There has certainly been some hotly anticipated albums this year, and Unto the Locust is without doubt one of them.
Coming a full four and a half years after the astonishing The Blackening, Machine Head fans have been holding their collective breath in the hope that this new album lives up to their expectations.
Unto the Locust opens with what is fast becoming a Machine Head tradition, the epic. “I Am Hell” is a three-part opus ushered in by a cappella chanting before a slow, marching riff moves into the second section with that now unmistakable Robb Flynn bark, Machine Head guitar tone and propensity for violence. Then following some dark, open strumming the coda erupts into epic-sounding tremolo picking into a long fade. Did I say epic? Indeed, while this album doesn’t have The Blackening‘s enormous nine- and ten-minutes-plus tracks, there’s still only seven cuts across almost 50 minutes, every one of them delivers, and everything is huge: the guitar solos, the riffs, the grooves, the harmonies, Dave McClain’s clattering drums and Flynn’s finely tuned ear (and voice) for melody.
This brings all of Machine Head’s skills to the table, and adds some new elements along the way, such as the children’s choir at the beginning of the enormous album closer “Who We Are” and Flynn’s increasingly melodic clean vocals that help to make the already big choruses of these songs bigger yet. Like all the best bands, Machine Head aren’t afraid of mixing light and shade and Unto the Locust shows what experts they’ve become at this, particularly in the slow-burning “Darkness Within” that begins with a passionate but uncharacteristic vocal accompanied only by acoustic guitar. This is as close to a concession to melodic rock as Machine Head is likely to get, but builds magnificently into its second half as Flynn sings an ode to music as his saviour. “Pearls Before the Swine” is a time-keeping nightmare as the band veer constantly through a barrage of what appears to be about a dozen distinctly different riffs and at least three mood changes, yet McClain takes it all in his stride, especially into the fade where the structure moves all over the place. Epic thrash song writing at its finest.
Earlier in the set is “This is the End”, a glorious metal song that explodes from a classical guitar intro into a hellacious groove n thrash storm of furious drums and tremolo picking, followed by the ridiculously catchy chorus transposing high clean singing with the lower, meaner growl. And dual guitar harmonies are absolutely everywhere, split apart by a single, screaming note that blares out like a siren. Flynn and Phil Demmel’s interplay here is jaw-dropping.
A few may be initially thrown by some aspects of Unto the Locust. There will be those who see Flynn’s voice as being too emo in the melodic sections and there’s little doubt the rock-like first half of “Darkness Within” will freak people out, but these are neither concessions nor compromises, because they haven’t diluted the Machine Head sound one bit. Instead, the dynamics and diversity on display across Unto the Locust only shows what a magnificent metal band Machine Head is at this point of their career, and without attempting to top the simply earth-shattering The Blackening, they have done something that can easily sit along side it.
1. I Am Hell – i) Sangre Sani ii) I Am Hell iii) Ashes to the Sky
2. Be Still and Know
3. The Locust
4. This is the End
5. Darkness Within
6. Pearls Before Swine
7. Who We Are