Machine Head : Catharsis

This Friday, Machine Head are about to bring out ‘Catharsis’. It is album No.9 for the Oakland raiders, and despite the fact that there are no two Machine Head albums out there that sound the same; this one has caused a bit of fuss before it has even been released.

Machine Head’s relationship with the press and the rest of metal’s outspoken commentators has been undulating, to say the least. From being championed as pioneers in the early days, ridiculed during those spikey haired years and then re-building their stature from ‘Ashes…’ onwards. The last few albums have been received with much less extremities of opinion. It did seem that Machine Head were just slotting into the role of a classic band delivering the goods (time and time again) post ‘The Blackening’ album.

That all changed in the build-up to this album when Robb compared this latest release, ‘Catharsis’, to ‘The Burning Red’. Less thrash, more groove… Knives were immediately drawn and you could hear them being sharpened all over the internet; all ready for a good old Machine Head slaying.

Do Machine Head care? Do they f*ck.

Any early signs that Machine Head have lost the plot are distinctly absent. ‘Volatile’ winds into action without delay featuring some quick fire riffing and a massive “Fuck the World” opening lyric. There’s a big filthy breakdown in the middle and then the guitar solos come rolling in. It’s all pretty typical. As in, rip-sportingly good “typical”.

The first third of the album, yields few surprises. The album title track, in particular, sounds as though it will soon be cemented into the setlist forever more. That spine-tingling intro, swirling thrashy guitars, bouncing chorus and the too-and-fro between mellow and venom-laced vocals. ‘Catharsis’ has all the vital ingredients of a classic Machine Head track.

So far, so Machine Head, so what?

And then, in drops ‘Triple Beam’ complete with a dirty street hip-hop swagger. There are bold references to drugs, hookers and knife wielding all wrapped up and delivered in a long-lost Flynn rap. Yeah… this one is going to get the less open-minded metal fans puking into their cornflakes on Friday morning.

‘Catharsis’ as an album is massively vocal-lead. Where we’ve become accustomed to Machine Head albums being dominated by Robb and Phil trying to out-shred each other; this one is guided by the lyrics. Just about every song on here has perfectly decipherable vocals with Flynn slowing down his style to unleash some urban poetry that delves into personal areas and wider political issues. Robb has had plenty of praise for King 810 in the past and he channels a distinct David Gunn influence on the aforementioned ‘Triple Beam’ and even more so on the sprawling dark epic ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’.

It is certainly a relative change in direction from more recent Machine Head releases but not all that surprising, really. As Jamey Jasta once said: “Robb Flynn is my favourite rapper”. Too right.

Elsewhere, there are quite a few acoustic parts on the record but there’s plenty of mellow slow-burners in the Machine Head back catalogue too. Perhaps the acoustic guitar solo in ‘Behind A Mask’ is little too far. It all gets a bit ‘Bryan Adams Unplugged’ for our liking. There are plenty of heavy numbers to offset these mellower moments. ‘Razorblades Smile’ has a jagged riff and a speedy momentum while ‘Grind You Down’ has a whopping bounce to it.

So there you go. ‘Catharsis’ adds a definite new vibe to proceedings. There’s a nod to the ‘Burning Red/Supercharger’ era but also a desire to tread new ground as Machine Head unveil a darker and edgier attitude. ‘Catharsis’ is more about groove than shredding, but just as importantly amongst all the hoo-ha leading up to this release, there are also plenty of classic sounding bangers too.

Machine Head play by their own rules these days and ‘Catharsis’ only goes to demonstrate that, more clearly than ever.