You know it is going to be a good Machine Head album when you can hear plenty of violent harmonics within a minute of playing the first track. It is not a particularly objective method to review an album (not by a long shot), but it does give you a vague idea of how good the album is going to be. Needless to say, Machine Head deliver the goods (and more) in their latest album Bloodstone and Diamonds, their first release since signing onto Nuclear Blast records.
Machine Head formed in 1991, and started out as a groove and thrash metal oriented band, influenced by thrash bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and the Seattle grunge scene which included Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam etc. They changed their approach in the late 90’s to a nu-metal style; it proved to be a huge misstep and almost led them to the brink of anonymity and breakup until guitarist Phil Demmel joined in 2002. His arrival coincided with Machine Head’s rise back to fame, starting with the critically acclaimed Through The Ashes Of Empire. They followed it up with one of their best albums, The Blackening and continued their streak of making amazing albums with Unto the Locust. It is very rare for a band to make 4 consecutive great albums. It is what separates the great bands from the good. Metallica did it, Dio did it, so did Tool. And Machine Head have their chance now.
The album opener is the track “Now We Die”, which was leaked 2 weeks ahead of its schedule and then made available for free streaming by the band. The album’s title is derived from the lyrics of the song. It starts off with an operatic violin section and then the band comes crashing in, bringing with them a torrent of harmonics. The track is a catchy if fairly straightforward track as it follows the same structure as one of their earlier songs, “Halo”. It may not be the best song but sets a good template for the rest of the album. The lead single, “Killers and Kings” was one of the weaker tracks of the album as it sees them stick to their stock sound. It seems like a song specifically made for radio airplay and is one of the shortest songs of the album at just over four and a half minutes long.
Two of my favourite tracks from the album would be “Ghosts Would Haunt My Bones” and “Night of Long Lives”. The former sees the band show a lot of the elements that they are famous for like groovy technical drumming, heavy downtuned riffing and perfectly synchronized guitar harmonies. The latter is an oddly structured but brilliant gem from the album with its slow groovy riff and growled vocals. “Sail Into The Black” has its moments and sees the band try to do something different but suffers from a lack of brevity with an almost 4 minute long intro.
One of the best things about the band is that both the guitarists are equally talented and as a result share the rhythm and solo duties, which leads to a good variety in both rhythms and melodies. As always, their melodies remain solid and their guitarmonies are catchy. The mix on the other hand is slightly off as sometimes the leads overshadow the rhythms and there is too much high pitched squealing and not enough crunchy riffing. The bass parts are also fairly uninteresting as new bassist Jared MacEachem sticks to playing root notes and does not stray out of his comfort zone. The drums, though well tracked, could have been made more interesting with the fills in particular being average.
“In Comes The Flood” is another good track as it is different from the rest of the tracks and provides a bit of variety to the album. The onslaught of synchronized harmonics ceases as the band takes a more melodic approach. “Damage Inside” is another great track as it features only vocals and backing guitars and feels like Robb Flynn speaking personally from his heart. I have always admired him as he is one of the most frank and insightful frontmen in the metal community and always willing to share his thoughts. His weekly updates in the General Journals through the band’s Facebook page are always a delight to read. He carries over the same poignancy here as the lyrics to the songs are well written, even if they do tread some familiar topics. His voice is raspy as ever as he switches effortlessly between clean and growled out vocals, interspersed with some quickly spoken verses that almost take us back to the rap days of Supercharger. Almost.
One of the biggest problems with the album is that it is over 72 mins long, with an average song length of over 6 mins. That is not a flaw in itself but some of the songs feel a bit stretched. With some slight editing and more concise songwriting, this album could have become much more purposeful and not so dawdling. Machine Head do not cover any new ground and are not going to gain many new fans with this album but it is sure to satisfy long time MH fans. It is a good album overall, but Machine Head should see this as an opportunity missed as it could have been a great one. But they keep churning out good music as always and prove on this album why they are one of the biggest metal bands today with well executed, well written meaty metal music.