Review Summary: hype hype hype
Machine Head's seventh album, Unto the Locust
contained a song called Pearls Before the Swine
. Funny thing, I recently came upon an interview where band frontman Robb Flynn states that this song had initially been conceived during the recording sessions for The Blackening
. As Flynn further states, however, the band decided that the song was so much better than anything on the album, that they were not going to include it in the release until they write other songs that are at least as equally good.
In another interview which I chanced upon, Flynn states that at some point during the recording process for The Blackening
, the band became very self-conscious about some of the songs' immense length, but decided to keep them that way anyway, as it was too late to reroute at that point.
So why am I bringing up all of this? Well, obviously, it reveals that the band was fully aware that the material they were about to release in 2007 was sub-par.
And indeed, the album is quite problematic. Most of the songs lack focus thanks to their exceedingly long duration. Meanwhile, the riffage, an element which is absolutely essential for the music to be worthwhile, is also lacking, as the majority of the riffs are rather bland and insipid. Robb Flynn's attempts at sounding like a tough guy are more humorous than menacing, while his crooning in closer Farewell to Arms
is just cringeworthy.
's biggest problem, however, is that it suffers heavily from overcomplication. In their attempt to be as complex as possible, many of the songs eventually become loose and flabby, and could benefit from some trimming. For example, Slanderous
is a song that could have, should have
ended at 4:18, as the part that follows it is quite useless. The same can be said about Aesthetics of Hate
, where the repetition of "May the hand of god strike them down" becomes annoying, and the clamor that closes the song could be easily done away with.
I guess the only successful long number here is Halo
. Despite its 9-minute length, the song simply works
. The chorus is absolutely huge, as is the backing riff that accompanies it. The quasi-thrash segment that kicks in at 4:21 is also quite effective. The harmonised melodic break at 6:21 is just beautiful, and Robb Flynn's crooning works for once.
Other highlights include Beautiful Morning
, a song which succeeds thanks to the fact that it was kept short and thus does not lose its punch in meaningless meandering like some of the other songs on the album do. The same praise can be directed at Now I Lay Thee Down
, which is a very melodic (but still heavy) song that also benefits from its relatively short duration.
Even though my opinion of the riffs on here is not very high, I can say only good things about the lead work on the album. It would not be an overstatement to say that Phil Demmel
is one of the best lead guitarists in metal right now, as he is capable of technical chops, while at the same time retaining a good compositional sense that does not take away from melody and memorability. Just listen to his masterful lead breaks in Clenching the Fists of Dissent
, at 5:48 and then at 6:06. Same for Aesthetics of Hate
, where the guitar duo employs very effective harmonisation and solo tradeoffs. Robb Flynn is slightly less accomplished, as his solos are a bit more on the chaotic side, lacking that melodic virtuosity that those done by Demmel possess, but still having flavor in their own way.
Another positive thing that can be said about The Blackening
is that the band has achieved their own unique sound. From beginning to end, the songs simply sound as Machine (fucking) Head, and not anyone else. So I guess one has to give them credit for trying to be trendsetters rather than trend followers, even if their formula is not that successful.
Overall, The Blackening
is somewhat overhyped and overly ambitious, but still a good album. It just tries a bit too hard to be complicated, and could have used some more direction and less meandering. In my opinion the band hit their true peak in the album following this one, Unto the Locust
, where the songs manage to be complex, without sacrificing catchiness, direction, and memorability.