I bet Machine Head wished they had never released The Blackening. Various folk I’ve spoken to plus many comments across the Internet regarding 7th studio album Unto The Locust all say the same thing – “It’s not as good as The Blackening“. It’s a real shame and quite unfair as it’s puts an undeserved negative spin on an otherwise excellent record.
But let’s be fair shall we? The Blackening is an amazing record. Any artist would sell their whole families let alone their grandmother to create something as monumentally good as that. The good news about Unto The Locust is that it shares a lot in common with its predecessor in its grand sense of scope, longer songs and excellent instrumentation amongst other aspects. There are only 7 tracks on the standard edition of the record, but the shortest of those is 5:44 and none breach the 8 minute mark bar the opening track. It’s actually very good lengths for the songs as they suck you in, yet don’t outstay their welcome.
Three part opener “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)” is the perfect example of everything you’d want to hear from a new Machine Head record. It starts in a fairly quiet and unassuming fashion, but two minutes in the gloves come off and so does your face. It jumps between sheer power and a gentleness that I guess is now part and parcel of modern metal, but there’s something superior in the way Machine Head pull it off, almost as if they invented the dynamic (with exception, but that comes later).
The rest of the album continues as a refinement of the formula tested on The Blackening. Overall it doesn’t feel as incensed or as visceral, but it’s still a veritable master class of metal. Hugely powerful drumming backs some excellent guitar and Robb Flynn’s distinctive voice is on top form. There are some quiet moments that complement the thrash, though for the most part they act as a lead in to something that’s out to blow you away, or at least your ear drums out. The first minute or so of fourth track “This Is The End” unquestionably demonstrates what I mean by that.
Really, my sole complaint with the record is the children’s choir on final track “Who We Are”. It doesn’t sit well with the rest of the song and I think it’s a mistake. I get the idea – it’s the old soft/heavy switch again – but annoying children isn’t the way to go. Maybe it’s not the choir as such as the voices themselves, but I reckon the precise classical guitar works much better (see track 4 again). However, as the only mistake on the album, I can’t really complain too loudly, can I?
The Special Edition contains covers of Judas Priest’s “The Sentinal” and Rush’s “Witch Hunt” as well as an acoustic version of their own “Darkness Within”. Its real version is a stupendous track and the acoustic version works well, though the two covers are largely forgettable to be honest. Although listening to “Witch Hunt” again did make me want to go dig out Rush’s Moving Pictures again which is never a bad thing.
In summary, the comparisons to The Blackening aren’t undeserved, but it’s definitely a mistake to class Unto The Locust as an inferior product. It’s a superb album in its own right, and if The Blackening didn’t exist then I’m in no doubt this would be classed as Machine Head’s magnum opus instead. I cannot wait to hear these new songs live as I’m sure they’re going to translate brilliantly onto the stage. My only worry is with the length of recent Machine Head songs, will they manage to fit any more than 10 in a gig?