Machine Head is one of those bands which have seemingly always struggled to find their place, something which is not at all unusual for bands whose debut album is met with critical acclaim; sometimes any deviation from the original recipe is met with the harshest of criticisms.
Before I go into my review we need to step back in time to the year 1994, because that was when Machine Head's first album was unleashed.
If you have ever heard '94's "Burn My Eyes" You know it's up there with some of the best metal albums ever. Unfortunately, their follow up "The More Things Change", though still very strong, began to veer towards a style which would not be easily accepted by hardcore headbangers and by 99's "Burning Red" It was obvious Machine Head had lost their way. They were kicked and spat upon by the critics, and one has to ask themselves, was it completely their fault? I mean, as artists they obviously tried to improve upon what they had already created, but there was also other factors involved; their sophomore offering was brutally hammered by the metal faithful and by the time "Burning Red" was about to be recorded they had come off of heavy touring, there were internal conflicts and Ross Robinson (Korn/Limp Bizkit) was brought aboard to produce, which in my opinion explains a shitload by itself.
Yes, perhaps they were grasping at mega-stardom, they wanted too much too soon, no one knows exactly what went down, but man, these guys have accomplished much of what young metalheads playing air guitar in front of their mirror can only dream of and they have endured through difficult trials which many bands have not be able to. Even if you look at thrash metal masters like Metallica, it can be logically argued that they are far more guilty of the crime of "selling out" than any other metal band in history, with several releases thumbing their noses at the fans. And yet, I repeat, and YET, they are touring the world with Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth under the moniker of "The Big Four"(?).
So, after all that, "Supercharger" came out; it didn't do much to improve things, they still got a lot of flak. Adding insult to injury their video, "Crashing Around You", didn't see any airplay due to the fact that 911 had just taken place. But what the band may not have come to realize is that just by having a video on MTV is, more likely than naught, a good enough excuse for the hardcore to disregard a band.
In '04 "Through The Ashes Of Empires" was released, and we heard a considerable improvement, but the sound wasn't quite there yet. And for people like me, if it's on MTV, it ain't happenin'.
Then, "The Blackening" hit in 2008, they had come fairly close to full circle; once again Machine Head was garnering some well deserved respect. But, still there seemed to be an unforgiving streak among some, often wholeheartedly discounting what folks were saying about the album.
It's three years later, and it appears Machine Head is fucking pissed off! They are making their way home to their roots and they have the battle scars to show for it; Behold, "Unto The Locust"!
We begin with "I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)" which is actually broken down into three parts: I. "Sangre Sani" II. "I Am Hell" and finally the third and final part III. "Ashes To The Sky". We are lured into the song with an A cappella which turns into a wicked, doom-like setup for what is to become a shredding, thrash inspired surge of intensity.
Ok, this is good, "I Am Hell" has me quite pleased and to my delight, I am hearing a band which has come to develop its own sound. Yes, there are some harmonies in choruses which you may not find in a pure thrash album, but you are also hearing power metal, black metal, even a dare I say, a touch of metalcore.
It's an album which is full of the energy that had set Machine Head apart seventeen years ago with "Burn My Eyes", but don't expect that album here. No, when you listen to "Unto The Locust" you realize that "Burn My Eyes" had a rough edge which endeared it to us thrashheads, it was harder in many ways, but also undisciplined, which for anyone who listens to metal or punk knows, is a definite plus. Here, however, you are listening to a much more refined and masterful set of songs. It does seem there is a passion which was missing on many of the later Machine Head albums; a level of aggression that shouts "Fuck you, this is Machine Head!".
Pounding metal tracks such as "Locust", "Darkness Within" and "Pearls Before The Swine" stand up to the test of being solid Metal offerings and there is little doubt in my mind that every Machine Head fan out there should feel no fear; you're gonna be jamming this till your windows shatter!
But, I also sense from this album that, with their talent, the best is yet to come. With the resurgence of oldschool metal, and being that MTV plays no role in deciding a band's popularity with true headbangers, Machine Head will finally be able to concentrate on meeting their own expectations as well as those of their fans.
We can all look forward with eager anticipation once again for a new Machine Head release. Even the most ardent detractors have to show their respect; Machine Head has taken their knocks, they've gone several rounds and yet, they're still standing firmly on their feet!