Change... but playing those riffs at that speed must be difficult). Once again the song writing does resonate of comic books but the ideas are there and some of the lyrics are good. I do like the "a fist to the face is a fair game now, pray for the prayers". Once again a very good song 4.5/5 I take half a star for the length.
The final song of this epic album, is epic. Machine Head are very good at ending albums (*** it All, Blood of the Zodiac, The Burning Red, Deafening Silence if we ignore the crap Supercharger, and Descend the Shades of Night) and A Farewell to Arms is no exception. The song has a great structure and good mixture of singing of singing and shouting. The riffs are also good with some all out shredding at the end (not mindless as most would say, as this is not a mindless song). The song itself follows that of A Thousand Lies, anti-political (anti-war mostly though) however does suffer from some terrible lyrics (blood dripping from platinum fangs), 90 percent of the song has good lyrics though, good drumming and great guitar work. It is well worht the length and a good listen all the way through, has plenty of breaks like Clenching the Fists of Dissent but is far more enjoyable for me to listen to. Machine Head really used the best ingredients to make this song, it is heavier than Descend the Shaes of Night and the instrument work is better by leaps and bounds. One of my favourite song on the album 5/5, great bass too, when you hear it.
Overall the album has some brilliant instrument work, good lyrics (although they do lack in some areas I must admit). Some people may find the length of somgs unbearable compared to the great Burn My Eyes, and th songs are much different to the Machine Head of 1992. Its a change, but a good change. The technical brilliance may wear on some people and I must admit I do fing Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change...more enjoyable but that is for you to decide. By no means am I trying to shove this album down your throats I am sure there is better out there I am merely extolling its virtues. It certainly changed the scene of their concerts.
Top 4 (this was hard for me)
1. Beautiful Mourning
4. A Farewell to Arms
Not so brilliant 4 (number 1 being the least brillaint)
2. Clenching the Fists of Dissent
3. Now I Lay Thee Down
4. Aesthetics of Hate