Machine Head

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author AP date 09/10/19 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

Things seem to have calmed down in the Machine Head camp at last, following the departure of longtime guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain, and the release of the band’s heavily criticised “Catharsis” album in 2018. New members have been instated (Decapitated’s Wacław ‘Vogg’ Kiełtyka on guitar and Devilment’s Matt Alston on drums) and time has been set aside to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of “Burn My Eyes” on an extensive world tour, of which tonight’s concert also is a part. Indeed, the negative atmosphere that hung over Machine Head for more than a year seems to have evaporated, and both they and their fans seem ready to open the next chapter in the story of this iconic band — no wonder then, that Amager Bio is at maximum capacity this evening, buzzing with anticipation for what is certain to be a marathon concert featuring not only “Burn My Eyes” played in full by the original line-up (with Logan Mader on guitar and Chris Kontos on drums), but also a thorough examination of the group’s repertoire from 1994 to 2018.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Bruse thor Straten


Machine Head

After the lights dim and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman” announces the imminent arrival of Machine Head on stage, a deafening roar sweeps through the venue and once the four musicians have taken their positions, we are immediately treated to a classic in the form of “Imperium” taken from 2003’s “Through the Ashes of Empires”. Unfortunately, it takes the entire span of the song before the sound engineer on duty has got all of his dials on the correct setting, and so really it is the following “Take My Scars” off 1997’s “The More Things Change…” that serves as the real beginning of these proceedings. It is not too often one gets to experience the brutal groove of this track, and its inclusion on the setlist may in fact be a byproduct of Kiełtyka having joined the band, given his background in laying down exactly this kind of dense slabs with his 7-string guitar for Decapitated. And though frontman Rob Flynn and bassist Jared MacEachern invite most of the spotlight onto themselves with their customarily imposing performances, neither Kiełtyka nor his new colleague Alston are lacking in showmanship either. As the familiar chants of “Machine-fucking-Head! Machine-fucking-Head!” blast out of the crowd, I get the feeling that this show is going to make me forget all about the disappointing gig at VEGA in 2018, and indeed, there seems to be a whole other vibrancy about the quartet here than was the case that time. Flynn & co. are radiating energy, and although his constant need to ask us, “Copenhagen, Denmark, are you ready to go f**king crazy?” does admittedly grow trite pretty fast, it is hard to resist being pulled along by what is shaping up to be something of a power demonstration by the quartet.

A pulverising rendition of “Beautiful Mourning” off the band’s 2007 masterpiece “The Blackening” is exactly the fodder the audience needs for generating the first circlepit of the evening, and the mayhem continues into the nu metallic “Bulldozer” (taken from 2001’s “Supercharger”), in which Kiełtyka is finally able to enlist the seventh string to add extra depth to the song’s final breakdown. Moshing is replaced with a resounding singalong as the festivities are given an anthemic sheen by “Locust” (from 2011’s “Unto the Locust”), which even has the audience humming Flynn’s lead melody amidst the eerie, green lighting — but the respite is very brief, as “Killers & Kings” (off 2014’s “Bloodstone & Diamonds”), and especially a blistering version of the crossover-style “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)” quickly and bluntly restores cacophony to the floor, with the pit now spanning virtually the entire width and depth of the downstairs area. It is nice to see Machine Head embrace their vitriol once again; I don’t think I’ve ever heard MacEachern’s backing vocals sound so acerbic and bitter as they do here, just as I had forgotten how devastating the final, almost death metal-like segment in the end of this song really is. After this violent rattling by the collar, Kiełtyka delivers a noisy and effect-laden guitar solo, before all but Flynn exit the stage to make room for his now-signature speech about Flynn’s love of playing in Denmark and music in general, while he strums a handful of chords in a long intermezzo leading into “Darkness Within”. It happens every time, but unlike so many other artists, there is always something new and insightful in his words, and, having been praised so much, the crowd repays Flynn’s kind words with a chilling response to this stunning piece of music — one that continues long after the song has rung out, and has Flynn bowing to us on the verge of tears after.

With the exception of the crowd-uniting classic “Halo” in the end, the final segment of the first set that begins with the title track to “Catharsis” is when some of the steam starts to run out of both the band and the audience. Neither “From This Day” nor “Ten Ton Hammer” have ever ranked anywhere near my favourite Machine Head tracks, while the inclusion of the bizarre standalone single “Is There Anybody Out There?” from 2016 at a point in the set when it should be reaching a climax, sends me out of the room in search of beer before the big rush during the upcoming break. And as such, even though “Halo” is delivered in a usually epic rendition that leaves me breathless, I am left thinking if Machine Head didn’t overreach a little bit by letting the ‘warm-up’ set last a staggering 110 minutes! If you ask me, some of these tracks should have been shaved from the setlist so as to preserve the sense of domination that marked the first 2/3s of the concert. But there is little time for such grievances, as the main event is about to begin…

I was 6 years old when “Burn My Eyes” was unleashed upon the world, so it would be untruthful of me to claim it is an album that shaped by upbringing, let alone my own musical growth. But having said that, I don’t think there are many thrash metal connoisseurs out there who don’t consider it to be a crucial part of the genre’s evolution and heritage. The war cry, “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast!”, from “Davidian” is likely one of the most recognised lyrics in metal in general, and judging by the thunder with which the crowd roars those words during this set opener, it has lost none of its significance 25 years on. There is a clear difference between this set and the first, as with Mader & Kontos now on stage with Flynn & MacEachern, it seems like Flynn takes a step back and deflates his ego somewhat in order to let the music speak for itself. We are truly in ‘90s thrash metal territory now, with the likes of “Old” and “A Thousand Lies” both delivered in caustic, groovy and heavy versions of themselves. Flynn’s vocals sound as harsh as ever, and while he is less confrontational in his interactions with the audience during this part of the concert, there is no denying the passion with which he lays down the riffs and rips out the guitar solos together with his former compatriot, Mader. Perhaps the most fitting way to describe the “Burn My Eyes” set is that it is elegant. The mixture of moody lighting and raw, hard-hitting thrash metal tracks being aired give these proceedings a distinctly old-school vibe and provides a continue flow of fuel for the moshpit, which, despite having been operational for almost 3 hours by now, shows no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping.

Only after Flynn and his colleagues have shown their gratitude to the fans gathered here by playing a cover of Mercyful Fate’s “Evil” does the balloon of energy begin to deflate, culminating in Flynn’s screaming “That is not a pit!” just before “Block” takes over to bring things to a conclusion. I cannot blame people for being tired after this three-hour pummeling, and while it certainly has had its ups and downs, it is nonetheless one of the concerts that you should be sorry to have missed. The floor is sticky with beer, the air is humid from sweat, and necks are sore from headbanging — exactly as it should be after a thrash metal marathon.

8

Setlist:

— Set I: An Evening with Machine Head —

  • 01. Imperium
  • 02. Take My Scars
  • 03. Now We Die
  • 04. Beautiful Mourning
  • 05. Bulldozer
  • 06. Locust
  • 07. Killers & Kings
  • 08. I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)
  • 09. Aesthetics of Hate
  • guitar solo by Wacław Kiełtyka
  • 10. Darkness Within
  • 11. Catharsis
  • 12. From This Day
  • 13. Ten Ton Hammer
  • 14. Is There Anybody Out There?
  • 15. Halo

— Set II: Burn My Eyes —

  • 16. Davidian
  • 17. Old
  • 18. A Thousand Lies
  • 19. None but My Own
  • 20. The Rage to Overcome
  • 21. Death Church
  • 22. A Nation on Fire
  • 23. Blood for Blood
  • 24. I’m Your God Now
  • 25. Evil (Mercyful Fate cover)
  • 26. Block

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