Machine Head are a band that need no introduction. Aside from a ropey period between 1999 and 2001, they've been consistently popular within the metal fraternity. From their humble thrash inspired groove-metal origins, to nu-metal and back to proper metal, they've weathered all kinds of hardships in between, namely record label and band member strife.
I first heard their debut album (Burn My Eyes) in 1994 on a trip to Norwich as a mate of mine had it on tape. Initially, I hated it as it seemed to be two-parts Sepultura, one-part Biohazard and one-part Pantera. But repeated exposure to the video "Davidian" on MTV made me check the album out once again - and I loved it! Along with the likes of "Chaos A.D", "Far Beyond Driven" and "Demanufacture", it pretty much epitomised 90's metal during a time when the Old Guard had split or turned to grunge in an attempt to keep up. Soon, I followed the band and got their other albums such as "The More Things Change", "The Burning Red" and (sigh) "Supercharger". The latter album was pretty much regarded as a stinker due to it's blatant attempt to jump onto the nu-metal bandwagon (If Robb Flynn happens to be reading this, then I'm the guy you slagged off in the Autumn 2003 issue of Metal Hammer just because I didn't like that album. I still don't, btw). Mind, in retrospect, a lot of bands were doing that, most notably Fear Factory and Soulfly, Still, after 2003 and the frankly awesome "Through The Ashes Of Empires", Machine Head once again started to write songs with bite, venom and balls and performed the best comeback since Lazarus. The two albums after that - The Blackening and Unto The Locust - were good, but they didn't really strike me or grab my attention like the albums of the past. It's not like my musical tastes had changed to any degree, but that I just didn't find them very interesting. Not bad, but not great. So, how does this album fare up? Well, it sounds like a band that have more focus and a bit of rejuvenation. Sounds like they got their mojo back to me,,,
The album marks the Machine Head recording career of new bassist Jared MacEachern who replaced lone-time bassist and co-founding member Adam Duce. This means that only Robb Flynn remains from the "Burn My Eyes" line-up.
Opening with "Now We Die" and "Killers & Kings", it showcases a seemingly new found rejuvenation in the band, both songs coming out of the speakers like a greyhound coming out of the traps. Both songs are monstrously heavy and are typical of the dynamic that Machine Head have been plugging for a while, namely 6-7 min songs but with texture, structure and heaviness to them. When they make me think about revisiting the last two albums, it must be something special.
"Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones" is next - and is another good song despite the wanky title. It's one of those 'slow burner' songs the band are good at, a la "Devil With The Kings Card", "Death Church", "Ten Ton Hammer". Robb Flynn throws some singing into the mix as opposed to his "wounded bison" vocals. Then we're onto "Night Of The Long Knives" which ups the speed and goes for it! It tells the story of Charles Manson and his cohorts, as opposed to the night in Germany where Hitler 'retired' his political opponents. Another great solo. Seems they're starting to come back into metal which is good as we could always use a good axe-slinger.
"Sail Into The Black" - here's a good idea for an intro. Hold down the low-C key on a keyboard and multitrack vocals over it to sound like Gregorian chanting. It's never been done before, trust me. Well, we have it - our first dud of the album! Actually, no. It's not a dud but it's also the weakest song so far. Maybe it's because the first four were so good, I dunno. "Eyes Of The Dead" is next and has the clean-intro-with-toms-while-a-widdly-guitar-line-comes-up thing going. It then launches into what sounds like something that could sound like a sea shanty or a thrash masterpiece. Luckily, it goes for the latter. It's about now that I'll mention that the production on this album is excellent. Produced by Robb Flynn and Juan Urteaga, it sounds every bit as big and heavy without relying too much on bells and whistles.
"Beneath The Slit" begins and immediately you can tell they're using 8-string guitars (or have severely tuned down) as the low-end riffs have that sort of twangy effect. It's a good song. Not my fave but close. "In Comes The Flood" is next - and is a really mid-paced song where Robb Flynn gets sweary and angry! The target of this rage? Wall Street. Yup, the man who has made a decent pile of money over the years is having a pop at Wall Street. Luckily it's a great song otherwise this would've looked hypocritical. Mind, as great as the song is, the last band - to my knowledge - who rhymed "motherfucker" with "sucker" were Clawfinger and they were shit, to be fair. Still, a lyric indiscretion aside, it's a great song, "Damage Aside" is a relatively short song for this album at just over three minutes long. First indications are that it's gonna suck as the intro is Robb Flynn crooning. Or maybe that's just me as I fucking hate songs like that. Then the keyboard kicks in and it's like, "have we been listening to Enya?". Probably not as the vocals aren't harmonised and multitracked over two hundred times. Guitars start to swell and it's giving the impression that it's all about to go off soon. But it doesn't. It limps to the finish line in the most painful fashion imaginable. Like Douglas Bader on quaaludes, it doesn't go anywhere fast and comes across more like an extended intro instead of an actual song.
Thank actual fuck that the next song restores order. "Game Over" is it's name and opening with a vicious riff, Spitting venom all over the place over a fast drum beat, it is definitely preferable to the last 'song', Nice guitar harmonics too. "Imaginal Cells" is the other song that's just over three minutes and is an instrumental with sampled speech over the top. Kind of like "Real Eyes Realise Real Lies" off the debut but a bit more mature. The final stretch is in sight via the last song - "Take Me Through The Fire". Seriously, what is it with these wanky songtitles? You'd expect a band like Type O Negative to have these due to the nature of their music and fanbase (mostly goth chicks who wanted to be fucked/murdered by Pete Steele) but not Machine Head! Luckily, it's a song which is definitely worthy of praise.
In fact, the whole album is worthy. Seems like they're continuing on from their comeback album (Through The Ashes Of Empires) and from the albums leading up to this one - that is, songs which although veer on the long side, are not only full of dynamics but also offer contrasts of light and shade with some well written lyrics. Seems the groove-metal of the early days is now a distant memory as the band are all grown up now, and (presumably) no longer on meth. Whilst this change may not sit well with some, it's the place the band are at now, and it's quite remarkable seeing as how in 2001, the band were pretty much on the ropes. It's certainly taken them a while to find a sound they're comfortable with but here is hoping the band continue to make music of this calibre for years to come. The only downside to the album is it kinda blurs into one towards the end. The best songs are all at the start instead of being spread all over the album and that drops a point from the final score. But other than that, it's a welcome return from Robb Flynn and the chaps. If you're reading this Robb, well done to you and the fellas!
7/10. This is good and well worth a check.
Top Track: Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones.
This album is available on iTunes.