Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, The Number Of The Beast, Paranoid, Vulgar Display Of Power, Roots, Rust In Peace, British Steel. All of these have rightly taken up slots amongst the most important and influential Metal albums ever produced. When you're looking at the subject of our Ten Years On... Feature this month, there is absolutely no doubt that The Blackening by Machine Head sits there right alongside all of them. We're taking a very welcome trip down memory lane, exploring the build up and release of this album, the impact Phil Demmel made and the subsequent aftermath leading up to today. HEADBANG MOTHERFUCKER!
It has been well documented over the years that prior to Machine Head writing and recording The Blackening the band had been through an incredibly difficult stage in their careers. Following the release of Supercharger in 2001, a quite distinct change in sound and direction, alongside it generally being a commercial flop, led to what could well have been the end as guitarist Ahrue Luster parted ways and Roadrunner Records ended up actually dropping the band from its label despite several years of partnership. Without re-tracing these steps too heavily, content on the band's live DVD Elegies also showed that as far as the live shows were concerned, attendance had dipped dramatically. It's borderline incredible to compare the shots of Robb Flynn shouting out to a crowd that had barely filled half a small venue to what ultimately followed for them. We reach then one of the biggest and best stepping stones you'll ever find in Metal, enter Through The Ashes Of Empire. It almost seems silly to simply call this album a 'stepping stone' because it sits right up there amongst the best in the Machine Head back catalogue, but as a record what it ended up representing for the survival of their careers is frankly huge. Had the band not been able to write and record this album we wouldn't be sitting here presenting you with a feature on one of the finest Metal records ever produced put it that way. We actually revisited this album as part of our Ten Years On... Feature in November 2013 so check that out too - http://roomthirteen.com/cgi-bin/feature_view.cgi?FeatureID=1044
Quality Of The Record
Right then, there'll try and be some level of composure on this section. Clocking in at just under sixty minutes and eight tracks long, The Blackening contains a barrage of chaos that takes you on a journey unlike any other Machine Head album ever released. Fans will often point to 1994's Burn My Eyes or it's follow-up The More Things Change... (which incidentally celebrates its twentieth anniversary this month too!) as their own personal favourites, but whilst those records are a destructive force in their own right, as a band Machine Head's song-writing and ability reached new levels with The Blackening. Whilst the odd track had gone beyond five minutes on previous records, this album contained both an opener and final song which tipped ten minutes along with two others just over nine minutes long. Glancing at those track lengths did raise an eyebrow at the time, you need only look at some of their bigger hits to see that on their day they had become the masters at generating compact, succinct Thrash/Groove blows. They didn't completely push that sound or approach to the side, instead they incorporated them in to a far bigger and sprawling achievement. What better way to announce "We've fucking arrived!" than having an opening track that is Clenching The Fists Of Dissent. This track sways you about all over the place in a manner that was just so alarmingly impressive on first listen you ended up instantly knowing that this record was a special one. Without going through every track, other key highlights to touch on include Aesthetics Of Hate - a Thrash masterpiece written in reaction to a blog posted online which attacked Dimebag Darrell and the Metal community after he was tragically shot and killed on stage performing with Damageplan. If you ever need an example of a song which conveys rage in its purest form you're best placed using this. Halo is another one which has almost become the band's Master Of Puppets when it comes to live shows. The crushing heaviness, duelling guitar solos and absolutely massive sing-along moments make it a spectacle live every single time.
The Impact Of Demmel
Phil Demmel was reunited with Robb Flynn (after their early days spent together in a band called Vio-Lence) late in the process for Through The Ashes Of Empire so The Blackening ended up being his first real stab at being part of the writing process in Machine Head from the word go, and my word what an impact he made. The duelling riffs and solos across this album is where they impress most with the overall intricacy displayed showing that as a combination Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel is a partnership that was just meant to be. Four of the eight tracks have song writing credits attributed solely to Flynn and Demmel (Beautiful Mourning, Now I Lay Thee Down, Slanderous and A Farewell To Arms) with the only track not citing him at all being Aesthetics Of Hate which was written by just Robb Flynn. Reading that in the notes and actually hearing the album itself, the levels of impact Demmel was able to bring to the table was frankly massive. Where Through The Ashes Of Empire showed a band re-born and capable of going on to even bigger things, Demmel was the KEY part of the puzzle to enable The Blackening to sound the way it does - something he's not praised for enough.
On release the album received hugely positive feedback from both the media and the Metal community instantly. It propelled Machine Head back in to the forefront of the scene causing them to join the likes of Metallica and Slipknot on tours as well as higher places on festival bills across Europe. The Blackening, plus the fact that for a period of time in Metal they were frankly untouchable as a live band, actually led to speculation that the band were well on their way towards headlining Download Festival and leading the way as far as the new crop of big headliners were concerned. Whilst that ultimately hasn't come to fruition (yet), it does show just how much excitement and buzz this album generated. The band ended up touring off the back of this album for about three years with the set-lists even now featuring a heavy presence of tracks from The Blackening. We're ten years down the line now, at a point where you can hear more and more bands showing Machine Head to be one of their clear influences - we're not even mildly exaggerating saying this but The Blackening as a body of music is so brilliant and grand in scale there are probably a fair few young musicians who picked up an instrument as a direct result of hearing it.
If you're a long-time fan of either the band as a whole or even just this album we're sure you will join us in saying that if you're someone who is only really just getting in to heavy music at the moment and have seen all these posts about The Blackening in recent weeks and fancy giving it a go... we IMPLORE you to drop whatever it is you are doing and go and discover one of your new favourite albums. Undoubtedly the finest Metal record of the previous decade.
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