The history of heavy metal is littered with defining moments/albums, and Machine Head house a fair few of them. Rightfully seen as one of the bands that have continued to push metal forward in their 20+ year stretch as an outfit; Rob Flynn and co have spent a huge portion of their career being the very embodiment of heavy metal; political, analytical, controversial, and confrontational – just four picks from the shopping list of elements Machine Head pack into their repertoire that see the band standout as headbanger heroes.
Now hitting their ninth album, creatively it’s probably fair to expect the train to start derailing from the tracks for the Californian quartet – however with new album Catharsis this certainly isn’t the case. The record isn’t a metal avalanche the size of debut album Burn My Eyes or 2007’s masterpiece The Blackening but what we have here is 75 minutes of solid, competent metal with flashes of conceptual brilliance from one of the genre’s greatest ever bands.
Unlike previous Machine Head releases that tend to start with a marathon of prolific metal, ‘Volatile’ is a four minute slap of pace to the senses – beginning with the lyrics “Fuck the world” before descending into chaotic reverb; it’s a welcome, no-nonsense start to proceedings.
It’s the one-two of the title track and ‘Beyond The Pale’ where the quartet show flashes of their peak brilliance. The chorus hooks of Flynn, the exquisite guitar harmonies, the rough as sandpaper riffs – it’s 11 minutes of Machine Head that could fit onto almost any record they’ve put their name to, quite the achievement at this stage in their career.
Catharsis is an apt name for an album that feels like a therapeutic release for vocalist Rob Flynn, as few subjects are off limits throughout the 75-minute stint – violence, sexism, racism, and injustice all take a lyrical beatdown, appearing most prevalently in ‘Bastards’. It’s a track that sonically is set to divide people, maybe that was the intention. High pitched 80’s rock n roll clean guitar lines bridging into a folk-esque climax is far from what you’d come to expect from Machine Head, but the risk pays off with greater reward than you would imagine. The lyrical concept makes up for the lack of brooding groove, and it’s refreshing to see the band take a step from total comfort to total unknown.
Clearly not content with being a ‘Machine Head by numbers’ record – Catharsis takes a few stabs at unfamiliarity, there’s a nu-metal edge that crawls around the spine of the album, as well as King 810 style spoken word vocals, it doesn’t always have profound effect and some may be disillusioned with the change – but there’s always something to invest in, be it impressive guitar work, or rampant vocal ticks.
For the most part, the base of what you could want from a Machine Head album is alive and well here, ‘Triple Beam’, ‘Hope Begets Hope, and ‘Grind You Down’ don’t always stick to the patented MH style, but there’s enough rough, tumble, and craft that still manages to create a bludgeoning heaviness that consistently keeps the record’s tone in check.
Catharsis is an album that finds a band deciding not to rest on their laurels, it finds a band still looking to find that something extra you weren’t expecting. It’s fair to say that Machine Head have more than played their part in the brick building of what heavy metal can be – and Catharsis is clarity that at this point maybe they’re just having fun and finding new ways to express themselves, it’s a freedom that the band have most definitely earned, and have put to solid use here.