Machine Head
Machine Head
Machine Head consisted of vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn (ex-Violence/Forbidden), guitarist Logan Mader, bassist Adam Duce, and drummer Tony Costanza, who was replaced by Chris Kontos, who was also replaced by ex-Sacred Reich drummer Dave McClain who has bee with the band since in 1996. For some reason, when this band first came onto the scene, the and downplayed Flynn's involvement with Violence and tried to distance themselves from the thrash legends. Not sure what the point was in that, as it was one of the interest points for me.

In His Time Machine Head - Burn My Eyes (Roadrunner) 1994

1. "Davidian" (4:56)
2. "Old" (4:06)
3. "A Thousand Lies" (6:14)
4. "None But My Own" (6:15)
5. "The Rage to Overcome" (4:47)
6. "Death Church" (6:34)
7. "A Nation on Fire" (5:34)
8. "Blood for Blood" (3:40)
9. "I'm Your God Now" (5:51)
10. "Real Eyes. Realize. Real Lies" (2:45)
11. "Block" (4:59)

I saw Machine Head opening for Megadeth on their "Risk" tour. I was impressed by Machine Head's aggression, speed and chops. However, I avoided buying any of their CDs due to the 'metalcore' and 'alternative metal' labels that were placed on them. I picked this CD up in a trade in hopes that there may be at least some of what I enjoyed about the band when I saw them live. No doubt, "Burn My Eyes" is not a Violence clone, but Robb Flynn brought in some of that old thrash metal influence. While there certainly is some of that hardcore influence that seems to infest metalcore, "Burn My Eyes" has an equal amount of Slayer/Violence influence, which is what I enjoyed about it. I also think that the songwriting on this CD tends to be a bit more diverse than most metalcore bands, and especially most nu-metal crap. So what this CD exceeds in doing is taking the second wave of thrash metal sound, of which Violence was a part, into the new metal age. Anthems like "Davidian" and "Old" are monstrous slabs of molten modern metal giving Pantera and Grip Inc. a run for their money. I think one other thing that works to their advantage is that the vocals are heavy and aggressive in an almost death metal style, but much more accessible than most death vocalists. It's hard to explain, but the closest example I can think of is possibly Paradise Lost.

Despite my praise of this CD, I am not suggesting that "Burn My Eyes" is all great. There are a few songs that get bogged down, and the lyrics are pure hatred personified. I'm not sure how big of a deal this is though as the vocals are not intelligible for the most part and become just another instrument, as opposed to being the focal point of the songs. Otherwise, I really enjoy this CD from beginning to end. It's a shame that this disc had the terrible 'alternative/nu-metal' label, because it's far better than most band's of that genre. "Burn My Eyes" was one of the fastest and biggest selling debut album in the history of Roadrunner Records.

The More Things Change... Machine Head - The More Things Change... (Roadrunner) 1997

1. Ten Ton Hammer (4:14)
2. Take My Scars (4:19)
3. Struck a Nerve (3:33)
4. Down to None (5:28)
5. The Frontlines (5:51)
6. Spine (6:37)
7. Bay of Pigs (3:46)
8. Violate (7:19)
9. Blistering (4:58)
10. Blood of the Zodiac (6:38)

These guys were seriously ticked off when they wrote and recorded this album. "The More Things Change..." is pure anger and aggression. Actually, that description pretty much sums up the whole 1990's, down-tuned, "modern metal" movement. Bands were no longer 'enjoying life' and 'partying' but instead were more content to be angry at the world, to complain about their pathetic lives, etc. The most noticeable difference between Machine Head's "The More Things Change…" and their debut, "Burn My Eyes" is the song tempos. While "Burn My Eyes" had its share of mid-paced, heavy songs, it also had a number of faster songs. On their sophomore release, Machine Head seems content to just chug along like a locomotive and slam their listeners in the head like a Ten Ton Hammer. I realize that sounds a bit trite, but I can only imagine that the title of the opening track somehow came when the band attempted to describe their own sound. The one exception would be the short punk-inspired, speed metal romp of "Bay of Pigs". The song starts off at a frantic pace and ends on a mid-paced Black Sabbath groove.

"Violate" is over seven minutes long and could almost be considered a doom metal song. Dark and sludgy, the song plods along at a slow pace with occasional busts of angry aggression. In the very last minute of the song, the tempo picks up suddenly like a schoolboy having a temper tantrum. I personally found this to be one of the more interesting songs on the album. The opening track is as heavy as the song title implies. "The Frontiers" offers up some of the best guitar work on the album. The six and a half minute long "Spine" gives each member of the band their chance to shine. The album opens up with a dirty bass intro before busting into an upbeat groove. It's unfortunate that the heavy groove doesn't continue on into the verses instead of the alternative rock sounding clean guitar they used. Flynn uses a snotty sneering talking voice for the verses of the song that builds to an angry shout during the heavier choruses. The song has a sort of Sepultura-like tribal beat throughout and features a Slayer-ish guitar solo in the middle. I'd also say that the song has the distinction of being one of the more dynamic songs on the album.

The other noticeable difference is in the vocals of Robb Flynn as he experiments with his vocals. While his trademark hardcore yell is still firmly in place for most of the record, he also attempts to sing a bit more. "The More Things Change..." also features new drummer Dave McClain who certainly knows his way around a drum kit. His drums work is probably one of the best things about this CD. His furious double bass assault is peppered throughout this CD, even if the overall pace of the album isn't as manic as the debut. Aside from his fast foot work, Dave also offers intricate fills and steady backbone for the songs.

I'm not sure how this particular album got lumped in with "nu-metal" or "mallcore", as it is neither. It's certainly a far cry from the frantic thrash metal of Vio-lence and even the fast paced debut album, but it's definitely not nu-metal either. There is no sampling, rapping, funky slap bass, or the like. It's just angry, heavily down-turned modern metal. (Ok, some versions have a bonus track of the band covering Ice-T's "Colors", but Anthrax and Tourniquet did rap/metal songs and weren't accused of being nu-metal.) "The More Things Change..." is groove based, modern metal with not even the slightest attempt at writing memorable hooks. Frankly I actually wish that the band would had concentrated on writing some more memorable riffs and choruses, rather than on just pure testosterone injected aggression I probably would have liked this album more. As it stands, "The More Things Change..." isn't terrible, but it 's not overly memorable either with the exception of a handful of tracks. Otherwise it nearly all runs together.

Burning Red Machine Head  - The Burning Red (Roadrunner Records) 1999

1.      Enter the Phoenix (:53)
2.      Desire to Fire (4:48)
3.      Nothing Left (4:05)
4.      The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears (4:11)
5.      Silver (3:52)
6.      From This Day (3:56)
7.      Exhale the Vile (4:57)
8.      Message in a Bottle (3:32)
9.      Devil With the King's Card (4:05)
10.     I Defy (3:41)
11.     Five     (5:18)
12.     The Burning Red (6:44)

I was one that read the fan reviews on "The Burning Red" and thought people had to be exaggerating. After all, I had read other reviews of bands accused of selling out to trends and thought the reviewers were loony. As well, I owned "Burn My Eyes". Who could imagine that Machine Head would actually join the legions of terrible rapcore/nu-metal bands? Well, the reviews were 100% correct. If someone had played me this and told me it was Machine Head I would not have believed them. This is horrific nu-metal complete with inane rapping! In short, this total crap! Apparently Robb Flynn thought it would be a good idea to abandon the band's heavy groove metal sound and follow a repugnant trend in rapcore. Of course, to follow this trend, there can be no guitar solos, and indeed there are none. As well, the riffs are simplistic and are heavily downtuned to give the appearance of heavy riffs. In all honestly I had a hard time getting through the first couple tracks without wanting to turn it off. I still can't believe that this is the same band that recorded "Burn My Eyes", yet alone one of the guitarists behind the highly respected Violence. I guess the prospect of selling a million copies was too much to overlook. Unfortunately, I think in the case of Machine Head it backfired. Fans of the band turned in droves and I don't think that fans of Fred Durst picked up on the band. In truth, not every song is terrible, and there are only a handful of tracks with Flynn rapping, but it's still overall a disappointing release. Thankfully Machine Head later returned to bigger and better things. Oh, yes, "Message in a Bottle" is a decent cover of The Police classic hit. Chalk this one up to a bad experiment or just a bad decision.

Supercharger Machine Head - Supercharger (Roadrunner) 2001

1. The Declaration [intro] (1:11)
2. Bulldozer (4:35)
3. White-Knuckle Blackout! (3:14)
4. Crashing Around You (3:13)
5. Kick You When You're Down (4:01)
6. Only The Names (6:07)
7. All In Your Head (4:05)
8. American High (3:48)
9. Brown Acid (:59)
10. Nausea (4:23)
11. Blank Generation (6:38)
12. Trephination (4:58)
13. Deafening Silence (5:32)
14. Supercharger (3:53)

I admit to be a casual Machine Head fan. My initial interest in them was, of course, Rob Flynn who had formerly been part of thrashers Violence. Machine Head's debut was good, if not inventive. After that I didn't really pay much attention to the band as what I heard from follow-up albums really didn't do much for me. Then "The Blackening" was released and I was once again intrigued. It was a solid album and rekindled my interest in the band. At that point, I revisited "Burn My Eyes" and again found it to be a solid and inventive album. Soon after "Supercharger" arrived in my mailbox as a gift from a friend. Sweet! I was anxious to hear what I had missed out on in the time between "Burn My Eyes" and "The Blackening".

I immediately cranked up the volume knob on my CD player and was completely disappointed with what I heard. After a short intro the album kicks off promising enough. The appropriately titled "Bulldozer" starts off with a heavy, crunchy riff and continues to impress for the first minute of the song until suddenly something goes terribly wrong. The song breaks into some really weak nu-metal/radio rock. The follow-up song is pure nu-metal drivel and even features Rob Flynn attempting to pull off some rap-inspired vocals. "Crashing Around You" could have been on a Kid Rock album and no one would have been the wiser. It's at this point that I had a hard time continuing on and really wanted to eject the CD, but alas I forced myself to listen to the whole album. "Kick You When You're Down" starts off promising enough, but then descends into something that sounds like a mixture of Disturbed and Korn. "Only the Name" features Flynn doing some sort of soulful whisper combined with an angry shout that emulates Jonathan Davis of Korn. Unfortunately I just don't think he pulls it off well, especially since I know from the band's debut what he is capable of. "All in Your Head" is 1990's, rap-infused, radio-rock. I could go on song to song, but unfortunately it doesn't really get any better. Yes, "American High" even features scratching under Flynn's pseudo-rapping. How disappointing. Subsequent spins didn't do much to improve my opinion of this album.

What happened to this band between "Burn My Eyes" and "The Blackening"? "Supercharger" is some sort of tangled, confusing, modern rock mess. The whole thing just doesn't feel cohesive at all. I have a hard time even defining this as modern metal as there is very little that I would describe as metal on this disc. Unlike many heavy metal fans, I appreciate and enjoy bands like Sevendust and Disturbed. However, Machine Head's "Supercharger" doesn't even stand up to those bands. After being impressed with "Burn My Eyes" and "The Blackening", this CD is just a huge letdown.

Ashes
Machine Head - Through The Ashes Of Empires
(Roadrunner Records) 2003

1.    Imperium (6:42)
2.    Bite The Bullet (3:22)
3.    Left Unfinished (5:33)
4.    Elegy (3:56)
5.    In The Presence Of My Enemies (7:07)
6.    Days Turn Blue To Gray (5:30)
7.    VIM (5:13)
8.    All Falls Down (4:30)
9.    Wipe The Tears (3:54)
10.  Descend The Shades Of Night (7:45)

Machine Head has always been the brainchild of guitarist Robb Flynn. Each new album has seen Machine Head going for new sounds, staying fairly heavy, but wavering between modern trends in heavy music. "Through the Ashes of Empires" was billed as a return to form, sounding closer to the band's debut than they ever have.

Robb Flynn
Robb Flynn
photo by Michael Singman-Aste, Postdiluvian Photo

Opening track "Imperium" is simply a wall of sound that is brutally bludgeoning. The heavy, down-tuned guitar sound and the crushing riffs are a musical assault to the ears. This is THE standout cut on the album. "Bite the Bullet" ebbs and flows between aggressive, down-tuned modern metal with angry shouted vocals and modern/alternative rock with clean guitars and shaky clean vocals. The song starts off crushing and heavy and loses momentum a bit when the verses begin. "Left Unfinished" is another ultra-heavy, groove-laden, modern metal song. The song begins with an eerie intro which leads into another wall of sound. The verses on this song, which are sort of half rapped and half shouted, and the stop/start riffing are definitely of the nu-metal variety. "Elegy" is a doomy, droning song with the verses sung and the choruses shouted in typical core fashion.

Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot of lead work on this album. "Vim" is heavy song with a heavy mid-paced groove and offers some nice lead work from new guitarist Phil Demmel, who had formerly been in Violence with Flynn and who replaces Ahrue Luster. "In The Presence of My Enemies" is one of the other songs that features some nice lead work. This song reminds me a bit of Pantera, but at seven minutes long tends to drone on a little too long. The North American bonus track, "Seasons Wither" is another standout cut. The song is an upbeat thrasher and really does echo back to the band's roots. The album closes with one of the stronger songs on the album. "Descend The Shades of Night" begins as a somber, acoustic ballad and builds to a heavy, doomy modern metal song and then ends as it began. This song is nearly eight minutes long but doesn't get boring, like the aforementioned "In The Presence of My Enemies".

For the most part, Flynn's vocals are the weakest part of this CD. Much of the time he is just yelling like some pissed off drunk guy arguing with another pissed off drunk guy. I frankly don't understand the appeal of these "angry" type of vocals. I think there is a vast difference between the aggression of harsh thrash metal vocals and death metal growls, and these angry yells. They are, for the most part, boring. Once again, the lyrics tend to focus on testosterone fueled aggression, anger and even depression, frustration and despair. Everyone is ticked off at everyone else and can't stand their miserable lives. "Left Unfinished", for example, has Flynn spewing venom, "F**k you, you c**k-sucker, f**k you, you whore...". Perhaps I am just from the wrong generation. I remember when metal was about enjoying life and having a good time.

"Through The Ashes Of Empires" is not a bad album, and has several songs I really enjoy, such as the opening and closing tracks. Unlike "Supercharger" I didn't find myself wanting to hit the skip button on every song. However, it's not exactly the return to form that some people claim that it is either. "Through the Ashes" really seems to be a combination of all the past Machine Head albums with a bit more speed, a few choices guitar leads and no attempts at rapcore. Though it may not be Burn My Eyes Part 2, it's definitely a step in that direction.

The Blackening Machine Head - The Blackening (Roadrunner) 2007

1. "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" (10:36)
2. "Beautiful Mourning" (4:46)
3. "Aesthetics of Hate" (6:30)
4. "Now I Lay Thee Down" (5:34)
5. "Slanderous" (5:16)
6. "Halo" (9:03)
7. "Wolves" (9:01)
8. "A Farewell to Arms" (10:12)

After 1994's "Burn My Eyes", I quickly lost interest in Machine Head as they changed styles and went into a musical direction that didn't interest me. Rob Flynn openly admits that on "The Burning Red" and "Supercharger" that he had given into label pressure and the promise of success to release more mainstream, modern music. With little commercial success following, Flynn announced that the band was going to return to "what we do best". He was even quoted as saying that "The Blackening" would be Machine Head's "Master of Puppets". The word spread quickly over the internet that Machine Head were moving away from the nu-metal crap, back to a more aggressive, epic, thrash-influenced metal sound. Pretty much all the early buzz on "The Blackening" was positive. Blabbermouth gushed over the recording calling it "the best all-out metal recording of 2007." (Of course, I expect no less from them since this is a Roadrunner Records release.) One email I received stated, "The Blackening...is one of the best metal albums of the 21st Century, as good as the latest Overkill albums and better than the latest Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest albums. They have completely abondened their nu-metal influences and have gone back to their thrash metal roots by adding guitar solos and good Slayer/Metallica/Vio-Lence esque riffs." My own Heart of Metal board had several posts touting "The Blackening". I finally gave into the hype and decided to check it out for myself. Well, as is to be expected, only some of the buzz is true. While there are some moves into thrash metal, and the songs are of epic length, averaging about eight minutes long, "The Blackening" is still modern metal with shouted, monotonous vocals or the occasional clean vocal. Basically, "The Blackening" is all about being angry and pissed off, cramming as many expletives into one song as humanly possible and griping about the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and life in general. "Slanderous" for instance has the line, “I love you, why do I hate my father. I hate you, why do I hate myself”. At one point Rob even whispers, "I hate myself."

The music indeed is less 'nu' and much closer to real heavy metal. Rob Flynn seems to be treading similar ground as current flavor-of-the-month bands like Trivium and Lamb of God, albeit with a touch of Killswitch Engage and Metallica thrown in for good measure. The album starts off with a ten minute epic number that indeed does recall Metallica's "Master of Puppets" at times, but is essentially ruined by the screaming, monotonous vocals. The guitar solos and the clean guitar intro are quite nice in this song. As well, "Beautiful Morning" manages to balance on a fence between modern metal and neo-thrash. This song starts off with Rob shouting "F**k you all!" before breaking into a speedy thrash lick that gives way to a plodding modern metal riff that forms the basis for the majority of the song. "Slanderous" has a smoking guitar lead, as do several other songs. "Wolves" has a great thrash metal break in the middle of the song. However, for the most part the riffs on this song and the majority of the album are just more of the downtuned, chugga chugga, plodding variety. There are some Pantera-ish groove-type riffs peppered throughout the disc as well. I found myself really enjoying "A Farwell to Arms". The song is heavy, features a sweet guitar solo, has a good flow to it and competes with the album opener as the best song on the CD. So I guess I have mixed emotions about this album. It has some parts I enjoy, and even a couple songs that I think kick butt. "The Blackening" is a decent modern metal album and does mark a return to the heavier sounds of their early days, but I also don't see this as being the best metal recording of 2007.

Locust Machine Head - Unto the Locust (Roadrunner Records) 2011

1.   I Am Hell (Sonata In C#) (8:26)
2.   Be Still And Know (5:44)
3.   Locust (7:36)
4.   This Is The End (6:11)
5.   Darkness Within (6:28)
6.   Pearls Before The Swine (7:19)
7.   Who We Are (7:11)
BONUS TRACKS
8.   The Sentinel (5:08)
9.   Witch Hunt (4:46)
10. Darkness Within (Acoustic) (5:05)

Machine Head's seventh studio album, titled "Unto the Locust" continues in a similar vein to their last album "The Blackening". I've read countless debates on-line as  to whether this album is better, worse, or equal to that album, which is generally held in high regard. I'm of the opinion that it might be better than "The Blackening". Whereas that album was quite good, I've found myself enjoying and revisiting this album more than I did "The Blackening". Though the songs are generally long, they seem a bit more accessible.

The album opens like a locomotive! Imagine watching that big train sitting on the tracks as it powers up and begins to pull all those many box cars behind it. Though the power is there, it starts off slow and then builds momentum until those big metal wheels are churning and crushing the rails at full speed. The three part "I Am Hell" opens with some sort of chanting, builds up with a slow, plodding heavy riff and then at around the two minute mark unleashes a full-speed thrash metal assault. The song paints a ferocious music portrait that is both dizzying and compelling at the same time and may very well be on of Robb Flynn's best songs.

"Be Still and Know" is a little more modern sounding, almost like a mixture of "Burn My Eyes" and "The Blackening". The nearly six minute long song is raw and energetic and slightly progressive at the same time. The seven and a half minute follow-up "Locust" is equally as pummeling but offers a bit more variety in tempo and aggression. While the song can only be described as modern metal, there are some Iron Maiden tendencies peaking through at times as well.  Some of my favorite moments are when Robb zips his lip and the band simply jams. "Darkness Within" sticks out like a sore thumb on this album. The song is a modern rock song that probably would have fit better at the end of the record. As it stands, the song seems to kill the momentum of the album.

I do confess that the first few times I spun this disc, I felt that the album was a bit too long and labor-some to listen to. I still think that "Unto the Locust" is a bit too long for it's own good. Perhaps if this had been released on vinyl where it could have been digested one side at a time I wouldn't have had that feeling. So, what I decided to do was start listening to the album from the middle of the album. It was after making that decision that I found that side B of this album is possibly some of the strongest material. "Pearls Before The Swine" is a molten, modern-metal anthem. The seven minute "Who We Are" is an epic modern metal track as well.

The album finishes with three bonus tracks. "The Sentinel" is a blistering cover of Judas Priest's classic song. Robb Flynn does a good job on the vocals of this song, pushing the limits of his voice on the chorus. "Witch Hunt" is a cover of the classic Rush song. The last song is an acoustic version of "Darkness Within". I suppose this modern rock song was Flynn's attempt at a radio hit. I much prefer the album version to the acoustic version.

"Unto the Locust" is a culmination of the band's entire history. Several songs have a "Burn My Eyes" vibe, some some have thrash elements and similarities to "The Blackening", while other songs are a bit more 'modern' sounding like "Through The Ashes". There are even nods to old school heavy metal with some of the guitar work. Thankfully, they did not revisit any of the nu-metal leanings that the band experimented with in the past.

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