Resurrecting a once-formidable reputation, particularly in metal circles, is a notoriously hard job. One bad album, or a contentious comment, can do the world of harm – just ask Metallica.
Machine Head have faced this problem for a while now. Once the darlings of the metal press, and with good reason, after their debut Burn My Eyes, they slowly descended after that firstly into following the latest fad (The Burning Red, although even so it isn’t that bad), and then into self-parody (Supercharger). Last album Through The Ashes of Empires helped to show that there was still hope – opening Imperium alone proved that, and now we have The Blackening.
The band themselves had been hyping this up for some months prior to release, as if a new-found vigour had consumed them. Or maybe it was just because they knew they had something special on their hands.
And do they ever.
The standard release of the album is eight songs in sixty-one minutes and one second. That’s one long album. Opener Clenching The Fists of Dissent is not far off eleven minutes, but doesn’t waste a second. The first two minutes are a calm, gradual build-up, before Robb Flynn roars and the guitars take over. While all the hallmarks of classic MH are here – crunching guitar work, drums like a house falling on you, chugging breakdowns, fists-in-the-air chants… – this just takes it to another level. No pandering to any styles, this is pure metal. And really, really fucking good metal at that – and yes, it sounds like Davidian on it’s fade-out…
Beautiful Mourning, the shortest track here at just under five minutes, pales a bit after the onslaught before, but the opening salvo at least is worth hearing for Robbs’ ‘Fuck You All!’ before a moshpit-destined track that switches between a swaying and mental pace. The chorus is even properly sung, too.
One of the truly stellar highlights follows this, though. Aesthetics of Hate was written in response to this article about Dimebag Darrell’s death, and the sheer fury in Robb Flynn’s feelings about this simply explode out of every second of the track. Again, the track that follows pales a bit – but not by all that much. Now I Lay Thee Down is about as close as the album gets to a ballad – at least the pace is slowed a little, and again Flynn’s singing is to the fore. Surprisingly, it works very well indeed.
Slanderous flies by in five minutes of pure thrash metal, while following tracks Halo and Wolves are something special indeed. Halo starts unassumingly, and builds gradually into a collection of bruising riffs and more mellow choruses over nine minutes, while Wolves is another jaw-dropping highlight. No time is wasted in the roar of ‘Release the Wolves’ before we are plunged headfirst into the first solo within thirty seconds, and things just get better from there. The twin guitar lines coil tighter and tighter to amazing effect, before breaking into a huge chorus, then doing it all again. And again – this is another of the nine minute tracks. The musicianship on this track, particularly the guitar work, is probably the best MH have ever produced, and hitch that onto the enormously anthemic qualities this track has, and we are looking at something that really does rival Davidian at last. A Farewell To Arms, another ten-minute-plus track, is hardly a bad closer, either. Again building (very) slowly, it eventually piles on the pressure and all hell breaks loose around the six-minute mark.
So after all these years, and false dawns, Machine Head have finally delivered on the fantastic album that they have always talked up. If only more metal bands would ignore the latest musical fashions and make an album that they are truly capable of, and we might just have a more interesting metal scene in the future.