Review Summary: A truly terrible album from a band that is capable of so much more...
So here I am writing a review of Catharsis, Robb Flynn’s (hereafter referred to as Machine Head’s) latest album, almost a year after it was released. The reason I have waited so long is I wanted to see if time would allow the album to grow on me. My initial reaction to Catharsis was utter disappointment and, I can honestly say, my opinion has not changed over the last year. In fact, I have only listened to the album a couple of times and found myself frequently jumping tracks.
As we now know, lead guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain have since thrown in the towel. This seems to be an almost identical situation to the one Machine Head found themselves in circa 2002, where McClain essentially quit the band as he did not agree with the direction they were heading (i.e. into nu-metal obscurity). Thankfully they worked it out and reinvented themselves to put out some excellent albums over the next decade. However, this time round the departures have already happened, with not one but two of the key members being unhappy with the direction the band took with Catharsis.
And I sympathise with them wholeheartedly. Catharsis is a chaotic mess of an album. It is a bizarre collection of 15 tracks that, collectively, have enough bright moments to make a mediocre 4 track EP. Most of the riffs sound uninspired, like they just lazily rehashed their previous material or, even worse, someone else’s previous material.
One things that cannot be overlooked is the left-leaning political message that this album displays in abundance. Personally I do not have a problem with Robb’s view of the world but I do wish he would write better lyrics. I would also rather that the band concentrated on making good music first and foremost, rather than reaching into the 2001 riff-bin and weaving together 4 minutes of nondescript chords, arpeggios and breakdowns just to provide a backdrop to lyrics that sound like they were written by a moody teenager.
Something else that struck me whilst battling my way through Catharsis is just how much it sounds like Machine Head covering music by other artists. The band are known for their awesome live shows, where they often throw in a few covers to great effect. However, when I listen to a Machine Head album I want it to sound like Machine Head, not a bunch of random covers. On Catharsis it feels as though the band were trying too hard to be diverse, to incorporate elements of other styles etc. Unfortunately this makes the album sound like a haphazard Machine Head side project.
The only positive thing I have to say about the album is that, as usual, the mixing and production is excellent. There is only so much polishing that can be done to a turd of this magnitude though, so it is to little avail.
What possessed them to include 15 tracks on this album is a mystery. Tracks like Hope Begets Hope, Psychotic, Grind You Down and Razorblade Smile are worse than filler - they aren’t worthy of filling up space on any of the band’s earlier releases (with the possible exception of Supercharger).
For me, the better tracks on the album are the title track, Heavy Lies the Crown, Behind a Mask and Screaming at the Sun. These tracks are passable but by no means excellent. The worst tracks on the album are California Bleeding, Triple Beam and the truly pungent Bastards. Someone should have put a stop to these monstrosities prior to them making the final cut.
Overall Catharsis beats Supercharger to take the undesirable title of worst Machine Head album. I found Supercharger easier to listen to, far more consistent and also more representative of the (albeit awful) metal scene at the time.
I have followed the band since their 1994 debut, seen them live 12 times and have largely enjoyed their output over the years. Burn My Eyes, The More Things Change, Through the Ashes of Empires and The Blackening are among my top albums of all time. This one, however, is best wiped from memory. Maybe the band can recover but I think it’s probably best they don’t. Phil and Dave opted to jump ship and I reckon that was a good move. If this is the end of Machine Head it’s a shame that they went out on such a bum note.