Review Summary: Machine Head have matured into more dynamic band, capable of taking the listener through stretched out musical journeys, expressing relentless hate in an artistic fashion.
(Edit, I no longer like this album)
This is definitely an artistic and expressive album by the monstrous Machine Head. Rob Flynn is a powerful vocalist – a monster to some but a passionate musician to others, and he is very skilful at expressing his anger through his music. Sometimes his vocals grate, but then one has to remember that pure anger is not pretty or over elaborate. To some, shouting and roaring may be an instant put-off, but Rob Flynn proves he is more than that by delivering some beautifully clean singing, where he shows off his vocal range. I wouldn’t rate him as a spectacular singer, as competent as he may be.
Machine Head are kept tight with Dave McLain, who is a master of his extensive drum kit. The double bass [especially noticeable in clenching the fists of dissent] feels explosive. One way to describe the album would be dark and explosive but in the most stylistic manner possible for an industrial thrash band. The Aesthetics of Hate has one of the grooviest sections ever, with the guitars shifting from one speaker to the other, put simply.
Much like it was with the previous album, there is a certain level of industrial atmosphere, characterised by feedback and chanting in the background. It almost sounds like they have an army backing them whilst playing – it is that powerful, and it couldn’t be more suitable for one of the album’s themes, which is war.
The lead guitar sections are sometimes very technical and impressive, whilst at other times they are a tad predictable. Sometimes it just sounds like a warm up exercise with predictable progressions, but with that said, what's there is still used effectively. I’ve heard more interesting solos in albums such as Rust in Peace, but is it really fair to compare it to such a highly praised classic? Maybe that is the case, as many regard The Blackening as one of the greatest heavy metal albums.
It is quite a skill to keep a dark, thrash album flavourful but there’s certainly enough variety within the songs themselves and even from song to song. Now I Lay Thee Down is an excellent song for radio play and also the more accessible song on the album, making it quite refreshing. Some people may be put off with some songs, such as the second song, which starts off with quite a statement: “F##k you all!” Luckily that doesn’t escalate too much [I’m pointing the finger at you Fred Durst].
Sometimes the tunes go on for longer than they should. Now, I’m not complaining that all the songs are too long but certain songs reach their climax too soon, leaving the remainder as a bit of a letdown. In particular, I’m thinking of The Aesthetics of Hate, though I disagree with others that the ending is poor; actually, I rather like it.
I’m sure The Blackening would appeal to people who enjoy listening to progressive music, and though there is enough variety within the song writing; lots of time changes; atmospheric noises; explosive drums; groovy bass – well, the list goes on – there’s a lot going on and there are many little touches that will entertain someone who isn’t a casual listener; I feel that it doesn’t shift in many unexpected directions. Sometimes you may be delighted to hear a shift from harsh to clean vocals, or you might adore some of the groovy riffs, but the songs themselves, despite the little touches throughout, aren’t enough when stripped down to their core. For me, the whole album is quite average and at times it meanders, especially with some slightly bland solos. Occasionally the vocals are too grating [though expressive nevertheless] and frequently I find myself questioning why a song would tail off long after it has showcased most of its interesting riffs. It could be said that as far as riffing goes, there is a lack of variety, but in fairness, it isn’t that there is a lack of variety in that department, it is more the case of a lack of originality. By now, we’ve heard many impressive riffs from Machine Head, with their best works being of the past. What’s offered here doesn’t seem fresh or new and that problem isn’t overcome by the new, progressive stylisation. Technically, the musicianship is good and at times outstanding but for a now progressive band, I feel they are being held back by their old style, which isn’t very suited to progressive metal. For that reason, it is really quite a bold venture and quite an achievement so I can see potential; providing they explore more styles, which I can see they are already doing, I just don’t feel they have done quite enough to maintain my interest for 10 minutes at a time.
- Part of me appreciates and admires this album, while the other half of me wants to rant in an infantile manner about how much better other progressive bands are and how Machine Head aren’t suited to writing 10 minute songs. However, for how ambitious they have been with The Blackening and for how much more interesting they are than so many other mainstream bands out there, I respect them and this album, and looking back at some of their nu metal trash of the past, it is pleasing to hear what they are doing now, it is just that when comparing them to the elite bands of progressive metal, it makes me leave the CD in my rack as I listen to bands such as Opeth, Wolverine, Dream theater or Isis.