Machine Head - The Blackening (2007)
The modern groove metal part of my Ultimate Metal Family Tree band challenge might help me gain some appeal to modern groove metal...or maybe not. Machine Head has two sides of the metal coin that can be flipped over at any given moment. It might be the groove/thrash metal heads or the nu metal tails. Most of their albums are in the heads, while flipping to the tails in the turn of the new millennium and in their recent album Catharsis. The Blackening is often considered the most thrashy of the band!
That sounds about right, and it might be their most progressive album too. The album has long epics, which I love, and it's way better than almost every nu metal album, so that's a bit promising. The Blackening is a good album, but it left me disappointed by not being the masterpiece people thought it was.
"Clenching the Fists of Dissent" starts the album with a promising intro for about a minute, then it starts building up until a riff bursts in. Then just like Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong...goes wrong. The riff and vocals are too mediocre. Then the song evolves with an incredible solo, and I mean the top-notch shredding I absolutely love! Then the song continues with the mediocre riff and vocals. Then that awesome-mediocre pattern repeats again. I can't decide whether that 10-minute epic is bad or good! I'll just say that it's not quite the promising epic I really wanted. The second song "Beautiful Mourning" is quite the same; mediocre riffs and vocals mixed with a cool solo. "Aesthetics of Hate" is a top-notch thrasher that is a tribute to Dimebag Darrell and a "f*** you" to a guy named William Grim who wrote an article disrespecting Dimebag.
"Now I Lay Thee Down" also helps the album become more interesting. The vocals are riffs are much better and worth listening to. Not the best home-run but a great step up. Unfortunately, things become bad again in "Slanderous". It's quite a horrible song with vulgar lyrics and an emo chorus, "I LOVE YOU!! why do I hate my father?! I HATE YOU!! why do I hate myself?!" Do things get worse from there?...
Nope, luckily a good trio of 9+ minute songs starting with "Halo". That song has a long intro and extended soloing that can go with no problem. Same with "Wolves" which is the best song here with excellent riffs and solos. Without this song, this album would've had a much lower rating, like under 2.5 stars. The epic finale "A Farewell to Arms" has lyrics dealing with the war in Iraq which is quite different from other subjects. The soft parts have an attitude of "All's fair in love and war", while the heavy parts have the "don't f*** with us" attitude borrowed from bands like Pantera and Lamb of God. A much better 10-minute epic than that first track!
All in all, The Blackened is a good release that I have mixed feelings for. The vocals and riffs are good sometimes, but on most occasions they sound a bit mediocre. I gave the album 3.5 stars thanks to the nice flowing vibe and a few great songs. It's nice listening to the great solos that make up for some of the bad parts. Seeing how long the album gap was, it must've taken a long while for the band to mature and compose the songs just to be themselves. There's just isn't a lot I would consider mind-blowing....
Favorites: "Aesthetics of Hate", "Now I Lay Thee Down", "Wolves", "A Farewell to Arms"
I recall a time when I had been away from the metal scene for a couple of years, away in fact from music altogether. Upon venturing back into metal one of the first albums I downloaded was Machine Head's The Blackening, the band's sixth offering. I had based my decision to buy this cold entirely based on their debut from some fifteen years earlier, an album that was very important in my metal development as well as being a widely recognised key release generally. The band had strayed off into nu-metal tinged releases more or less immediately afterwards and I had long lost touch with their output by the time I made this impulse purchase.
For an impules purchase, it wasn't too shabby. Coming back to the genre, at the time I though it was heavy as fuck, certainly closer to the original sound of the band that peaked my interest back in 1994. It made excellent gym music for my (then) regular early morning workouts and as such became an important part of my daily routine for a good number of months. Without reinventing any wheels, the album was just what I needed at that point in my life. It was a straight up, no frills , balls to the wall metal album that immediately reignited my taste for the genre.
From the opening throes of Clenching The Fists Of Dissent the album instantly began constructing a solid structure that was (largely) consistent throughout the whole album. The impact of the album went beyond just a couple of tracks, maintaining pace well for what at first glance of the tracklisting looks to be a short album, clocking in at just eight tracks but actually has a run time of just over an hour. Even when the album hits lulls or dips in quality it quickly re-establishes itself finding firm footing more or less immediately. After the lacklustre Slanderous for example, the album picks up straight away with the fan favourite Halo which then sets up a fine run of a trio of tracks that close out the album brilliantly.
Arguably Machine Heads last good album with the line-up of Flynn, Demmel, McClain and Duce the focus on more groove and thrashy elements makes The Blackening stand out from what came before. It fills in the gaps that were present on Through the Ashes of Empires and gave fans of the debut one last hope that the band were going to hark back to the intensity of what they delivered in the early nineties.