Sound — 10
*This is a rating for the special edition, which includes the band's covers of "Battery" by Metallica and "Hallowed Be Thy Name" by Iron Maiden. This is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. I have been searching for a while for another band that I could really sink my teeth into, and Machine Head is quickly becoming a front-runner. I only started listening to them a few months ago when I found out they were going to be opening at a show I was going to. In an effort to be a good fan I picked up some of their material and it turns out I did myself a huge favor. Virtually everything about the sound of this album is epic and satisfying. The guitars have an awesome rich and colorful sound that seethes with power. The drums are ultra loud, ultra heavy, and really add a whole additional dimension to the music (rather than just being a beat-keeper, a la AC/DC). The bass is also a very satisfying element in the album. I'll tackle the bass first: Machine Head has definately strayed from the unfortunate metal trend of de-emphasizing the bass to the point of almost non-existence. Yet on this album it truly has it's own voice, and makes good use of it. Machine Head have taught me how a bass can add much to a metal song. I used to think it just shadowed the rhythm guitar, and I felt that when people tried to bring out the bass in metal (like Mudvayne) it brought in a weird almost funk flavor that subtracked from the power of the music. But on "The Blackening" the bass adds it's own deep growling voice to the instrumental mix that adds a sweet sinister bottom end presence and works with the drums to that they feed off eachother. Drums: Dave McClain is sick. Kontos had some dirty fills on "Burn My Eyes," but I think he is overshadowed by McClain, if not before, then certainly on this album. Dave's double bass drumming and speed add a concussive force to the mix of the album that just brings it's sound and power to the next level. Moreso than just the power of his sound, though, McClain's drumming is interesting. It never just shadows the rhythm parts, or maintains any one beat for too long. He uses a variety of patterns and styles meshed together to created an energetic and enduring sound. Guitars: Well I love the bass and the drums, but honestly "The Blackening" is all about the guitars. Demmel and Flynn shred together on this album like a modern Downing and Tipton. They sound the way A7X should. The riffs are brutal and sick; the slow and clean sections are melodic and beautiful and provide excellent contrast to the heavy distortion; and the solos are like a gift from the gods of metal. I have not heard guitar solos that were as interesting in a long time- at least in metal. That's not to say that there aren't other extremely talented guitarists out there, but the writing on this album is flawless. Flynn and Demmel switch rhythm and solo parts, dual solo, and compliment each other much like the bass and the drums in a way that makes them both stronger. The dual soloing sounds like a composition rather than a competition and it puts the solos a cut above the rest in a way that only Wylde, Darrell, and Slash have done in recent history (excepting some of the better new releases from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden). As for the songs, they are excellent as well. There are moments where the momentum lags a little, and where the songs start to "feel" long. But these are few and far between. For the most part, the band has managed to craft epic tunes with great skill; this keeps the songs interesting and makes them rewarding to work through as a listener.
Lyrics — 8
I like to split this section into two parts: vocals and lyrics. Lyrics: 6 to 7. This is a difficult section for me to be objective on, and I admit that up front. I don't love some of Flynn's lyrics. They certainly aren't bad by any means, but they are often not great either. They're usually good (and I do mean good, not mediocre). I find them a little obvious in places, and they're also too political for me at times. I love "Clenching the Fists" and "Halo" but the lyrics are a little heavy-handed. Of course it's Flynn's right to express himself, and I don't mean to suggest he shouldn't, I just personally find that sometimes when a message is too in your face it takes away from the overall quality of an album. For that reason, I get tired of Rage Against the Machine very quickly even though I like the band. But, like I said, the lyrics overall are good, and most of the time they work really well with the songs and add to the enjoyment of the album. I particularly enjoy the lyrics of "Aesthetics of Hate" and "Wolves." Vocals: 8.5. What may well be more important than the lyrics themselves for the sound of an album is their delivery, and Flynn's is really good. He has a powerful voice, and his roars are visceral and satisfying. Clearly Phil Anselmo is a huge influence here, and Flynn does him proud. There are times when he lacks some of the melodic tone that would add to his performance, but for the most part he sounds sick and adds the icing to the cake for this album. He is particularly good on "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and demonstrates a good, solid range.
Overall Impression — 9
"The Blackening" isn't perfect; there are a few minor areas where the album could be "fine tuned." And if you ask what I do reserve a 10 for, it would be albums like Vulgar Display of Power and Master of Puppets, or Kill 'Em All- you know, the ones that change music forever. But I want to stay positive; the album is top-knotch and should be in any self-respecting head banger's collection. The instrumental sound is excellent, the vocal performance is very strong, and the soloing blazes. More importantly, all the parts of the album work well together and the songs are well-written and crafted. Nearly all of the twists and turns throughout the album's many riffs and pieces remain captivating and take the listener on an insanely sick journey... not for the faint of heart. On a final note, for anyone thinking about picking up the album, I just want to offer a few parts I found particularly satisfying: first of all, it's worth it to get the special edition because it has some nice extras and both covers are good. This is particularly true of "Hallowed Be Thy Name"- Flynn's vocals might be at their best here. Second, the beginning, solo, and breakdown (immediately post-solo) of "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" are really really sick. The beginning of "A Farewell to Arms" is equally sick. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" is sick. "Aesthetics of Hate" is an excellent song (and a truly worthy tribute to the Dime), particularly near the beginning of the song where Flynn and Demmel have the alternating slide riffs that escalate almost like sirens- one of the coolest riffs I've ever heard. Moral of the story: pick it up... if you have balls.