Machine Head

Bloodstone & Diamonds

Written by: AP on 29/11/2014 16:13:06

Discounting the questionable decisions that led to 2001’s “Supercharger”, Bay Area thrashers Machine Head have always cut a distinguished figure, and, across their 23-year career, established themselves as one of the trustiest purveyors of testosterone jammed metal. A visionary band, their credentials were immortalised in song on their magnum opus “The Blackening” (released in 2007), which by any measure now stands as one of the most crucial albums the genre has seen, right up there in the esteemed company of “Master of Puppets”, “Reign in Blood” et al.; and which despite my momentary, and admittedly rash enthusiasm about 2011’s ”Unto the Locust”, the group will almost certainly never top. Admission to that notion is sobering - and necessary; for to hold this eighth studio album “Bloodstone & Diamonds” up against the standard of “The Blackening” would be to do its merits disservice. Masterpieces do not emerge often, and for two of such to exist in a single band’s repertoire seems nigh impossible.

Clocking in just shy of 71 minutes, “Bloodstone & Diamonds” is the longest and most ambitious of Machine Head’s undertakings, with the violin led introduction to opening track “Now We Die” instantly betraying Robb Flynn & co.’s well documented appetite for grandeur. The trouble is - and forgive me for spoiling the (inevitable) verdict this early in the review - “The Blackening” could achieve that magnificence without such gimmicks, purely through strength of songwriting, sublime melodies and a production mix that was both raw, and vast. At one hour of running length, and with a clear red chord running through its core, that album felt infinitely more focused than the assortment of often disparaging tracks that comprise “Bloodstone & Diamonds”. When it reaches its pinnacles however, there is no denying the prowess of Flynn and his compatriots lead guitarist Phil Demmel, drummer Dave McClain & newly joined bassist Jared MacEachern, at writing immersive, hard-hitting prog-thrash anthems for the ages.

From the fist clenching pummel of its verses to Flynn's bellowing of "Ashes to ashes, the ocean crashes. Louder and louder it cries, over and over. The sands wash over; facing, embracing the tides. And with this now we die." in the chorus as the violins swirl in once more, "Now We Die" is one such piece. Another is the crushingly belligerent "Night of Long Knives" which, despite borrowing its title from the infamous purge which took place in Nazi Germany in 1934, alludes to the cult of Charles Manson and chisels itself forever among the finest songs Machine Head have written with its towering and unforgettable chorus "City of the angels, sanity deprived. The family fatal, they bring the night of long knives. Deserts and the devil, rapist of mind; the family fatal, they bring the night of long knives.". Elsewhere, the subdued aquatic notes and Demmel's tapped lead at the beginning of "Eyes of the Dead" lay the foundation for another staple Machine Head track fusing bombast, ferocity and magnificence, the way in which the cascading scales of the solo give way to a crescendo of monumental proportions at the end in particular leaving a lasting impression.

Far from a misstep then, "Bloodstone & Diamonds" continues the strong tradition by which Machine Head have always sworn, of writing colossally proportioned, progressive thrash metal with a mainstream edge. Of this "In Comes the Flood" is a classic example: the shrewd pairing of Flynn's antagonistic roaring of "I don't give a fuck if I'm rich, motherfucker. We bought that line 'cause we're a bunch of suckers. We're fighting for the scraps, we've left our conscience lapse, by turning cash into a god." atop brutal chugging in the verse, with a stunning lead and the clean sung "In comes the flood. Wake up America!" (a subtle tribute to "Halo", perhaps?) in the chorus, strikes a vivid contrast and drills this song into memory eternal.

But simultaneously, one wonders if it would not have been wiser to shave five or six of the track on offer here. For "Bloodstone & Diamonds" features its fair share of perplexing cuts, such as the djenty celebration of the band's nu-metal period in the early naughties that is "Beaneath the Slit", the utterly forgettable ballad "Damage Inside", and "Imaginal Cells" which is essentially an instrumental backdrop to sampled apocalyptic snippets from the audiobook Spontaneous Evolution by Dr. Bruce Lipton & Steve Bhaerman. The latter's positioning as the second last song on the album is especially puzzling as it seems to serve little purpose there as opposed to introducing the album. And although the long winding "Sail into the Black" justifies its existence in the last third, the song spends far too much of its running length in contemplative melancholy reminiscent - I kid you not - of the post-supper a cappella sung by the dwarves at Bilbo Baggins' home in Peter Jackson's film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Effectively thus, the oddly intriguing "Game Over", which in sections cradles the group's nu-metal influences to much better results than "Beneath the Slit", marks the end of the truly worthwhile segment of the album. And as such, the primary hindrance to "Bloodstone & Diamonds" consolidating itself in the same league as its two predecessors is its relative lack of sharpness in finding a clear purpose. On it Machine Head appear to have shown little restraint in incorporating the full extent of their ideas, which regrettably sound missplaced at times. At the same time, there are instances, such as lead single "Killers & Kings", the following "Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones" and "Take Me Through the Fire" that offer little new to the palette; solid, yet autopiloted Machine Head stuff that neither disappoint nor truly impress. Call me a prude, but it seems to me that on "Bloodstone & Diamonds", the band let their ambitions get ahead of themselves, and forgot at times the essential savvy for maintaining the listener's undivided interest.

Download: Now We Die, Night of Long Knives, Eyes of the Dead, In Comes the Flood, Game Over
For the fans of: DevilDriver, Slipknot, Sylosis, Trivium
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Release date 07.11.2014
Nuclear Blast Entertainment

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