It’s fair to say that Machine Head have led a lengthy and illustrious career that many metal bands can only dream of. Since forming in 1991, they’ve solved over 3 million records worldwide spanning across eight full-length albums. They’ve headlined festivals across the world, including Soundwave, Wacken, and Bloodstock, and opened for Metallica at London’s Wembley Stadium.
They’ve also been cited as major influences by Bullet For My Valentine and Trivium, and they’re now on the cusp of their ninth effort, ‘Catharsis’, their second record since signing with Nuclear Blast, and it’s looking to be the most controversial move of their career.
Enigmatic vocalist Robb Flynn opens the album with a full-throttle “FUCK THE WORLD!” on opener ‘Volatile’. It’s an anthemic, attitude-laden rager, and guitarist Phil Demmel is on form, delivering chunky, thrashy grooves that hark back to the band’s ‘The Burning Red’ days.
Eponymous track ‘Catharsis’ is another huge slab of unrelenting, riff-packed goodness. “Just like a muse / A drug I abuse / You’re there to watch me crumble” spits Flynn, and bassist Jared MacEachern lends his impressive backing vocals here too. It’s both pensive and purging, and therefore aptly named. A solid, promising start to the record… and then things start to get a little weird.
The band go all hard rock on the bland ‘California Bleeding’; all raspy vocals and derivative guitars, they’re at their most radio-friendly, but it doesn’t sit well. Neither does forced rap metal venture ‘Triple Beam’, telling a tale of street violence that’s trying way too hard to be edgy. You’re left feeling like you’re listening to a watered down Limp Bizkit.
Politically charged epic ‘Bastards’ starts out well. Penning a heartfelt acoustic letter to his sons about his worries for their future, given the turbulent state of the world, Flynn showcases why he’s one of the most versatile vocalists in metal. “Boys, you are the future / So let this be a lesson / There may come a day you’ll have to fight off their aggression”, it’s genuine and undeniably passionate, until it degenerates into unnecessarily brash folk rock, and becomes cringy where it could’ve been charming.
This is Machine Head though, and it has to be said that the songcraft is excellent, as is customary. There is real work put into every track, and every kick, lick, and snarl is polished to perfection. It’s just that they sound best when they’re not trying desperately hard to be different. ‘Hope Begets Hope’ is a return to form and an instant classic banger, whilst ‘Heavy Lies The Sun’ is a nine-minute historical chronicle that only a band of this calibre can make work.
This is a record that will undoubtedly divide fans and critics alike. When it’s good, it’s excellent, but the worst moments feel as though the band sat in a room and pondered how best to record their mid-life crisis. Some may find the new direction a refreshing change, pleased that Machine Head are breaking their tried and true formula. But, for those who will consider this an unmistakeable misfire… well, we’ve always got ‘The Blackening’, eh?