Jamie Bailey reviews metal super stars, Machine Head's, latest effort.
If you asked a group of 18-year-old, politically uneducated teens to write an album in the style of Machine Head, this is what you’d get.
Machine Head have been a driving force at the heart of the global metal scene for nearly 2 decades. Their sonic approach has been diverse, exploring nu-metal, groove metal and heavy thrash. I have always found myself able to find gems within a Machine Head album as Rob Flynn and co. have the ability to create arena filling tunes. This time, however, finding the light was a lot harder.
Catharsis marks a change in the approach of Machine Head. I nearly wrote progression, but it certainly is not a progression. The band has never been afraid of exploring political themes, using interesting metaphors and concepts throughout their career. This time, however, Rob Flynn drops all subtlety from his lyrical approach, and dives head first into an album that gives us nearly an hour and a quarter of in-yer-face politics, preaching and poor judgement.
Lyrical maturity seems to completely disappear from Machine Head’s arsenal with this album, as the opening line of the opening track is a scream of “fuck the world”. Even when the musicianship on this album resembles that of their previous accomplishments, the lyrics merely sound like an angry teenager shouting at his parents. If you want to write an album where you shove your political agenda in the faces of your diverse fanbase, don’t sound like an immature, uneducated child. Please. Volatile seems to be a strong example of what is to follow on the album: A less-inspired version of Machine Head’s famous instrumental production, coupled with no-nonsense, generic political rants.
The title track of the album comes next, and this sounds far more like the Machine Head we have seen on the previous releases Bloodstone & Diamonds and Locust. A gloriously meaty riff, dreamy lead guitar lines twinkling in the background, and a diverse vocal range. If only the entire album followed the quality of this song. Beyond The Pale follows, with a silky groove riff which is instantly captivating. The vocal performance is not as strong as Catharsis, and some of the dual-guitar harmonies sound odd in the mix, but the song is by no means awful, especially compared to the next 12 songs of the album.
There is nothing to say about California Bleeding – it is simply a boring, ball-lacking political outburst that doesn’t really leave any lasting impact, much like the album as a whole. Triple Beam is a truly atrocious track which tries to incorporate some form of ghetto rap which does not work by any stretch of the imagination. Stick to what you know. “This is what happens when you balance life on a triple beam” is the least inspiring chorus I have heard in my life. The second half of the song sees vocalist Flynn attempting to tell a gritty story of a knife-fight, but it sounds like a misguided campfire horror story told by the worst storyteller of all time. The conviction to the drama of the song leads to a cringe worthy 4 and a half minutes. I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed for the band as I listened to it.
Kaleidoscope follows, and brings with it more cringe. The clapping introduction to the song reminds me of noughties pop anthems. This, coupled with yet another failed attempt at an inspiring political anthem, completes another awkward experience. The vocal performance is also poor, I can’t believe that this was Rob’s best vocal take in the studio for this song.
The most awkward moment in the album comes with Bastards. The song, which Flynn wrote for his sons, incorporates a Flogging Molly folk-style instrumentation, with the worst lyrical choices I have heard in a long time. Firstly, if you want to be taken seriously when creating a powerful tribute to your children about taking on the world, make sure the lyrics aren’t; “Yesterday I told my sons, "Sometimes the bad guys win." And that it made me scared about the world that we live in But I had to reassure them that it wouldn’t be for long Sons we have to be ourselves We have to be strong”
As if the first verse wasn’t awkward enough, the bridge takes us to a whole new level. Re-enter the teenage boy shouting at his parents “No no no no no, F*ck No! No no no no no, F*ck No!”. It gets even worse. The use of the terms “faggots, niggas and spiks” in the song as an attempt to overcome prejudice is such a totally catastrophic misfire, I can’t believe the band’s label allowed them to use such terms. I’m all for removing stigma from phrases, but this song is a huge mistake. At least it makes the song the most memorable on an album that lacks a musical arc.
With 8 songs left on the album, it takes a superhuman effort to power through to the end. Hope Begets Hope, Screaming at The Sun, Psychotic, Grind You Down and Razorblade smile are all the same song, rehashed and repackaged in different immature lyrics. We get it, you hate the system, the world is fucked. Now sing about something else. Behind A Mask is a breath of atmospheric fresh air. Eulogy is as if Machine Head wanted to recreate Damage Inside from Bloodstone and Diamonds, but using lyrics from Bastards. It is a waste of 6 and a half minutes to close off the album.
The one shining light in this album is the epic track Heavy Lies the Crown, bringing back the maturity and power of previous Machine Head releases.
Catharsis is far too long. 6 or 7 of the tracks are forgettable, boring and should not have left the demo stage. All artists have to create a misfiring release at some point, and this is a truly catastrophic drop in form from the heavy metal titans Machine Head.