By Machine Head
Anyone who appreciates the art of metal can instantly recall the feeling and impact of hearing Machine Head's seminal 1994 debut album, "Burn my Eyes" for the first time. The incalculably influential record would serve as the Oakland natives' magnum opus for over ten years until the breathtaking 2007 paragon "The Blackening", which affirmed the band's relevance in today's contemporary metal scene. So we arrive more than eleven years removed from the baptism of Robb Flynn's baby, as the indelible front man and co face the daunting task of following up one of the greatest albums of the last ten years.
"Unto the Locust" erupts into life with opening track, "I am Hell (Sonata in C #). Building through an epically heavy intro and progressing into a viscously paced thrash attack; accentuated nefariously by Dave Mclain's massive crash cymbal. The frantic anthem divulges a tidy chorus, which is celestially accented with melody based lead work. The introduction of lead guitarist Phil Demmel for the 2004 release, "Through the Ashes of Empires" brought a fresh, technical edge to Machine Head; just like with "The Blackening" the six-string wizard appears to have been allowed free rein over his solos. A combination of massive bends, dive-bombs and smooth sweep-picking, blended with a sharp dual assault with Flynn (who is no slouch himself), produces a prudent petite lead break and the song is brought home by a crushing outro, containing the chorus melody slowed right down to half time.
"Be Still and Know" is a mid-tempo maraud which juxtaposes 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures. During the chorus Flynn displays his impressive vocal range, yet the plodding nature of the track does become slightly tedious. The pace is picked up as the wah laden solo begins, which soon shifts into 16 bars of lead work curiously similar to the duel shredding of "Aesthetic of Hate". It is not too presumptuous to speculate that Flynn has simply reprised the section to evoke the sentiment of the original song.
Lead single "Locust" builds splendidly from a cleanly picked intro, to what will become the chorus riff; the tone of which is wholly majestic. The simple, yet incredibly infectious four note verse is full of groove, damned heavy and full of the old Machine Head favourites: natural harmonics. More impressive sweeping and mind-bendingly fast pull-offs from Demmel is enough to muse on how far the band has come since the dismal offerings that were the 1999 Ross Robinson produced "The Burning Red", and the solo deficient horrible sounding 2003 album "Supercharger". A titanic beat-down closes out the track around the seven and a half minute mark, which will no doubt be butchered for the radio edit.
Clean acoustic picking ushers in "This is the End", while long serving bassist Adam Duce provides the melody until the ferocious tremolo riff annihilates the melancholic atmosphere, accented by some imposing patterns from drummer Mclain. More impressive range is displayed by Flynn throughout the chorus and nicely polarised with the all out thrash-attack verse. Some impressive song writing is displayed with the ingenious use of a catchy one-bar riff, shepherding in a half-time drum fill which slows proceedings right down; before resurrecting the all out thrash assault, complete with a 80's style solo.
So we reach the point in almost every Machine Head album: the ballad. Unlike "Halo", "Now I Lay Thee Down" or even "Descend the Shades of Night", this time around "Darkness Within" quite frankly doesn't have enough to sink your teeth into. The heaviness eventually arrives for 8 bars, however it is not enough to resurrect this perishing number. Call it personal taste, but this is the side of Machine Head I could do without.
"Pearls Before the Swine" is more in the vein of the rest of the album. Huge toms augment the superstructing guitars and a more obvious 3/4 to 4/4 time shift is instantly gratifying. Yet again there is notable vocal talent shown during the melodic interlude before a reversion to thrashtastic solo and a further cyclopean beatdown closing. Potentially this track could have been sensational; instead it follows an emerging structural pattern and therefore leaves you with a sense of slight dissatisfaction.
Pink Floyd comparisons aside, album closer "Who we are" begins with an eerily performed version of the tracks chorus by a collection of young children. Perennial teenager Robb Flynn takes over vocal duties and the number bursts into a "Blood for Blood" style riff-fest. The lyrics serve as an affirmation for the fans of the band and a manifesto for the legendary four-piece. "We are the young, And young at heart", roars the metal equivalent of Peter Pan during a number that could easily have gone the way of the disastrously abominable "American High"; fortunately a stunning solo and riffage Judas Priest would be proud of preserves its integrity. I would put money on this being the second single to be released; it is arguably the high point of the entire record.
The deluxe addition of the album contains two covers and an acoustic rendition of "Darkness Within". The latter is instantly forgettable, however a mammoth version of Rush's "Witch Hunt"; complete with brain-busting time changes is well worth a listen. An omnipotent cover of Judas Priest's "The Sentinel" is well worth the extra £3 and comes within a natural harmonic's ring of eclipsing the original material of the band.
Generally Machine Head have followed up their 2007 masterpiece as well as can be expected. The album has numerous high points and only a couple of low ones. The band may not have evolved much since "The Blackening", but damn near perfection is hard to improve on.