When I wrote a week or so ago that few bands seemed to have confounded their fans more than Morbid Angel, another act I could have mentioned was Machine Head.
Taking a new direction as a direct reaction to criticism that they were already stagnant after only two albums, the band then veered back to their monolithic groove metal when Supercharger failed so utterly they almost couldn’t get their next album released. The albums since The Blackening have seen some bold experimentation with choirs, strings, monastic chants and other elements added to their juggernaut riff-mongering while staying the groove metal course, and over the years even some hard-bitten metalheads have somewhat forgiven them for their divergent ways.
That may all be about to change.
Having already faced accusations of stealing riffs – from none other than Devin Townsend, who openly admits to stealing them himself – Robb Flynn has posited that Catharsis has similarities to The Burning Red, something that is sure to make a lot of people lose their shit one way or another. While Flynn’s statement is essentially true, Catharsis is a difficult album to boil down to such a simplistic comparison, even if the band’s singer is making it.
Catharsis has a lot going on. Maybe even too much, with 15 songs and a 75 minute playing time. Machine Head albums aren’t known for their brevity, but there is a strong case for this one to be a good deal shorter. Not only are there entire songs that just don’t seem to gel, the whole album seems directionless, lurching from one style and genre to another like a drunken sailor, sometimes in the course of a single track. The groove metal opener ‘Volatile’ seems forced and tokenistic as if deliberately designed to give a false impression of what’s in store.
After this, Catharsis takes a meandering course through every stylistic bent Machine Head has previously attempted. The results are, in short, pretty messy. The genre-splicing they first attempted eighteen years ago is no more convincing now than it was then. ‘Triple Beam’ tries to be the sort of cautionary gangsta tale that Body Count would nail, but coming from Machine Head, it just sounds lame, and speaking of rap – for the good of both hip hop and metal, Robb Flynn should just stop doing it. Please.
Other songs lack cadence – it should be pretty easy to get behind Flynn’s message in ‘Bastards’, but it’s delivered in such a ham-fisted, clunky way as it builds from a pseudo-folk acoustic intro into a dissonant rant that it becomes almost unlistenable by track’s end. ‘California Bleeding’ sounds like some amped-up whiny 90s pop-punk band trying to play metal. Even the more metal-oriented tracks fall embarrassingly short of Machine Head’s usual standards: the nine-minute ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’ is a mere echo of their barnstorming epics on albums like The Blackening and Unto the Locust. The grooves and riffs are still there, but the crushing ferocity and the monstrous solos are no longer, and there is more than one occasion when you wonder just what Flynn’s trying to do with his voice these days. ‘Grind You Down’ and, significantly, ‘Razorblade Smile’ come close to former glories, but both are far too late in the Catharsis tracklisting to save it.
If this is the stylistic shift Robb Flynn needs Machine Head to take after four albums of enormous bulldozing metal then so be it. He has every right to it. It will be interesting to see how the fans will indulge him this time, however.
3. Beyond the Pale
4. California Bleeding
5. Triple Beam
8. Hope Begets Hope
9. Screaming at the Sun
10. Behind a Mask
11. Heavy Lies the Crown
13. Grind You Down
14. Razorblade Smile