October 10, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
‘The Blackening’ was a technical monster. It moved Machine head up to the level of god-like status world-wide and was really the first album to try and recreate the ambitious neo-classical style of 80s Metallica and try to take it a bit further.
Following its release Machine Head toured relentlessly for nearly three years, scoured the world for ears that hadn’t bled from the impact of their music and showed them the light. Like the previous two releases, the band spent another year working on their newest album, ‘Unto The Locust.’ Needless to say expectation is high.
Opening with ‘I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)’ the statement of intent is made. Starting with some latin chanting it bursts into a super fast and unrelenting barrage of riffs and Robb Flynn’s familiar roar and sums up pretty much everything Machine Head achieved with ‘The Blackening’ in eight minutes.
The approach is essentially the same tac as before. Every song very impressive musically; back to back solo duels, riff upon riff with time changes abound and it all feels a bit more fierce than the last album. There is always the question of ‘is it all a bit much?’ Compared to the Blackening this is relatively lean and the songs do feel concise, but there’s a niggle that it doesn’t inspire the same kind of awe the previous releases did.
The advanced mix of ‘Locus’ was released a couple of months ago and was the first taste of the album. While the song impressed, it all sounded a rough. Luckily the finished product is much better, the song was already good, technical and heavy but well constructed. It’s one of the most memorable here, and it sounds bigger and better now it has the finished album polish on it.
There’s still plenty of air guitar and circle pit moments. ‘Be Still and Know’ and “This Is The End’ switch so often between the two it’s quite possible you’ll end up with whiplash in your fingers. ‘Pearls Before Swine’ has the familiar harmonics that used to fill every Machine Head song and ‘Who We Are’ has a massive chorus, although the children’s choir at the start was a bad executive decision.
The album as a whole is more intense than the ‘Blackening,’ more primal. The songs are still long and complicated, but none of them break the ten minute mark, which often left you forgetting where the song started. This is a band that have moved on from being a regular thrash band. It’s an easy comparison to make, but ‘Master of Puppets’-era Metallica is the most fitting description, few bands could dream of writing the kind Neo-Classical metal that Machine have been spewing. Though many fans may lament, gone are the days of ‘BLOCK’.
‘Darkness Within’ is the song that could make fans of those early days choke. Starting as a dark ballad with an almost Foo Fighters or Paramore vocal line, it builds into a big crescendo before ending with ‘Da-da-daaas.’ It’s a love it or loathe it song, that while catchy, isn’t what many people would want from this band.
And that’s probably the only real problem with the album. Machine head were always about the aggression and songs that brimmed with rage. On the debut ‘Burn My Eyes’ and ‘Through The Ashes…’ you could feel that anger smoking from your stereo and filling the room. But here that spark of genuine rage is missing. Not to say it’s lifeless, and newer fans will love this, but the pummelling, primal simplicity of the older songs was always a strength that’s been left behind.
Love for Robb Flynn and co. was always felt far more strongly here than across the pond, and it took until ‘The Blackening’ for the wider metal audience to really accept Machine were still great. Now that they have your attention, ‘Unto The Locust’ is proof, not that it was needed, that Machine Head are far and beyond your average Bay Area thrash band. The album clocks in at only forty-five minutes (an hour with the bonus tracks) yet afterwards you feel exhausted. The music demands your attention and rarely lets up. ‘Unto The Locust’ feel like the halfway point between ‘Ashes…’ and ‘Blackening’, mixing the intensity of the first with the technical ambition of the other.
The bonus tracks aren’t great. I have to admit this reviewer is neither a Judas Priest nor a Rush fan. And so while the versions of ‘The Sentinel’ and ‘Witch Hunt’ are decent, they don’t really get the blood pumping, both of them being mid-paced numbers that feel incredibly tame next to the other material. But it’s good to see a band show their roots. The acoustic version of ‘Darkness Within’ will probably be as much of a fan splitter as the original. There’s not a huge amount of difference and the lack of the meatier guitar work dulls the song. Collectors only.
‘Unto The Locust’ isn’t really a step backwards, nor is it the huge leap forward that ‘Through The Ashes…’ and ‘The Blackening’ were. It’s a consolidation of the last seven odd years and should cement their position as one of the real big boys of metal.