It is no secret that I like Machine Head, a lot. I liked them through the good and bad times and admire their ability to get back up, when knocked back, and do better. I love their live shows and I love their attitude towards metal. More importantly than that though is the quality of their music, especially in the last three albums where I see them as the most consistent band around at the moment. So, you can imagine how high my expectations are of the newest release. Could any band possibly live up to that amount of expectancy?
A brief history of the band……………..
Machine Head, hailing from Oakland in California, formed and released their debut album, Burn My Eyes, in 1991 to worldwide acclaim. This was followed by the impressive The More Things Change before a change towards a more “nu-metal” sound for the next two albums, The Burning Red and Supercharger. The change in direction was not popular amongst fans and led to them being dropped by their label. Despite nearly breaking up, they fought back with the masterful Through the Ashes of Empires and returned to their heavy metal routes. The Blackening followed next and is widely acclaimed as being one of the greatest albums of all time and this was followed by the equally brilliant Unto the Locust. This leads to now, where on the 10/11/2014, Machine Head released their latest offering, Bloodstone & Diamonds.
Bloodstone & Diamonds has 12 tracks on it and weighs in at an impressive 71 minutes long. Similar to recent albums there are some monster 7 and 8 minute long tracks on here but also, less common with modern Machine Head, there are a couple 3 minute blasts as well.
The first track is called Now We Die and is over 7 minutes and 10 seconds long. Not bad for an album starter. It is also a song many people will have heard before the album release as it was released via Machine Head as a taster. It starts with a short strings intro before a typical Robb Flynn shout of “And With This Now We Die” bellows out and leads the song into Dave McClain’s crashing drums and a groove metal style riff. The riff and rhythmic drums pound through the verse until you hit a chorus that is too die for and will have many a crowd singing their hearts out. A similar pattern follows for the second verse before you get that awesome chorus again that ends into a slower riff that chugs along for a few notes before Phil Demmel steps in with a fantastically complex guitar solo which, in true MH style turns into a duelling guitar contest between Phil and Robb. I love the fact that the bass, now under the hands of Jared MacEachern, sounds so prominent here. The solo leads into a softly sung section over light guitar and bass melodies which builds and builds until reverting back to Robb’s shouts and the opening riff and drums that crash into you until the end. This song is really very, very good. Like, Halo good!
Track 2, Killers and Kings, is another song released long before the album came out that I actually saw played live in Norwich. It was a real mosh pit filler live and comes across very well on the album too. The song jumps straight into a thrashy riff over impressively fast drumming. The shouted verses are a bit more groove like with a low toned pre chorus that builds into a chorus all which moves along at a quick pace. The second chorus ends with a really cool drum rolling solo before it launches into another masterful guitar solo which has this really interesting rolling drum effect running in the background. Not quite the epic first track but it typifies Machine Head’s modern style.
Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones is up next and jumps straight into a technical clean picked guitar section with an interrupting crash of drums. The riff that follows is off tempo but rhythmic and reminds me of very early Burn My Eyes days. When the singing starts, it is soft and eerie as is the accompanying bass and guitar lines. It all builds up towards the chorus which is still sang but more aggressively and is joined by a sudden jump in guitar, bass and drum volume and heaviness. When the second verse comes to an end this time though, a neck breaking drum and guitar section starts that it is impossible not to headbang to. This section eventually pulls in vocals on top but carries on the same rhythm until it breaks into another absolute epic of a guitar solo that’s lasts for over a minute and seems to move through 3 or 4 different styles. The song ends with a 30 second blast of aggression from Robb’s growls over the songs main riff. Really impressive stuff.
Night Of Long Knives is up next and is yet another song heard before release date. Starting with Robb making a statement in a distorted voice accompanied with just a drum beat. The vocals seem a little off beat at the beginning which sounds a little odd but everything soon sync’s in and as the verse hits chorus you get another great sing along. The second verse is really fast and thrashy and the drums in the background are blistering. A small high pitch singing section follows the second chorus which sounds great and full of emotion. This leads into a really fast and technical guitar solo that is played at lightning speed before the pace is continued by the whole band. The tempo drops for another chorus but not the intensity. The song ends with Rob just shouting over an extended guitar note.
Four tracks in and I couldn’t be happier.
Track 5 is called Sail Into The Black and starts off very differently to the rest with a creepy monk style chant with Robb repeating the title over the top. An acoustic chord joins in, as does what appears to be a piano. The first verse is sung softly as is the chorus. The second verse is still softly sung but it feels like the intensity is gathering and as the second chorus comes to an end, it almost feels like the song has ended when there is the crashing single note of a guitar, one after another, like a ticking bomb. Instruments take the forefront with Robb sounded faded and distorted in the background. There is a blast of aggression and heaviness with lyrics like “the shit we ingest with a mouthful of spit and protest” and the intensity is very well put across. Another soft chorus leads into a Robb roar and then the instruments kick in for a brutally angry verse. With a minute and a half left, Phil takes over the lead and plays a really beautiful solo before vocals join in along. The song ends with the same chant as the beginning and I am quite literally blown away.
Eyes Of The Dead is the halfway mark on the album and starts off with a gloomy bass note over distorted drum crashes. A second higher pitch guitar starts fading in from the background and then bang, it is suddenly the prominent instrument over some really heavy drumming. This song is straight up melodic death metal to me. The singing is fast and ferocious and the guitar work in the background is technically impressive. It is relentless throughout with a short solo between verses before straight back to the aggression. An off tempo guitar section leads into even heavier vocals and lyrics such as “You Will Never Fucking Break Me” leads into yet another amazing solo played at blinding speed. This song is going to destroy people in the pit. Awesome!
Beneath The Silt is up next and has a more groove, almost Deep South Down, feel to it. The first verse is sung in Robb’s higher pitch over this tempo but switches to his normal singing for the chorus and then back to it for the next verse. The second chorus ends with an almost complete switch to a different style, though still soft for a few seconds. Then with a roar, the heaviness comes with the same riff as the start but with a Phil Demmel solo over the top of it and louder drums. The shortest song on the album so far but another great example of Machine Head pushing themselves musically.
The next track is back up to the plus seven minutes with In Comes The Flood and somehow manages to take this already epic album up yet another notch. Starting with an orchestral section and female backing singers singing a section of America The Beautiful before absolutely exploding into life with a fast paced killer riff. The switch from intro to guitar is special. The verses are low toned and angry with a monster chugging riff leading the song along. The chorus is sung with lots of backing vocal assists. The lyrics are full of emotion and anger which comes across really well. The song switches into another excellent guitar solo section starting with a single guitar playing a few crisp clean notes that builds into a heavier sound. This is followed by a groove section that brings the strings back in with the bands instruments while Robb makes a furious statement in the background and if that isn’t enough, it is followed by a chorus sung at volume with all band members and orchestral instruments playing and singing in harmony. Yet another masterful track.
The shortest track on the album is next and is called Damage Inside. It is really softly sung over an eerie background effect with muffled instruments slowly joining in with Robb’s vocals. It is very similar in style to the song The Burning Red actually and although it is three minutes long, is probably a Machine Head length interlude. A really nice short track though.
Game Over comes next and builds up with a prominent guitar riff and with Robb mixing singing and shouting over it but as the start leads into the song proper, it explodes into aggression with fast thrashy guitars matched with fast and aggressive vocals over thunderous drumming. A short bassy rhythmic section ends another catchy chorus and leads into a soft but angrily sung section over heavy guitars that continuously build in power before suddenly stopping and reverting back to the intros guitar riff with Robb singing/shouting over it. Just like the intro this builds into a really thrashy, fast section that is going to be very popular in a mosh pit. The song ends with a groove section made for head bangers everywhere to complete another immense track.
The penultimate track on this fantastic album is called Imaginal Cells and is another one of the shorter tracks coming in at just over 3 and a half minutes long. The song is very much in the style of “Real Eyes, Realise, Real Lies” with political statements being made over guitar and drum rhythm. The song hits a powerful note with its message on the collapse of the modern world and there are some interesting notes being played along with it. It is a clever and interesting track, much like the Burn My Eyes song it seems styled from.
The final track on the album is called Take Me Through The Fire and starts with a thumping drum and squealing guitar that leads into a rhythmic riff. The vocals are quick and shouted throughout with an increased instrument tempo as the chorus nears. The second chorus ends with an awesome and heavy metal riff and drum section. Dave really goes to town on his drums for a few seconds and it sounds awesome. The guitar riff that joins it afterwards is also fantastic and it all leads into a low toned riff with Robb vocals back in. A clever, short solo follows before going back into the speedy verse style section again and sung chorus. The song ends with heavy drum and guitar blasts bringing to close another really solid piece of work and bringing to close an album that I am absolutely blown away by.
I deliberated long and hard on whether this was a 9.5 or a 10 out of 10 and in the end, I couldn’t think of a reason why I was deducting marks. 10/10 is a mark reserved for perfection and that word sums this album for me. In terms of consistency, Machine Head are a cut above the rest. Their last decade of releases include Through The Ashes of Empires, The Blackening, Unto The Locust and now Bloodstone And Diamonds. That is quite a resume! This album contains elements of everything I have ever heard them release along with new ideas. Lyrically they stay relevant and their talent with their instruments is undeniable. I think this may be the most complete album they have ever written and it is filled with tracks that are clever, passionate, heavy and intelligent.
Well done sirs!
Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds (Nuclear Blast)