Sound — 9
It's hard to believe that only a few years back that Machine Head was going through what many in the press a decline. The discouraging description came as a result of being dropped from Roadrunner Records and the seemingly lackluster record sales of 2001's Supercharger, but events like those are not likely to repeat after the band's latest release. The Blackening proves that it could very quickly be co-headlining rather than opening for groups like Lamb Of God. Although the band's last album Through The Ashes of Empires was undoubtedly a strong album that reintroduced Machine Head (vocalist/guitarist Robert Flynn, guitarist Phil Demmel, bassist Adam Duce, and drummer Dave McClain) as a powerful force in metal, this time around the Oakland, Ca., natives have really gone all-out in terms of exploring different styles and techniques. The fact that the average song length on The Blackening is over 7 minutes may intimidate some listeners, but if you hang in there it all becomes worth it. The opener Clenching The Fists Of Dissent is one of the best tracks on the entire CD, with an insane amount of riffs filling the duration of the song. There is an eerie, soundtrack-like quality to the introduction when you hear vocalist/guitarist Robert Flynn's echoing vocals singing in a Middle Eastern-like style. A gentle acoustic guitar quietly takes over with some of the most gorgeous, melodic playing heard in a while. For those waiting for some metal added into the equation, patience will pay all off. At about 2 minutes into the song, there is an explosion of distortion that doesn't let up until pretty much the end of the 10-minute track. While there are an abundance of musical sections, breakdowns, and the like in Clenching The Fists Of Dissent, Machine Head accomplishes creating a song that still manages to keep your interest. Although the band did seem to focus a lot of energy on the longer songs, thankfully the shorter songs weren't merely filler material. The best example is Slanderous, which is filled with scale-like progressions that often are harmonized. At 5 minutes long, it doesn't go in all of the different directions that Fists does, but it is actually just as effective. This is the kind of track that is a fun listen, and it's likely to be a song that a lot of guitar-playing fans out there will want to add to their repertoire.
Lyrics — 9
The themes in The Blackening's songs have as much diversity as the music underneath them. Unlike some metal bands out there, Machine Head displays everything from emotional instability to anger and everything in between. In Beautiful Mourning, the title indicates an obvious sadness, but Flynn lays out plenty of other feelings along the way. You first hear a bellowing F--k you all, but it's not just a song geared towards hatred by any means. The song continues to talk about oppression, rejection, and a lack of control, it's lays out an assortment of feelings and emotions. Flynn also uses both his trademark growl and a more melodic singing approach that mirrors the changing emotions sung in Beautiful Mourning. Probably the only problem is the fact that you can't always understand the lyrics because of the gruff delivery. The advance copy unfortunately didn't resolve this issue because there was not an accompanying lyric sheet, but it's likely that the band provided that and more when the official release date arrives.
Overall Impression — 9
Most are going to have a hard time finding any weak spots on The Blackening, with most of the 9 tracks delivering solid songwriting all the way through. For those who get antsy at any song that lasts more than 5 minutes, you're going to want to avoid it. But if you're musical appreciation goes beyond song length, The Blackening will have a lot to offer. The solo in Halo alone is worth the price of the record The Blackening is an impressive showing from Machine Head, and it's absolutely refreshing to see them branch out into a more melodic approach and still maintaining the harder edge. The underlying melodies are incredibly memorable and don't get covered up along the way by unnecessary extras. Sure, the band admits that some songs have up to 20 different riffs in them, but Machine Head is still very effective at tying it all together in the end.