Review Summary: An OK album. If you like long songs that would be much better if they ended at the halfway mark, but instead the band decides to keep the songs going for some reason, then you’ll probably like this album.
I never knew Machine Head existed until like five months ago. I was at a friend’s house and they were playing Aesthetics of Hate on Rock Band, and I thought to myself “That’s a cool song. I should get their album.” I then got their album, saw that the first track was ten minutes long, and there were three other tracks at the end at nine to ten minutes each, and I just listened to Aesthetics of Hate and nothing else.
One day, I was looking through my music collection, and I saw Machine Head’s “The Blackening” and decided I ought to go ahead and listen to the whole thing, since it’s been five months and I’ve only listened to one song. Approximately sixty minutes later, I was glad that I was doing other things while the music was playing, because it made the time pass much faster.
The band’s record label, Roadrunner, was apprehensive about releasing an album with an opening track clocking in at just over ten minutes, and I feel they should have acted on that hunch. The main problem with this album is that a majority of the songs don’t have to be as long as they are. “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” starts with a clichéd quiet intro that’s long enough to be its own intro track, and then we get some fast paced drumming, fast riffs, and Rob Flynn’s aggressive growl. This will happen a lot, mind you: the slow intro segueing into fast paced riffage and aggressive shout and hard vocals. I think every other song starts out this way. At least the ten minute songs do, anyway.
“Clenching” isn’t a bad song for the first four and half minutes. If they stopped it at the five minute mark, it would actually be a suitable thrash song (because isn’t Machine Head a Thrash Metal band?) and five minutes is pushing it for Thrash. Yet, this band decided to add several slow parts to the song, another solo, and more pointless lyrics to make the song ten minutes long. I was convinced the song ended at the 4:45 mark and was just waiting for it to actually end.
“Beautiful Mourning” has a faster intro, but starts with Rob Flynn shouting “*** you all!” I thought to myself “Well, that wasn’t nice. I just bought* his album and he’s telling me to *** myself? Nice guy.” Yeah, if you can’t tell, he’s mad about something, though I don’t know what. It’s by this time I realized that the lyrics are pretty bland and stupid, though not the worst lyrics crafted in the history of music. Their lyrical themes deal with inner struggles and violence, which is okay, I guess, but there’s too much swearing in this album. Most people have no problem with swearing, but I find it a weak songwriting tactic. There’s subtle word choice and careful craft of lyrics to give the feeling of anger and despair, and then there’s just saying “***” a lot, which is basically telling the listener, “Hey, dumb***, we’re ***ing mad about something because we swear a lot.” Metallica didn’t need to swear. In Master of Puppets, there’s only one swear word, at the very end of the album, no less, proving that you don’t need to populate your lyrics with F-bombs to make good songs.
“Aesthetics of Hate” starts out with a melo guitar riff that will make a return later in the song; the drums are slowly added; and the entire track becomes a lot heavier. We get another Rob Flynn growl, nothing we haven’t heard before, and more swearing. Despite the swearing, the song is actually quite good, and would have been better had it ended where the band intended it to end: around the 4:45 mark. Then the melo guitar returns, and the band pads the song with Flynn repeating the same last lyric ten times and distorted guitar. I’m now convinced that they purposefully made each song greater than five minutes as a sort of dare from some other band. Like, the band came up to Machine Head while they were at a bar and said,
“Hey, I bet you guys can’t make an album where each of the songs is over five minutes!”
Rob Flynn: “We’ll take that bet!”
That has to be the only explanation. They didn’t even try to add another solo or another verse. It’s blatant padding, and unnecessary. Well, I guess they really wanted to win that bet.
“Now I lay Thee Down” is probably the only song that feels like it wasn’t padded to extend the length. We get a little break from Flynn’s aggressive vocals, where he sings cleanly for a majority of the track. Still, it has a quiet intro segueing into heavy riffs, but that’s to be expected. There’s no garbage slow part whose only purpose is to extend the song’s length, but if you miss that, “Slanderous” has one. “Slanderous” actually ends at 4:18, but they drag it on for another minute, and I’m sick of the padding.
“Halo”, “Wolves”, and “A Farewell to Arms” are together longer than some Thrash full-length albums, and if you choose to skip them, you aren’t missing anything. If you listened to “Clenching”, there’s no reason to listen to these. They took the same formula and added different words, and listening to these anal abominations felt like I was doing homework. When listening to a song feels like a project for Science class, it’s time to listen to a different song.
Despite its shortcomings (or longcomings), “The Blackening” is an okay album. It’s definitely listenable, if somewhat tedious and boring at parts. If you can stand 10 minute songs left and right, give it a listen. I’ll probably never listen to it again, at least not in its entirety. This album definitely didn’t make me want to kill myself or do LSD to make the album more enjoyable, and I wouldn’t wish that these guys would die in an airplane crash. I know long songs have been a part of metal, but this isn’t a progressive album like Dream Theater or Opeth. There’s no acoustic / keyboard interludes in “The Blackening”, and there’s a difference between being a progressive album and padding songs with slow parts so the guys in Hatebreed have to buy them a case of Coors Light.
*I didn’t buy it.