Machine Head


Written by: AP on 28/01/2018 22:18:43

Nu-metal is on the rise again, and its surging popularity has driven many bands to abandoning their sound in exchange for airtime on the radio and big letters on festival line-ups. But it is nonetheless surprising that a group of Machine Head’s calibre should jump on the bandwagon, as for more than a decade, the Oakland, CA-based titans have borne the torch in terms of pushing the envelope of thrash metal and earned a reputation of visionaries. Most people would agree that the band’s 2007 masterpiece, “The Blackening”, represents some of the finest music ever released in the genre, and as such, one struggles to comprehend how a helter skelter record like this new outing “Catharsis” could have been sanctioned as a worthy addition to Machine Head’s (mostly) admired repertoire. As already hinted at, the album leans heavily into the band’s controversial millennial era that brought us rapping vocals and nu-metal chugs in “The Burning Red” and “Supercharger”, but compared to those efforts, it lacks consistency, control and, above all, a sense of purpose. It sounds like a midlife crisis.

There is no way to sugarcoat it — “Catharsis” brings the decline that began with 2011’s “Unto the Locust” and was exacerbated by 2014’s “Bloodstone & Diamonds” to its logical conclusion. At first, it is difficult to fathom how Machine Head could have inflicted so much self-harm, but looking at the release notes, the main suspect seems to be frontman Robb Flynn, who is listed as having produced the album himself. That would make sense because everything about it screams lack of moderation; someone to fence in some of the wilder ideas that have been given free reign here. The record spans across a staggering 74 minutes, yet outside of the fiery political rhetoric carried by each song, it is hard to uncover a red thread that might imbue “Catharsis” with a touch of continuity. There is a burst of vitriolic nu-metal à la Slipknot here (“Volition”), a slice of groove metal in the vein of Lamb of God there (“Razorblade Smile”), some Celtic flavoured stadium balladry that sounds like Dropkick Murphys, Stone Sour and Volbeat jamming together halfway (“Bastards”), and even a touch of very average djent near the end (“Grind You Down”) to round off the carpet bombing approach. One struggles to follow Flynn’s train of thought, and it does not help that his lyrics are so ineloquent — something that his colleagues, guitarist Phil Demmel, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Dave McClain, are powerless to obscure this time.

When Metal Hammer decided that Flynn ”(…) has thrown caution to the wind”, the magazine was onto something — nothing else can explain why “California Bleeding” and “Triple Beam” should be allowed to fly Machine Head’s banner. The former sounds like the miscarriage that happens when Avenged Sevenfold and Hollywood Undead try to crossbreed, while the latter’s vulgar rapping about drugs, prostitution and knife violence is certain to reduce even the most dedicated fan to tears. The two have the distinct honour of ranking as the most cringeworthy stuff that Machine Head has ever put out and come December, they are also likely to be remembered as the worst songs of 2018. The despair they must arouse in any self-respecting metalhead is only slightly assuaged by the handful of singles that, when heard in isolation, are actually pretty passable. “Kaleidoscope” enlists a strong chorus to emerge as one of the more memorable cuts that “Catharsis” has to offer, while both “Hope Begets Hope” and “Screaming at the Sun” provide convincing examples of the alternative metal genre that, at the very least, should be received well as soundtracks to some good ol’ moshpit action.

But although there are glimmers of hope scattered amongst — most notably “Beyond the Pale”, with its more classic Machine Head style, and “Heavy Lies the Crown”, which sees the band ambitiously adapt the drama and grandeur of “The Blackening” to a nu-metal formula — even the moments that inspire the most optimism tend to feel like spillovers from older, better albums. A baffling fall from grace though “Catharsis” may be, however, the history of this band has taught us to remain hopeful; after “Supercharger” came the monolithic “Through the Ashes of Empires” and it is entirely possible that now Machine Head have exercised their liberty to f**k around a bit, they might concentrate all of their creative talent and technical prowess into another iconic piece of music on par with their mid-‘00s golden era. Until then, “Catharsis” is best left buried and forgotten as a grotesque lapse in judgment.


Download: Beyond the Pale, Hope Begets Hope, Heavy Lies the Crown
For the fans of: Chimaira, Lamb of God, Slipknot
Listen: Facebook

Release date 26.01.2018
Nuclear Blast Records

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