How do you create a masterpiece of modern metal? Is it a conscious effort on the part of the artists or is it something more organic, a confluence of events and moods, emotions and mechanics that...Expand
How do you create a masterpiece of modern metal? Is it a conscious effort on the part of the artists or is it something more organic, a confluence of events and moods, emotions and mechanics that all come together in the right place at the right time? That's the question that comes to mind upon the first listen to Machine Head's sixth studio album The Blackening. Guitars rip, drums pound, bass thunders and lyrics resonate as the Bay Area quartet soars past the bar set by its critically-lauded predecessor Through the Ashes of Empires. If Empires was the sounding of the trumpet, then The Blackening is the arrival of the hordes: dense, aggressive and inescapable.
One can fully appreciate the band's current level of success by looking back on their less-than-glamorous beginnings. From beer-fueled rehearsals in a small Oakland, CA. warehouse that they shared with 4 punk rock bands, to playing their first house and kegger parties, to local shows (some members not even old enough at the time to get into the 21+ clubs they were booked in) with the likes of Rancid, Deftones and Napalm Death. To spread the word, they took guerrilla marketing into their own hands, relentlessly flyering high schools and stickering unsuspecting cars at metal and punk shows. The band's first demo - recorded for $800 in a friend's bedroom, with their amps in the bathroom - was a very rough estimation of their burgeoning sound: a combination of the aggression of metal and punk, and the social anger of urban rap, intertwined with hypnotic Alice In Chains-esque vocal harmonies. It was this demo that eventually made it into the hands of Roadrunner Records, setting into motion the course of events that would lead to the 1994 release of their groundbreaking debut, Burn My Eyes.
Enter 2003's Through the Ashes of Empires. Hailed by critics and fans alike as a metal masterpiece, Through the Ashes of Empires went on to become the 2nd-best selling record for Roadrunner Records Europe that year. Six months later in the Spring of 2004, the album saw its U.S. release, also via Roadrunner, The album debuted at #88 on the Billboard Top 200 (tying Machine Head's highest debut ever) and their follow-up live DVD Elegies bullied its way to #13 on the U.S. Billboard charts, and #4 on the U.K. charts. Their three U.S. headline tours of clubs and small theaters (garnering a direct support slot for Lamb Of God on select U.S. dates) and their two European headline tours of large and small theaters achieved stellar numbers, selling out nearly all shows in major markets throughout both continents. The band's European summer festival run included blistering appearances at Germany"s Rock Am Ring / Rock Am Park (as direct support to Korn and Evanescence), a show-stealing Donington performance as direct support to Slipknot and Metallica, prompting fans to vote Machine Head "Best Band of the Day" on Download's official U.K. website, and finally, a headlining slot atop Germany"s prestigious Wacken festival (with the fans once again electing Machine Head "Best Band of the Festival" on Wacken's official website), would wrap up what was nothing short of a spectacular run for the band.
Little did anyone know what they had in store with lead guitarist Phil Demmel firmly entrenched in the ranks, and drummer Dave McClain practicing upwards of 7 hours a day, the band re-entered the studio with a near-insatiable hunger and new thirst to create. Guitarist Phil Demmel notes, "Since I was only in the band long enough to contribute to a few songs for 'Ashes', I really wanted to put a signature Flynn/Demmel stamp on this album's material. We really pushed each other with the riff interplay and the harmony solos to a high point in this bands' history." Singer/guitarist Robb Flynn echoes that sentiment, stating that "In many ways this was the most important record of our career. We needed to make a record that was fearless in its ability to embrace, but not be limited by what we had accomplished before. All of our musical heroes have made monumental records that didn't necessarily go with the evolution of their band; a perfect example would be The Cure from Pornography to Disintegration, or Metallica from Kill 'em All to Master of Puppets. Those bands destroyed their drawing board and reconstructed it."
And it is that fearlessness that has allowed Machine Head to make music that is daring, true and honest. Never creating the same album twice, they've stuck their necks out numerous times, always looking to push the envelope just a little further. And while any time you take a risk, some results may fare better than others, there's one thing you can always be sure of - the Machine Head album you're listening to is the album they wanted to create. Compromise has never been an option for Machine Head. With The Blackening, that same creed of indomitable passion and unflinching sincerity has brought us the genuine article, having yet again set a new high watermark for themselves as well as the genre. And don't let the name fool you" The Blackening is, without a doubt, Machine Head's brightest moment.