"The Blackening" is the 6th studio album by American thrash metal band, Machine Head. It was released in 2007 on Roadrunner Records and produced by Robb Flynn. The line-up for the album was Robb Flynn (vocals/guitar), Phil Demmel (guitar), Adam Duce (bass) and Dave McClain (drums).
The album peaked at No.16 in the UK charts and came four years after Machine Head's previous issue, 2003's "Through the Ashes of Empires". Many people have commented that Machine Head's career is based upon a yo-yo - They'll put out a great album and then put out a not so great album. The band's debut, "Burn My Eyes" was a masterpiece and as "The Blackening" falls on an even number it has to be a poor issue, right? Let's find out!
Clenching the Fists of Dissent
We kick the album off with the longest song on the album, weighing in at a hefty 10 minutes plus. It is a song about the war in Iraq, asking the questions to politicians of how they can sleep at night when their sons and daughters are coming home in boxes just as oil is being brought back at the same time. There's some amazing drumming here with the double bass pedals in almost constant use with some heavy guitar riffs joining the party. The chorus, though, is too confusing. It's not a bad thrash metal song but it's just too long to be a brilliant thrash metal song.
This is a monstrously pounding anthem which has Robb Flynn screaming vocals as well as cleanly singing them and the hook at the end of the chorus riff sounds immense. The bridge is also as pure as thrash metal can get and it's a joy to listen to - and then you have a short solo which completely melts your face off. So basically it's an excellent song from beginning to end and the best on the album. Robb Flynn said of the song "This is one of the more personal songs on the album and is basically about when I was much younger and fried on acid, really depressed and took a razorblade to my wrists. Something stopped me, but I don't know what."
Aesthetics of Hate
Here is a tribute to fallen Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell Abbott, who was gunned down by Nathan Gale while on-stage with Damageplan in 2004. There was an article online called "Aesthetics of Hate: RIP Dimebag Abbott and Good Riddance" by William Grim which actually praised Dime's murder. Here, Robb Flynn is hitting back with some venomous and heartfelt lyrics and he spoke against Grim on the band's website, saying: "What would you know about love or values? What would you know about giving to the world? All that you know is teaching prejudice, and your heart is as black as the 'ignorant, filthy, and hideously ugly, heavy metal fans' you try and paint in your twisted, fictitious ramblings. It's because of people like you, that there are Nathan Gale's in this world, not the Dimebags and metal musicians who work to unite people through music." There's some intense riffing throughout the song and you can tell Flynn & Demmel are feeding off each other, making this track sound the beast that it is.
Now I Lay Thee Down
This is basically a heavy metal version of Romeo and Juliet with a twist at the end. The Romeo in the story wants to die and the Juliet in the tale helps him to do so. As she's overcome with grief and guilt she blames God and eventually takes her own life, too. The song has a strange intro, almost steel guitar sounding, but it soon gets going into that Machine Head style that has been persistent throughout the band's history. The short solo battle in the bridge is magnificent as Demmel & Flynn trade shots in a game of 'anything you can do' which sets the style of the song so well.
This is a song about discrimination and racism in the world with a big 'screw you' to those that are all too quick to judge without really looking at themselves in the same light. It's basically saying that not everyone's perfect and judge yourself before you judge others. It's Machine Head's way of sticking up for the loner, for the kid in class with different hair, for the woman walking down the street with different skin colour, all those things. It begins with a ripping riff that's quickly followed by another with an interesting hook at the end of it. When the song comes to life it becomes a speed metal classic with its assault on the ears and it definitely kicks the proverbial backside.
About "Halo", Rob Flynn said "This is basically an anti-religion song, about the stuff that's been going on in America like them trying to make abortions illegal again. It's a halo over our demise." What he's trying to say is that America is supposed to be based on freedom, yet it's being restrained by preachings of the bible which say abortion is wrong. It's not a bad song but it just doesn't get going as much as "Beautiful Mourning" or "Aesthetics of Hate" for example. The main riff is just too monotonous for my liking and on a song that's over nine minutes long, that can be a problem.
Within the first minute of the song there's everything you want; a killer riff and a magnificent solo, joined by McClain's intense drumming. The riffs in the bridge are just awesome and this is more like Machine Head, as opposed to the previous song. The track is a tribute by Machine Head to their fans that see them live. They're basically saying the fans are the best the world has to offer and once they're unleashed, it's impossible to contain them.
A Farewell to Arms
This is an excellent end to a great album, and Machine Head certainly have the knack of putting out magnificent album closing songs. The different tempo changes in this track are plentiful throughout its ten minutes of heavy-laden, groove-based metal. The song is a thrash metal ballad, not unlike Metallica's "One" which also deals with the subject matter of war - is it all worth it for the sacrifices that are being and will be made.
While "Burn My Eyes" will always be the favourite Machine Head album for many fans, "The Blackening" definitely ticks all the right boxes. Yes a couple of songs are a tad on the long side but you're getting an hour's worth of music in 8 tracks, and here's the clincher - Metallica's "Master of Puppets" was only 7 minutes shorter with the same amount of songs on it. Granted, "The Blackening" doesn't come anywhere near the brilliance of "Master of Puppets" but it's still a very good heavy metal album.
1. Clenching the Fists of Dissent
2. Beautiful Mourning
3. Aesthetics of Hate
4. Now I Lay Thee Down
8. A Farewell to Arms