Review Summary: Machine Head’s hands aren’t completely empty.
Looking back at Machine Head’s discography is a bit of a headache really. Once, the band was a cornerstone of the heavy metal scene; a veritable cesspool of testosterone charged anthems, burly riffs and sweaty, matted underarm hair. Robb Flynn would be found screaming chorus lines to as many concert goers as festivals would allow while shirts were torn and beers spilled down the backs of unsuspecting battle jackets. The mid-nineties albums, Burn My Eyes
and The More Things Change…
would be a part of Machine Head’s eventual birth into something that might only be described as a “mainstay” or even “mandatory” mainstream metal a la The Blackening
. They only had to change the band’s roster and style, culminating in an album full of songs instead of occasional bangers. Critics far and wide praised that particular album, citing both the band’s tenacious technical ability and forward thinking groove that launched Flynn’s social-lyrical views upon the world. Blazing tandem guitars swirled around bombastic rhythm sections, awash with musical earworms and head-banging inducements. Machine had found the lightning in a bottle formula and the future was already here.
Ør so they thought. While Machine Head saw some greater success with the records that followed the band’s 2007 opus, both Unto The Locust
and Bloodstone & Diamonds
fell short of achieving the same victories. Considering just how large the response was for The Blackening
, and the critical reception it received, it makes sense. How then did Machine Head rest its laurels in the absolute dumpster disaster called Catharsis
? The same album that signaled the end of The Blackening
’s roster of musicians, bar Flynn and catapulted the act into a possible early, forced retirement. Clearly, Machine Head didn’t just fade into oblivion (yay?). Øf KingdØm and CrØwn
did in fact get released, and its title (and most song names) include that edge lord, cringe “Ø”. It seems Rob Flynn and his new cohorts are back.
Which is good news right? I mean, why leave a footnote like Catharsis
as a legacy holder? We as fans deserve better, Machine Head deserves better. Metal deserves better. But do we deserve Øf KingdØm and CrØwn
? Probably not, but it’s as good as we’re going to get right now. An hour of new Machine Head that doesn’t actually suck, but is predictably not the next Blackening
. That said, it's bold that Øf KingdØm and CrØwn
kicks things off with a ten minute “Slaughter The Martyr” which takes broader brush strokes through the Machine Head discography. Flynn’s cleans, while contentious in the past, are a well-placed addition before resorting to the jagged riff and heavier climes listeners are used to. While ten minute tracks aren’t out of the norm (the likes of The Blackening
’s “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” comes to mind), Øf KingdØm and CrØwn
’s opening track’s focus is less immediate, relying on vocal chorus hooks instead of atmosphere. More akin to the likes of “Halo” then something as expressive as “A Farewell To Arms”. Flynn’s lyrics begin their rampage here, being the weaker part of the new record’s makeup. While I admit that metal vocalists aren’t the best of lyricists, Flynn seems particularly ranty these days, sticking simply to one dimensional, even cringe themes.
Despite the run-time loading on the album’s first track, Øf KingdØm and CrØwn
is refreshingly well balanced. Three interludes pepper the album’s hour-long play time, allowing the occasional romper to surface and in the right circumstance, provide context. In having a sample filled “ØVerdØSe” preclude “My Hands Are Empty” listeners can embrace at least some idea of loss, pain and despair without relying on a clinical romper mass produced to the teeth. “Assimilate” with its Fear Factory mannerisms does a similar job with “Kill Thy Enemies” but is hampered by some of the lazier lyrics on the entire album. Flynn singing about “white privilege” and “heeding the call” seems out of place, force-fed themes in the face of recent American-isms wrapped in denim and hidden under rough yells. That said, there are a few decent cuts here that wouldn’t be too far out of place on a Bloodstones & Diamonds
set list. “BecØMe The FirestØRm” runs rampantly, instrumentally sound when compared to the group’s early 2010 albums. Similarly, “UnhallØWed” is a clever interplay of title hook and more conventional groove-fed riff work inspired by the band’s debut and sophomore albums. The track’s back half mellows out nicely, combining its melody and Flynn’s cleaner vocals cohesively. The dichotomy of a head-banging riff section will always need to exist, it’s probably not a Machine Head song without it. “NØ GØDs, NØ Masters” is a jovial concert romper probably inspired by a Game of Thrones
season gone years ago and is prime for a quick burst of energy and the slamming of bodies together in a crowd somewhere.
The crux of the matter is that Machine Head so wholly pearl-clutch to the days of The Blackening
and to lesser extent, Unto The Locust
but fail to achieve the same polarising success of the records released a decade and a half ago. Instead, Machine Head mixed the band’s eras with middling results. We could speculate that Flynn and co. are now doing differently because well…inspiration struck? Or perhaps that Flynn and his team of riffsters are still stuck in a mode of catharsis
, however it’s more agreeable that Machine Head just caught some fresh air with a roster change and produced a new album that’s unquestionably listenable, but nowhere near as spectacular as it could be. Øf KingdØm and CrØwn
does however shrug of the disappointing Catharsis
stigma, signaling a new era of Machine Head music that could potentially
achieve on the band’s magnum potential of fifteen years ago. Machine Head’s hands aren’t completely empty and maybe there’s a spark of something to once more fill a crown. That said, the kingdom isn’t as opulent as it could be.