Review Summary: Machine Head keeps the bar high.
So four years ago when Machine (***ing) Head released The Blackening I thought all my Christmases had come at once. Here was an experienced band known for playing the some of the heaviest, brutal metal who had embraced the epic side of things in their songwriting. Songs like Clenching The Fist Of Dissent clocking in at close to 15 minutes took things to the next level for them. It was a superb album, full of emotional, powerful songs which broke the mould that they were stuck in. It was a critical and commercial success for them, leading them to be on tour for over 3 years in support of it. It was their Metallica. So fast forward to 2011 and Robb Flynn and co have had the unenviable task of following it up.
So here we have it, Unto The Locust in its magnificent splendour. Except unfortunately the splendour isn't as magnificent as I was hoping.
Maybe because The Blackening was such a brilliant album, or that I've been a Machine Head fan for near on the last decade, but I was expecting so much more than this album manages to deliver.
Robb Flynn (vocals, guitar) has said in interviews that "we just can't write short songs anymore", which is fair enough. Album opener I Am Hell (Sonata In C#) is a prime example of this. It starts with a cultish chant which runs for at least a minute before the song starts proper. It bears no real relevance to the song as a whole and could have quite easily been a separate introduction track entirely. The rest of the song itself is standard MH fare, rapid fire riffs, pounding drums and Robb growling himself into a frenzy.
Before we go any further, I feel I need to point out that it's not bad. Its still a good album, its just not a great album and certainly not on the same level as The Blackening.
There are moments of pure MH ***-you brilliance. Locust and and This Is The End are both inspired songs with some of the best riffing and lyrics ever to come out of the band. The chorus of Locust is going to go down as a new live favourite in the same way that Halo and Aesthetics Of Hate did from the last album. However, the middle section of This Is The End typifies why I love the lyrics in MH songs with the lines "Bastards/You bastards/May you suffer oh so long". Just brilliant stuff.
Musically the band are on top form. The riffs are awesome, the guitar solos and dual harmony sections are a master class in how-its-done, the drums are fast, heavy and hard (which appears to be the Dave Mclain trademark), the bass rattles and rumbles in all the right ways and the vocals, be they screamed or sung are powerful and brutal. On paper this should be an amazing album.
Robb and Phil Demmel have such a fantastic bond as guitar players which is evident throughout the seven tracks on offer here. The lead work on the likes of Locust and Darkness Within makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up as it is just phenomenal. From the shred-tastic solos to the huge, no, scratch that, HUGE lead harmony sections, this album is a guitar nerd's dream.
Adam Duce's bass work is once again, superb. Thundering through the tracks like the enormous powerhouse he is, he fits right behind the guitars for the majority of the time, but when the rhythm guitars drop out for the dual lead harmonies then Adam frequently joins in, creating a third harmony point rather than just being a remaining rhythm instrument. It works very well, very well indeed.
MH have always been known for the big riffs but moreover, the massive rhythms. Dave Mclain doesn't disappoint with some of the best work of his career on show. Who We Are is probably the best showcase on this album with multiple tempo and rhythm changes throughout to the point of dropping down to a soft marching snare during the sections with the creepy kids choir (yeah, seriously).
Vocally I don't think Robb has ever sounded better. His singing is smooth and emotive, his screaming/growling is punchier and more powerful and he's even added in some death metal style guttural roaring. I Am Hell and Pearls Before The Swine push his voice lower and lower than he's ever been before. It's interesting and certainly on the latter track it works very well. Adam's harmonies with Robb during the clean sections are lush, full and very reminiscent of the kind of vocal work that Alice In Chains used to put out years ago. The build up and chorus for Darkness Within is something entirely special and not to be missed.
Potentially I think I may be being too hard on this album. Like I say before, its not bad, its just not as good as their previous material. Maybe this is because The Blackening was such a brilliant album and I'm setting my expectations far too high, I just can't help but feel that in some places this album is lacking. The opening two tracks simply don't do it for me, whereas the rest of the album is full of brilliant moments but its just not consistent enough.
Its a shame because Unto The Locust is living in the shadow of another album. Had this come out before The Blackening, or had it been from a different band without the rich heritage that Machine Head bring to the table I bet it would have been a contender for a 10 out of 10. As it stands it's not the follow up I was hoping for, but its definitely worth a listen.
Listen to: Locust, Darkness Within, This Is The End