Robb Flynn recently gave an interview with Midwest Metal, an extract of their discussion follows:
Midwest Metal: MACHINE HEAD has always had its share of longer songs. However on “Through the Ashes of Empires” you seemed to take it a bit further. Now on “The Blackening” there's some of the longest songs you've ever done. I know you don't start off with a nine- or ten-minute idea, when do you say when or when do you just finish a song? How does it build?
Flynn: Yeah, there's no grand vision, that's for sure (laughing)! Wouldn't be awesome to just sit here and say, “Yes, I have this grand vision of a ten-minute song and here it is.” But it doesn't work like that. Basically it just builds and we'll be in the rehearsal room and be totally “Beavis and Butthead”… “Yes! that part rules, no, that part sucks.” It is as simple as that, kinda. After doing this for so long we've also learned that initial impressions are not always going to be initial impressions. There's some stuff on the album that I did not like at all when it was first written, but that can change maybe as you get more familiar with it or put something in front of or behind it. With these long songs, if you listen to them yeah, they're long but in a lot of ways there's still a conventional song structure. It's still very much like a pop song in the classic sense of what a pop song is where there's verse, bridge, chorus etc. With us it's just there's a lot of other parts and transitions, so instead of going back to what we did earlier in the song we try to interject something new into the song. But while, I guess building the song we'll be in the practice name dropping bands left and right, like “We need a JUDAS PRIEST part here or an ALICE IN CHAINS part there,” and it usually doesn't work but it get us trying different things and seeing what works. If you look at a song like “Clenching…” there's a good five minutes in the middle of the song where it goes in a bunch of different directions. We bring it back to the second verse and that goes to the build up and ultimately goes into the chorus as that's the part where I finally say “Clenching the Fists of Dissent“…so it takes a while to get there. So getting there, as arcane as it sounds, it's just what feels right. We started writing that song in May of 2006 and I was still working on things up until November, I mean there was a day of drum tracks done and I was still trying different things, having Adam [Duce] play six different bass lines, getting rid of things that didn't fit, extending things that needed extending.
Midwest Metal: The intro is cool as it's not the typical “metal intro,” it definitely sets a mood and that mood pretty much keeps its presence throughout the album.
Flynn: Ah, the intro (laughing)! The intro was so massive, it had to become its own song…and when I say that I mean it took up like 86 tracks so we had to focus on it like a separate track as the song didn't have the room for it. The intro was originally going to be a bunch of samples kind of like a “Real Eyes, Realize” kind of vibe but with anti-war samples and pro-war samples, stuff like that. We did all the legwork as far as getting all the samples but the task of arranging everything just became so overwhelming and daunting, I mean we were supposed to be in the middle of editing all this and I told Vinny [Wojno] I had this idea.
Before I get too far, we had a mix of the intro done in England by Colin (Richardson) but it just really didn't work, Mark Keaton had a family situation so he wasn't available so Vinny and I mixed it. So anyway I told Vinny I'm going to set up a microphone, go into the booth and just scream a bunch of crazy shit and hopefully some of it would work (laughing). We'd been working on it for days at that point, fifteen tracks of snare, six tracks of kick drums, four acoustic, five tracks of electric guitar, but above it all I wanted this narrative. So I went in and screamed, some of it is lyrics but most of it was shit from the top of my head and we did a few takes like that. After the fifth Vinny said the last one gave him chills so that was all I needed to hear and this was January 2007.
Midwest Metal: So you're writing songs, writing lyrics, producing songs, playing guitar and basically never leaving the studio. How were you able to separate yourself from all of these things, I mean say at night and it's time to leave weren't you just neck deep in it all?
Flynn: Well, the producing thing is not that hard to separate; it's just kind of like I go at it with a certain vibe in mind and I'll sit there and wait until I hear it. Drum wise, we did so much pre-production and I threw so many fucking crazy ideas at Dave [McClain] that we had all things drums narrowed down. Dave nailed, I'd say, 98% of all the drums in a day and a half…which for me was just incredible…I mean he was doing ten minute songs and nailing them on the second take, things like that make producing pretty easy!
Midwest Metal: What songs were the toughest for you, be it guitar playing or singing?
Flynn: Well, the three toughest were “Farewell to Arms“, “Clenching…” and “Wolves” just because there's a zillion fucking riffs. “Wolves” I have to say was incredibly tough, we double-track all the guitars on both sides so that shit has got to be tight as hell, and those thrash riffs caused a lot of tracking and re-tracking and tuning and re-tuning. Another thing about that song was when we went in the studio; I had no idea where I was going with the song. I had a few random lyric ideas but thought all of them sucked, even the vocal patterns weren't going anywhere. At one point it was going to be an instrumental, we loved the music but it just wasn't coming together. A lot of things right around this time started to, uh, well time wise we were running a little slower than we wanted to, so that was building, right? So again at that time we realized just how much more had to be done, how much more layering of things and really we had a lot more to do than we thought…
Read the entire interview at www.midwestmetalmagazine.com.