Release DetailsLABEL Roadrunner
RELEASED ON 3/27/2007
posted on 3/2007 By:
In 1994, Machine Head crashed into the metal scene with Burn My Eyes, an album that to this day is regarded as a classic of the genre. At a time when metal was being pushed back underground by grunge and punk, it was an album we could all get behind, and “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast” became a mantra for the day. They even got to tour with Slayer on the Divine Intervention tour, further solidifying their status as THE band to watch. The fires had cooled a bit by 1997 when they released The More Things Change, which was accepted with a lukewarm reaction by fans who liked it but felt it was a huge step down from their debut. The downward slide continued through the ill-fated The Burning Red and the perhaps unfairly criticized Supercharger, periods marked by the loss of original members Logan Mader and Chris Kontos, but founding members Robb Flynn and Adam Duce were unflinching, recruiting guitarist Ahrue Luster and hard-hitting drummer Dave McClain into the band for those latter albums.
Then in 2003, something amazing happened. Following Luster's departure, Flynn recruited his former Vio-lence bandmate Phil Demmel to join the band on lead guitar, reuniting one of the most blistering guitar duos in metal history. The resulting album, Through the Ashes of Empires, was released on an unsuspecting public to almost unanimous praise. While some fans were beyond saving, many hailed it as a return to form, or at least a step in the right direction. Several critics even proclaimed that it surpassed their legendary debut. Once again, the band toured vigorously in support over the next year or so before settling down to craft their masterwork. Popping up for the occasional live gig in the summer of 2006, “Aesthetics of Hate” pummeled audiences with it’s sheer brutality, proving the band still had plenty of gas left in the engine. Fans had to be wondering “Will the entire new album be like this?” The answer is a resounding yes, as The Blackening is easily the band’s best work since Burn My Eyes - possibly even better.
“Clenching the Fists of Dissent” is the perfect album opener. After a slow, mellow introduction, the band put the pedal to the metal and bulldoze forward a thrashy main riff gives way to bridge and chorus sections that have those signature Machine Head beatdowns. Toss in a methodical midsection that gives you time to think about what’s coming next, follow that with some blistering solos that lead you right back into the main verse riff, and after a mere 10 minutes it’s all over – but only seems like half that. “Beautiful Morning” may not have been the best track to put next, more midtempo and mellow. Hardly a weak track, but definitely a letdown after the opener. “Aesthetics of Hate” changes that in a hurry. The much talked about track lashes out at a conservative journalist who claimed that Dimebag got what he deserved and that all of his fans were a bunch of Neanderthals. Needless to say, Flynn and Co. have never sounded so pissed off, and this competes with “Slanderous”, where Flynn gives a middle finger to all the antagonists he has faced in his life, for the heaviest track on the album.
“Now I Lay Thee Down” is another more mid-paced track but is played in a way that slowly elevates through verse and bridge before unleashing the fury in the choruses. The next three tracks will take you about a half hour to get through, so make sure you’re prepared. “Halo” sounds an awful lot like the Machine Head of old, complete with those guitar squeals we all remember. “Wolves” is relentless in attack, and one starts to fear that the band is going to break themselves in half. The disc ends with “A Farewell to Arms”, an epic in every sense of the world, weaving through tempo and emotional changes to an ultimately exhilarating finish.
Before wrapping it up, I might as well address the cover art issue. A lot of “heavier than thou” folk claimed that they ripped off the concept from some black metal band that most people probably don’t give a rat’s ass about. Truth be told, it is simply a reproduction of a metal carving used in old times by the church to instill fear and conformity from the people. It’s a skeleton king sitting on a rock with his foot upon the Earth, holding a mirror engraved with the words ‘The Mirror Which Flatters Not’. It was symbolic of looking at yourself and not liking what you see, and that’s what The Blackening is all about – holding a mirror up to the world and not liking what is seen. War, corrupt politicians, conservative douchebags, high gas prices – what IS there to like? Oh yeah – this album.
The Blackening is to Machine Head what Shovel Headed Kill Machine was to Exodus: better than anyone ever could have thought after the great album that preceded it. The circumstances were different but the end results the same: a veteran band left for dead come back to kick your ass and hand it to you pre-soiled. This is the best album I’ve heard thus far this young year, and I’m not expecting any contenders for awhile.
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