Review Summary: Some good riffs and vocals make this a very listenable album if you are prepared to ignore their dabble in nu-metal and rapping.
Everyone has a summer memory album. The Burning Red is mine. Driving to beaches, underage drinking, rocking out to some good tunes with friends. But how does this album go after eight years (has it been that long?!?)?
As I flick from Static-X's new album to The Burning Red the first thing I notice is sound quality. I immediately have to turn it up, not because of how horrible Static-X's effort is, but because of the production of the Machine Head album. Why did I not notice this before? My ears soon adjust and I am once again bobbing my head along to the album opener Desire To Fire.
For those not familiar with Machine Head, they have gone through three stages of sound. Their first lasted two albums, and was a raw sound that centred on speed and technicality with some great riffs and solos. They then decided to follow the trend of the time and dabbled in nu-metal, simplifying their song structure, riffs, and drumming for two more albums. A return to more traditional metal was seen on their fifth album. The Burning Red marked the start of the first change. Despite having some attributes of the much hated sub-genre of nu-metal, The Burning Red shines when it tries.
Like a lot of heavy albums The Burning Red throws the kitchen sink at you in the first half of the album. The first three songs are all in the same vane, being hard rocking and fun. By fun I mean there is some catchy riffs, some solos used sparingly so as not to outstay their welcome, and anthemic verses not least in The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears. This song was one of their most popular songs, and for good reason with a mix of the rap-ish verse which somehow works, a great and hard chorus, and Flynn's vocals sounding their best.
The album then moves to the first slow song on the album, if not of Machine Head's career, Silver. This is one of my favourites, and set Machine Head apart from many other nu-metal bands of the time. Instead of whining about not getting a Playstation for Christmas with an awful song to accompany Machine Head decided to write an outstanding ballad/rock song with some obscure lyrics about life with the song taking centre stage. Even with a simple verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure and riffs the song shines with good vocals, and even more so with every member adding to the quality to create a song better than the individual parts.
Onwards to the main single of the album, From This Day. Brought down by a terrible rapping verse it never gets off the ground. The chorus is catchy, but too catchy and sounds like a top 40 song. Too much rapping and too many guitar effects destroy this song. Machine Head manage to pull the album out of the trap of a-good-start-but-lost-interest by putting Exhale The Vile next. One of the heaviest sounding songs Machine Head have ever written it builds and builds with an entrancing tribal drum beat as some bass fills the gaps and guitar effects gets gradually louder. Finally it bursts out and bitch slaps you like nu-metal can't do. A raging verse and chorus later, and Rob Flynn lets out a guttural roar and you know this is the highlight of the album with Flynn's vocals sent from one end of his spectrum to the other and all of the instruments having their time to shine.
A good effort at converting The Police's song Message In A Bottle into a metal tune shows up. Once again, Rob Flynn shows some vocal talent and you wonder where this was before this album and where it has gone since. Some well chosen areas of improvement, such as discrete guitar effects, drum fills, and hard finish, coupled with elements that made it a good song originally make this a memorable cover. Followed up with another heavy song in Devil With a King's Card, the album delves into what will be its demise. Too simple, too much metal/barber-shop style and whiney vocals, too much effects. Not enough riffage and desperately missing some creative drumming and a solo the song goes nowhere fast. The same goes for I Defy, and Five makes a gallant effort at being heavy, with some better drumming and some patience in building the song without quite hitting the mark and fails at standing out. Finally, the sonically interesting title track rounds out the album. Plenty of effects in the guitars, drums, and background noise along with Flynn's almost delicate vocals build the atmosphere. Listening to it even now it achieves what is meant to, in taking you somewhere else and depending on your mood it could be somewhere dark and gloomy or to a place of hope in the next day. I am sure that they would have had more slow songs at the time, but to choose Silver and this was a good move as they showcase their talent at something slower.
So, in the wash up what is the end result. I originally was thinking 2.5, but I changed it to 3, and then to 3.5 after listening to the whole album. It is not perfect by any means, with nu-metal, poor rapping, and over simplistic songs creeping in but the good parts hold their own. This is definitely a very accessible album, with the worst of Flynn's vocals absent and the heaviness that we have seen both before and after this album not really there without it slipping into hard rock.
-More mature and broader range of sound than their earlier albums
-Best vocal performance of any Machine Head album
-Some standout riffs of their back catalogue
-Nu-metal and rapping parts
-At times too much effects
-The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears
-Exhale the Vile