Album Reviews

Machine Head – The Blackening

(Roadrunner) UK release date: 26 March 2007

Machine Head - The Blackening It’s been three years since Machine Head effectively returned to metal. But with the release of Through the Ashes of Empires, this band didn’t just meet contractual obligations, they ‘returned’ to the glory of the band they once were; to the realms of proper metal. If Imperium, Descend The Shades Of Night and Vim were able to re-enlist the support of many thousand fans to the Church of The Ten Ton Hammer, The Blackening is undoubtedly its New Testament.

From the macabre mystical artwork, to the epic, sweeping songs which only once fall beneath the five minute mark, the gospel according to Robert Flynn redefines the heart of metal in 2007 and the frustrated, raging discontent that exists within the hearts of many its followers. And it’s here that Machine Head have smashed the self inflicted shackles of whiny nu-metal.

The song matter is the physical opposite of ’90s white boy pain, this is War Pigs for the 21st century. The dark beauty in these 8 furious songs is in their universal appeal, screamed by a self deprecating prophet, warning all in earshot that now more than ever is the hour of our discontent: “Terror, insurgency, words used to scare conformity. It’s propaganda, it’s their hypocrisy. Free to choose our own slavery” and later “I don’t know what to do, cause I don’t have the answers. But with every ounce of strength, I’ll vow to fight this cancer.”

The Blackening is an hour long anthem of dissatisfaction with the status quo, but it boldly offers more than the ‘fuck it all’ attitude of youthful arrogance, attempts to face up to the fact that change starts within, by examining your own reflection first. The album covers text speaks volumes; ‘The mirror flatters not.’

In the opening minute of the most violent anti war song in existence, Clenching The Fists Of Dissent we hear distant muffled wails of mourning before a single acoustic guitar breaks through the din. The droning sub bass is the only premonition of the destruction to come, as the military snare rattles past the one minute mark, it is not until well past 90 seconds that your necks snap at the drop of a riff so snarling and crunching that it’s the aural equivalent of Flynn’s first bellowing word: “WAAAAAAAAAR!”

The song structure on display is literally breathtaking. Open up the liner notes and behold the essay’s worth of lyrics which comprise the opening number, try and keep up with the multiple tempo changes before the Kill ‘Em All era ‘fist in the air’ break downs. While both the old school appeal and inspiration is obvious, The Blackening is not an album of escapism; it’s a wailing siren, screaming out the world is in an abysmal state of affairs, but defiantly refuses to be defeated by it either: “War! Clenching the Fists of Dissent. Lies! Clenching the Fists of Dissent. Fear! Clenching the Fists of Dissent. Change! Clenching to Hope.”

They might not have been Amnesty International’s most vocal supporters over the years, but these Oakland boys have certainly chosen to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. While it may only be a passing reference, the end of the tunnel might be pretty dim, but it’s there. If there can be beauty in tragedy then there is most defiantly light in Machine Head’s darkest hour yet and The Blackening is a formidable torch of hope on an otherwise bleak horizon. Oh, and the seven other songs are pretty good too.

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