Expectations are the double-edged sword of life. Its fraternal twin disappointment is at the crux of the core experience of anyone that appreciates art, loves music, etc. People often gravitate to artists as they make a splash on the scene. Hype builds and colours our view of that artist, which gives way to disappointment when they change or sport new influences. This is the challenge for every band out there today, and always has been. This has been the case with all the greats from Led Zeppelin, to Judas Priest, DLR-era Van Halen, Metallica, Pantera, Opeth and many more. Fans won’t let you change, but you have to change. This concept has come to mind with regards to the new album from Machine Head, since they are a band that has set the bar very high in the past. It’s hard to always be measured against the “best thing you ever did”. To complicate things, the band has hardly been a critics darling in their career. Instead they have had to prove themselves over and over. For all the shit Robb Flynn likes to talk, he is clearly conscious of this pressure and he and his band tries to answer that bell every time.
On Bloodstone & Diamonds (Nuclear Blast), answer the bell, they have. Like Unto The Locust, the band continues to drift away from the over the top arrangements of 2007s unstoppable The Blackening and focus on writing epic metal songs. All the elements the band has been working with for most of the last ten years, as well as their classic sounds are all intact, with a few new twists and turns. Tons of grooves, chill-inducing dynamic shifts, and of course, those head-nodding riffs galore are heard. ‘Now We Die’ is the only song that sounds like it could have come off of Unto The Locust with its string arrangement, loud-soft vocals and driving beats. It wouldn’t be a Machine Head album if there wasn’t a few grinding, half-time ending riffs with a pinch squeal tossed in. The previously heard single ‘Killers And Kings’ is the most straight ahead, classic hardcore/thrash track the band has done in while. There are actually a few of these on the album. Both Flynn and Phil Demmel continue to mine the catchy Iron Maiden twin-guitar approach on a lot of tracks, and for me, it still works. If ain’t broke..don’t break it, right? But don’t mistake catchy as a pejorative here; the album is heavy with a capital H. Even when not balls out heavy every song, there is all kinds of crushing moments to sink your teeth into. ‘Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones’ will remind you of old songs such as ‘Days Turn Blue To Grey’ and ‘Halo’. The track features a great vocal performance from Flynn and new addition (not that new really) bassist Jared McEachern. Probably my favorite track is the harsh ‘Night of Long Knives’. Insane tribal drumming, a snarly lead vocal, and chugging guitars made me smile. ‘Sail Into The Black’ sounded like a cross between some of the past MH balladry, yet with avant-garde experimenting and Japanese throat singing. Very cool. Few bands can do the slow boil into sheer musical hell like this band does all in one track.
Other cuts toy with you such as ‘Eyes of the Dead’ and ‘Beneath the Silt’, and ‘Game Over’ coming disguised as bruisers, but turning into fist banging anthems. Let’s also not overlook Mr. Flynn’s lyrics either. Lots of bands are singing about wizards, war and delayed teenage angst; and here is this guy in forties is grounded in mad realism. Writing about grown-up inner conflicts, sounding vulnerable and not seeming full of shit is hard to get away with nowadays. They won’t rope in the far-flung kiddie fans with this stuff, but hey; at least the band knows their audience, and most of all where they fit in. Life is hard Beavis…
Harkening back to the political grizzle of previous albums, ‘In Comes The Flood’ is pissed-off and righteous. More great vocals and guitar stuff to fawn over. Late album cuts like ‘Damage Inside’, and ‘Imaginal Cells’ are forays into types song-craft they haven’t done much in the past and pulled them off exceedingly well. You gotta admire the balls of the a Capella vocal line for more than half the song on ‘Damage…’ by Robb. Who does that? The closing track ‘Take Me Through the Fire’ is all rage, shreddy guitars, and a redonkulous kitchen-sink type performance from drummer Dave McClain.
Many bands have started out hot and fizzled out badly or had trouble staying relevant over time. Machine Head is perhaps the greatest American metal band right now, because they have a sense of purpose about their writing that above all makes you care what they are saying lyrically, and where they can take you musically.
KEITH (KEEFY) CHACHKES