Call me Russ L

Welcome To The Machine (Head): The Blackocust

Posted in Music, Well, it passes the time by Russ L on 4 December, 2011

(Previously: parts one, two, three, and four).

Right then, now then, I’d better get on with getting this finished. This post about the final two albums may well seem rushed, given that I pretty much have to get it finished now (the gig itself that all of this foolishness was a run-up to is tonight).

Given this, it’s in some ways fortunate that the ‘history of the band’ sections can largely be dispensed with here. At this point they were basically just touring and getting more popular after each album, with no line-up changes or arguments with their label to keep things interesting. There was some sort of inter-band feud with dumbass nu-rap-metal-onauts Limp Bizkit which might have livened things up a touch, but no-one involved was capable of speaking English well enough to say anything funny.

2007 gave us The Blackening and I’m going to have to sit down for a moment, because… my friends, I actually think it’s solidly good. It’s thrash-riff based to a strong degree, with mad lead guitar widdly-wahs flying off all over the place and loads of catchy bits – great silly fun, the sort of thing that I’ve wanted from them all along (and, by this point, wasn’t really expecting to get). They’ve even worked out the right combination of effects to stop his clean-singing bits sounding so whiny.

It’s also a good deal less inconsistent than we’ve come to expect from the big lummoxes, but still has its highlights. The opener “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent” starts off almost drone-ish for a moment, then briefly turns acoustic before launching into Proper Thrash. I mentioned Beavis & Butthead in the last post, but here I do indeed feel like doing the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” bit. It gets even more fun when it launches into some mad guitar widdling and shouted Nuremberg chants for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

“Aesthetics Of Hate” is another particularly fun one, probably best described as a monstah metalcore thrashah. “A Farewell To Arms” is far better than their stab at an epic album-closer on “…Empires” – all of the elements seen elsewhere on this album flow together nicely (including the odd obsession with using flange guitar effects to start songs, nearly forgot to mention that. You’ll hear a lot of it), and are bolstered by a Tool-esque handle-windin’ riff for that biiiiig feel.

I liked this one. I am, as ever, wary of overstating – I wouldn’t want you to think it was a classic or anything like that. I thought this was good, though. I liked it.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Machine Head went prog, albeit only going prog within the context of what they were already doing? Wonder no longer, me hearties, as Unto The Locust was released this year to show you. Fun fact: it was recorded Jingletown Studios, which sounds like a lovely cheery place in which to hang out.

Long songs are the order of the day, with plenty of guitar noodle. There’s a more melodic approach on the whole than on the previous two albums, but unfortunately with this they’ve managed to create fewer catchy parts (oh the ironing). The old curse of The ‘Head returns – we have good bits, and a lot of stuff that seems to have been thrown in there to fill space.

The signifiers of their musical intentions are as subtle as ever – the first song is an eight-and-a-half-minute-er called “I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)”, and it starts off with Latin chanting. Oh, those wacky proggy Machine Heads. It hangs well together, though. I had assumed that the title was just an attempt to sound clever and wasn’t actually expecting any exposition-and-development , but there seems to be a stab at it with the lead guitar (“So it’s not just a clever name”). Or maybe not, I dunno, I’m pretty cloth eared.

I wasn’t surprised to read that “Locust” was the single, being by far the catchiest thing on here. It’s a good ‘un, though, with a great lurching riff and it does stick in the head – this is the biggest exception to the “fewer catchy parts” warning above.

There are the lowlights to balance the highlights, of course. “This Is The End” marks the return of the whiny-effects singing (boo~!). “Darkness Within” is for most of its length an attempt at a straight-up pop-rock/melodic rock song, with far less distortion than usual and nary a growl or shout to be heard. It doesn’t really work for them, and the metal breakdown they throw in for good luck doesn’t do anything to help it. “Who We Are” begins with a children’s choir, and you can already guess how good that sounds.

Ultimately, we have some good bits, some bad bits, and a load of indifferent bits. Yup, that sounds like it’d be Machine Head’s latest to me.

And there we are. That’s all eight albums, and quite a lot of time devoted to a band that I’d on the whole describe as fair-to-middling if feeling generous. This proximity has made me somehow fond of the big lunks, though – not in a “particularly enjoying their music apart from odd bits” way or a “thinking that Rob Flynn comes across as anything other than a plonker” way, but in a… well, I dunno, but in some sort of way.

Ordering the studio albums: “The Blackening” is your best – a good modern thrash album. “The More Things Change”, “Burn My Eyes”, “The Locust” and “Through The Ashes Of Empires” (more or less in that order, I suppose) aren’t without their charms. “The Burning Red” is poor and “Supercharger” is crapola.

Shall I do another band next?

(After this, I only had to write about the gig and the whole loony affair was over).

6 Responses

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  1. Jez said, on 5 December, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    That was super. Thanks chum.

    I think the world would enjoy the RussL History of Pantera. Well, I know I would.

  2. Russ L said, on 5 December, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    It would be difficult to avoid extremely tasteless jokes about your man getting shot, with Pantera.

    I was wrong to make it sound like this was the end of our Machine Head odyssey, though – I still have to write about the actual gig…

  3. Jez said, on 6 December, 2011 at 11:41 am

    If shooting a guy while stage isn’t a vulgar display of critical power, I don’t know what is. Given the circumstances I think a tasteless jokes wouldn’t be inappropriate.

  4. Daron said, on 6 December, 2011 at 11:42 am

    See what you’ve started now eh? There’ll be calls for the RussL History of all sorts now. I’m getting my request in for the RussL History of Steps…

    Good gig though?

  5. Jez said, on 6 December, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    The RussL History of Allsorts – a personal recollection of Licorice? I’d buy that.

  6. Russ L said, on 6 December, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    You people.


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