Machine Head’s “The Blackening” took me by surprise in a big way a little over six years ago. Even though it was released in 2007 I don’t think I really gave it a chance until sometime in 2008 and since then I’ve given it an abundance of plays and more praise than I can even remember. Machine Head was always a band that I was conscious of but never really “got.” Their music just didn’t fit into my life until this album. For me, this album combined it all: lyrics, music, artwork and timing. Those elements combined to make one of the best Thrash Metal albums of all time and one of the best metal albums of the new millennium.
First off, I’m a huge sucker for etched artwork. I love the etchings of Albrecht Dürer (a true master) as well as pretty much anyone else who can create bitchin’ artwork in this way. There’s something about the amount of detail and the general medieval look of this illustration style that connects with me. I love staring at the little things in illustrations and the images chosen for The Blackening have lots of little goodies to digest.
The cover image is generally the first thing you see when picking up a new album and in this case it’s all I needed to see to let me know I was probably going to dig this album. From the mirror and text to the skull and body of the king, the amount of detail is astounding. The rendering of the bones and hair are something I love looking at every time I pull this album out of the collection.
The band name and title text are both set in an italic serif typeface that mimics an old printing press with it’s irregularities in the line thickness and shape. Good choice for sure.
The back of the jacket follows the same layout as the front. Another large illustration is used and the same typeface from the front is brought over to the back for tracklistings and liner notes. The text is handled in a very simple and delicate way that draws attention but not so much that it even begins to overshadow the artwork.
The choice of matte-black paper over a glossy cover is a small detail that helps create a nice physical presence. I have a few records from the 70’s and 80’s that use a matte or textured paper stock and it’s always a nice, memorable touch.
The interior of the gatefold is pretty simple. Just a large image of the band along with some cool skeleton graphics. The band photo is tweaked and edited to have a similar etched effect that works well with the rest of the artwork. It’s not executed as perfectly as every other piece of art within but it gets the job done. They even took the effect and used it for a music video later on after the album was released.
The front of the sleeves feature large-scale artwork. One sleeve has the song titles and an illustration and the other features a large Machine Head logo and more images of the band members.
The reverse sides of the record sleeves continue to carry over the design theme and they feature a lot more illustrations to feast your peepers upon. Most of the images cover topics like death, plague, demons and destruction. Weird stuff for sure but it all fits and works. The lyrics and liner notes are printed along with the images in the same typeface as the jacket. Although there is a lot of text it doesn’t seem like it’s crammed or forced into the area. It reads well and serves its purpose.
The vinyl itself is a thick 180-gram black record. Heavy-duty vinyl for heavy metal music. The labels feature that nice skeletal artwork from the interior gatefold along with song titles and other info.
Overall this is a great package and one that I tried to find for a while before finding success. When I finally did manage to get my hands on one I was completely satisfied. This album is a total-package kind of deal for me. It just works on all levels (music, lyrics, artwork) and the vinyl format really helps it to come alive on all fronts. A great package for a great album.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs from this album, and at the time it was also the only song I could get Naners to like by them. Hopefully you all can dig it too.