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Machine Head
The Blackening
May 2007
Released: 2007, Roadrunner Records
Rating: 5.0/5
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland

It wasn’t all that long ago that Machine Head was written off as “done.” After coming on the scene with a vengeance in 1994 with BURN MY EYES and its follow up THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, a full-blown plunge into nu-metal’s murky waters on 1999’s THE BURNING RED and 2001’s SUPERCHARGER killed the band’s credibility with long-time fans. Even Roadrunner Records gave up on Machine Head and released them from their contract. A slow, difficult period of uncertainty followed that was documented on the band’s DVD, ELEGIES, but Machine Head defied everyone and clawed its way back with the stellar THROUGH THE ASHES OF EMPIRES in 2004. Tracks like “Imperium,” “In The Presence of My Enemies” and “Days Turn Blue To Grey” burned with the intensity of those first two albums and it seemed like Machine Head’s patented crushing groove metal had returned.



Never one to mince his words, vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn came out of the gates decrying the band’s latest album, THE BLACKENING, to be their best yet and for once, the propaganda machine is right. Featuring only eight tracks that clock in at just over an hour, THE BLACKENING is an ambitious effort to say the least. Riding the coattails of THROUGH THE ASHES OF EMPIRES’ success and creating a similar follow-up would have been both easy and expected. Instead, Machine Head has dug into the core of their sound and built upon the post-thrash grooves of BURN MY EYES, the melodies of THE BURNING RED and the driving riffs of THROUGH THE ASHES OF EMPIRES to create a blistering beast of an album with THE BLACKENING. Flynn and Phil Demmel drop a gazillion riffs and the shredding solos are fantastic. The band has not written such stunning guitar lines in years—if ever, for that matter. Thankfully, Flynn has stopped rapping but there are still some clean vocals in the choruses that may turn off some listeners. With the shortest song nearing five minutes (and four tracks eclipsing the nine-minute mark), THE BLACKENING takes a few listens to fully absorb all that is going on here, so the ADD crowd may have some issues. However, like fellow American aggro-thrashers Chimaira did on their self-titled album in 2005, Machine Head has gone against every convention and expectation by unleashing an album that is at once mature, brutally heavy, melodic, challenging, massive and diverse in scope.



Opening track, “Clenching The Fists of Dissent,” is an absolute monster. Flynn’s production has captured a massive guitar and drum sound that thumps for the entire ten-plus minutes. Flynn and Demmel go toe-to-toe for a vicious shredding solo duel and the riffs that these two have come up with keep things interesting throughout. Even the battle cries of “Fight! Fight!” gets the blood pumping as Flynn’s lyrics are directed squarely at the Bush government and the ongoing war in Iraq (“How do they sleep/While our mother’s weep/They’re selling our souls/And our blood for oil”). Behind the aggression of “Beautiful Mourning” lies the clean crooning vocals that first got Machine Head fans riled up on THE BURNING RED. They are used sparingly and are bookended by some fierce riffs but critics will be sure to single them out regardless. The ubiquitous ode to Dimebag Darrell is included here but in a different manner. On “Aesthetics of Hate,” Flynn calls William Grim, the blog writer who penned a hateful and offensive article condoning Dimebag’s murder, to task in a very blunt way. One can almost feel the seething rage in Flynn’s voice as he spews out “The words on the screen left me fucking sick.” Behind the lyrics, Dave McLain provides a stunning drum performance and Adam Duce’s thunderous bassline rattles the spine. Demmel and Flynn alternate between thrash riffs no doubt inspired by their salad days together in Vio-Lence and technical guitar lines in the solo that are a new venture for this band. A modern metal touch is added to “Now I Lay Thee Down” with the emotive, subtle verses, soaring choruses and slow-burning, chugging riffs. “Slanderous,” arguably the heaviest track on THE BLACKENING, alternates between sledgehammer rhythms and a controlled rage that propels Flynn’s why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along lyrics (“Why do I hate my brother…or do I hate myself?”). Flynn and Demmel really sizzle on another dueling solo, as well. The mid-tempo “Halo” features a gut-churning bassline from Duce and is Machine Head’s most mature-sounding song to date. Atmospheric in its vocal delivery with complex guitar parts and the band’s signature squealing riffs, “Halo”’s nine-minute running time simply floats by. The equally-lengthy “Wolves” should solidify Flynn and Demmel as the next Tipton/Downing, as well. The screaming guitarwork here is simply jaw-dropping and one has to wonder just how much better of a combination could be expected in a single song. Boasting equal helpings of shred and stomp, “A Farewell To Arms” snakes its way through a barrage of tempo and attitude changes to unfurl itself as a true epic in every way.



For the first time since Exodus’ TEMPO OF THE DAMNED shocked the heavy metal community in 2004, THE BLACKENING delivers on one of those typically empty promises that labels use by declaring an album “a return to form.” We first heard a taste of it on THROUGH THE ASHES OF EMPIRES but all the pieces are in place here for the first time since BURN MY EYES. No matter how one looks at it—quality songwriting, exceptional performances all around, ambitious musical statements—it’s all here. Every track is a winner. THE BLACKENING is a crowning achievement made even more impressive considering the peaks and valleys that Machine Head has faced over the past thirteen years. For all those who gave up on Machine Head years ago, it is time to give the band a second chance because THE BLACKENING is an easy candidate to be in the Top 5 of many year-end lists.



KILLER KUTS: “Clenching The Fists of Dissent,” “Beautiful Mourning,” “Aesthetics of Hate,” “Now I Lay Thee Down,” “Halo,” “Wolves,” “A Farewell To Arms”
Track Listing

1. Clenching The Fists of Dissent
2. Beautiful Mourning
3. Aesthetics of Hate
4. Now I Lay Thee Down
5. Slanderous
6. Halo
7. Wolves
8. A Farewell To Arms

Lineup

Robb Flynn—Vocals/Rhythm Guitar
Phil Demmel—Lead Guitar
Adam Duce—Bass
Dave McLain—Drums


Next review: » Machine Head - The Blackening
Machine Head
The Blackening
May 2007
Released: 2007, Roadrunner Records
Rating: 3.0/5
Reviewer: Gord White

OK, I’ll admit it: I haven’t paid attention to Machine Head since they released THE BURNING RED in 1998. That said, most of Metal-Rules.com’s visitors probably haven’t either. The shameless sell-out that was that album was such a huge disappointment coming from a band that had shown such potential on their first two releases. Fast-forward to now, and I hear that their new album, THE BLACKENING is actually pretty darn good, a return to form of sorts. Turns out, what I heard wasn’t very far off the mark.



First things first, “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” starts things off with some serious thrash riffing! At 10:36 it is the longest song on the album, and stays pretty solid throughout. Yes, that’s 10 minutes in length and its not the only one! THE BLACKENING features three other songs that break the nine minute barrier, which is something that only prog bands usually attempt! Unfortunately, old habits die hard and the second track, “Beautiful Mourning” gets back to the style that made me sell off my Machine Head CDs years ago, although it does get into a pretty nice mosh riff towards the end. Robb Flynn’s vocals are strong through most of the CD and the angsty whispering/whimpering vocals he likes to do are kept to a minimum, but they do rear their ugly head from time to time. He also creates some excellent harmonies and trades off some great solos with former Vio-lence bandmate Phil Demmel.



After all is said and done, this CD is a success for the band, although not a rousing one. There are songs that aren’t so good (“Beautiful Mourning”, “Now I Lay Thee Down”, “Halo”) and songs that are quite good (“Clenching the Fists of Dissent”, “Wolves”, “A Farewell to Arms”) but even they have some breakdown/mosh riffs that seem to go on for a little too long, in classic Machine Head fashion. Basically, this is the best thing that Robb Flynn has attached his name to since BURN MY EYES and if they continue in this direction and weed out a little more of the mallcore/metalcore elements that they’ve picked up along the way, Machine Head may regain the status they once held as an exciting post-thrash/groove band.
Track Listing

1. Clenching the Fists of Dissent
2. Beautiful Mourning
3. Aesthetics of Hate
4. Now I Lay Thee Down
5. Slanderous
6. Halo
7. Wolves
8. A Farewell to Arms

Lineup

Robb Flynn – lead vocals, guitars

Dave McClain – drums

Adam Duce – bass, vocals

Phil Demmel – lead guitars






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