Friday, August 10, 2007

Dream Over. Grieve No More

Machine Fucking Head – The Black-fuck-ening
“In our eyes, and with all the fucked up shit that’s going on in the world today, the only thing they can find to sing about is their goddamned girlfriend is something that’s really pathetic. They should open their fucking eyes.” - Robb Flynn
If Robb's lyrics were half as good as that soundbite I'd be far more generous to this album, but unfortunately the guy tries just a bit too hard.

The popularity of heavy metal climaxed in the late eighties, when bands like Guns and Roses stood astride the charts, guitars cocked at a phallic angle and their hair blowing in the breeze, and as is the way with all musical trends this marked the point where it began to quickly nosedive into the next phase of the pop culture cycle, the dark place where the ill-thought out misadventures of burned out has-beens dwell alongside shameless commercial cashins bereft of artistic merit. More than a decade later metal, in particular the thrash subgenus of that art form, seems to be making a bit of a comeback, following a long period in the Nineties when genuine metal was almost completely absent from the mainstream (although the black and death metal scenes were healthily blast beating away in the underground) and until now was only represented in the new century by nu-metal, the unmentionable shame that all true metal heads must now live with for the rest of their days. (“Yes, I moshed to Linkin Park... You don't understand man...! There was just nothing else to mosh to!!!”)

It's nice that newer bands like Lamb of God and Mastodon as well as genre elders like Slayer and Megadeath are reintroducing thrash to the mainstream (although I predict that the inevitable correction will follow when a bunch of terrible talentless bands jump on the bandwagon in a year or so, if not sooner) and one of the most well received metal releases of the year so far is Machine Head's The Blackening, which has been lavished with praise, partly on it's own merits and partly as a kind of life time achievement award for Machine Head, in recognition of the fact that they stuck it out flying the thrash metal banner throughout a long period of commercial disinterest over the last ten years and survived to deliver their masterwork just in time to reap the rewards of the genre's renaissance.

Machine Head's music is clearly derived from classic Eighties thrash such as Metallica or Slayer but, like contemporaries such as Lamb of God, they have a relatively relaxed, catchy nu-metal style groove behind the shrieking guitars. The songs on The Blackening are long (as in eight to ten minutes), epic and with barely any respite from the full on metal assault.

The album has a fairly consistent anti-war message, and even though the lyrics are not terribly good -
They say that freedom isn't free
It's paid with the lives
of sons and families
Cause blood is the new currency
And oil pumps the heart of money
it's good to hear that after years of waiting and several false starts, heavy music has finally gotten fully onto the protest song bandwagon that it so belongs on.

The album starts out strong, going straight into the ten minute anti-war epic 'Clenching the Fists of Dissent' which rocks out solidly from beginning to end and almost renders the remainder of the album superfluous, seeing as every other song simply reiterates elements of this one, usually with less success. Nevertheless the single, 'Aesthetics of Hate' is also worthwhile and 'Now I Lay Thee Down' is my favourite track on the album, injecting genuine pathos into a metal song without draining it of it's heaviness. Poison take note! This is how a power ballad should be done! From there the album goes through a bit of a slump, 'Slanderous', 'Halo' and 'Wolves' are all dull and samey, and the lyrics start to get a little cringeworthy here. Fortunately The Blackening redeems itself a little more at the end. The album proper ends with 'A Farewell to Arms'which builds from a moody, quiet intro to deliver a crushing summation of the record. It's basically System of a Down's 'Holy Mountains' rewritten by a band who still have talent. Finally as a bonus track they've tacked on a superfluous but listenable cover of Metallica's 'Battery', which goes down well, even if it doesn't really sound all that dissimilar to the original.

I can't quite toe the party line in saying that this is one of the best releases so far this year, but I will acknowledge that it's a pretty good listen, at least if it is only taken a song or two at a time.


Squirk said...

Minor nitpick: Toe the line. As in your toes.

But I haven't blogged in months so my words have little weight.

Jon said...

Thanks Squirk, another good reason not to use cliches!

Skarnz said...

wow. random sources of good grammer are excellent. Well done squirk!