Unto the Locust opens with "I am Hell (Sonata in C#)," eight and one-half scorching minutes across three distinct movements and sets the stage for the album's general dynamics of slow-and-low to fast-and-furious. One may complain that this approach may become predictable and tired but when it sounds this good, it's hard to do so. The tone on the intro (and subsequent recurrent lick) to "Be Still and Know" is indescribably classically metal and bested only by the thunderous percussion of Dave McClain, standing out as his finest achievement on this record.
"This is the End" is easily my current favorite track on Unto the Locust. With a nice acoustic intro leading in for a full minute until the track takes off, Machine Head achieves the balance of absolute aggression and melody that Trivium somehow left entirely off of their most recent record. If "This is the End" is the high point of an album full of 'em, "Darkness Within" is its closest rival. Another acoustic opener, it proceeds with only a single guitar and clean vocals across 90 seconds before igniting. An all-out paean to the power and meaning of music, its lyric is perhaps the most important I have heard in a long, long while. The fact that it boasts a killer solo is the icing on the cake.
"Pearls Before Swine" is the single track that has hit me as "just OK." Not bad, just not terribly distinctive nor memorable for me. And it has the disadvantage of pressing up against closer "Who We Are." Opening with a children's choir (indeed, children of the band and engineer), "Who We Are" serves as a rallying anthem for the band, their fans and metal fans in general. And it has the album's finest kick-ass solo.
Unto the Locust is at once challenging and a return of sorts to simplicity. It's an aggressive, riff-driven monster built from layer upon complex layer without sacrifice of melody or emotion. Machine Head have traveled down several paths throughout their career and, at this point, incorporate many elements that would divide others into sub-genres. They have managed to retain the positives, shed those that may date or pigeonhole them and come out as one of only a handful of practitioners who simply deliver old-school heavy metal.
Is it "as good" as The Blackening seems to be the question everyone wants to answer regarding Unto the Locust and it's a goddamn ridiculous question. Same band, different record. Will it meet with the same unanimous acclaim as The Blackening? Who knows? Probably not. Some people cannot help but endlessly rank records against one another. I love them both and don't know which I would choose, if I had to, to take to the desert island. I can answer this, though; have I been playing the hell out of The Blackening for the last 24 hours? Fuck, no. I've been busy with Unto the Locust.