Review Summary: An intense, visceral display of fine musicianship that more than eclipses anything the band put out prior to this.
Of all the modern metal titans, I have long since felt that Machine Head are a tad over-appreciated. Whereas critics forever hail them as an integral part of the modern surge in metal popularity with releases such as Burn My Eyes, their material has always just felt a little too long and drawn out. This lack of focus really dragged down Rob Flynn's machine down on their first five releases, with only Burn My Eyes sticking out even a little from the rest of the bunch. As such, when the fanfare built up following the release of The Blackening in 2007 (sometimes hailed as a modern metal classic), I was a tad dubious. The question was, did Flynn manage to finally concentrate his efforts on writing an album that could sway any naysayers of the band?
Within a couple of minutes, this album delivers a firm kick between the legs with a resounding "yes" attached. The Blackening is nothing short of an absolutely magnificent release, with a visceral and engaging collection of tracks built off violent drumming, aggressive and over-the-top vocal work and varied, brutal guitar riffs. Following a brief calm before the storm, Clenching The Fists Of Dissent shows straight away that Flynn has really scraped the bottom of the barrel to craft some interesting riffs here. Flynn's fingers are constantly dancing around the fretboard on each of these songs, changing riffs just frequently enough to cancel out the key problem with their past works - stagnancy. Whereas the lengthier tracks on their past works felt a bit too drawn out and as such seemed to implode by the time they hit the five minute mark, tracks such as Halo, again making good use of a clean introduction, just thunder past despite eclipsing nine minutes in length.
The individual performances from each member here are brilliant. In place of the irrelevant bass work on previous releases, the bass fills a void that would otherwise be noticeable in the calmer sections of the songs where there are no soul-destroying low-end riffs to focus on. Meanwhile, the double bass patterns and jumps between powerful quicker beats and equally interesting and enjoyable slower ones such as on Aesthetics Of Hate ensure the drumming never drops the ball. Both guitarists are supremely talented, and display it best on the sole sub-five minute song, Beautiful Mourning. Each of these songs hits hard with an arsenal of different paces, assaulting the senses with some often brutal instrumentation, whilst Rob Flynn roars over the top of it all in his signature guttural chant. This is a stellar performance across the board.
The Blackening is an album that really never gets old. Each of the songs is paced so well that the longer ones feel just as focused and jaw-dropping as the slower ones. Whilst this is not quite a modern metal classic as there are no songs that really leap out as being masterclasses in this style of music, it is a brilliant album that mixes great instrumentation with a furious vocal performance and a keen sense of melody.