Machine Head – Unto The Locusts (2011)

Posted: September 16, 2011 in Music

Usually I start these reviews with a little history about the band we’re spotlighting, but if you haven’t heard of Machine Head at any point over the last twenty years, you should be ashamed of yourself.

They are mentioned these days in the same breath as Megadeth and Slayer as metal icons, and if you missed your boarding call back when the band was building their reputation as one of the biggest forces in metal, your ticket is no longer valid here. This review – of their upcoming release Unto The Locusts – is not meant to be an introductory course or ‘look at what you’ve missed’ session. This one is either going to excite you or not, and I’m not going to gently tug the leash to bring you along – you should have broken off the chain and attacked the second I mentioned fact of a new Machine Head album.

If you’re like me, you’ve had the band’s last release The Blackening on heavy rotation for the last four years – and recognized it as one of the most prolific metal albums of our generation. And while it has been quite a while since that record, you just had to know that the wait would be worth it with …Locusts.

The band has done nothing but gather steam the last decade – and for as good as The Blackening was, there was hope that the Machine Head could even take it a step further – and that’s exactly what they fucking did.

Showing no fear in ‘pushing the envelope’ Machine Head opens their latest effort with a 3-part opus titled “I Am Hell.” The first part (Sangre Sani) is a near-Gregorian chant of those two simple words. ‘Sangre’ translates to ‘blood,’ and while I couldn’t readily find a definition of ‘sani,’ I’m assuming it’s pretty evil when put together – much like the second act (I Am Hell). I haven’t heard a metal song more complete and thorough since Master of Puppets, and this may even be more ferocious. But everyone and their fucking brother compares these guys to Metallica – so that’s the last you’ll hear me couple the two. Plus, modern-day Lars & Company sucks balls anyways.

Somewhere around the 6 minute mark (I presume) we get the less-noticeable shift into the third part of the song (Ashes To The Sky). One can assume it either changes movements at the breakdown or at the instrumental closing, but honestly the whole thing just melds together as a headbanging triumph. Find me a better metal song done in the last five years and I’ll buy you a case of your favorite suds…

One track in, and you already realize that this is going to be one hell of a ride. Without even a moment to wipe the sweat off your brow and nurse your wounds, “Be Still And Known” comes right at you with a beautifully heavy lick from Phil Demmel’s axe that grooves into a few bars of Dave McClain’s machine-gun drums. The duo build a great wall for the first minute before Robb Flynn’s vocals completely rip your face in half. It stays pretty even-tempoed through the first half – then gives way to a full-throttle thrash metal assault that hits you like a freight train. The shift is impeccable, and is matched by the overall intensity of the entire track.

“Locust” has a softer, more rhythmic opening, but it, too, gives way to a stiff dose of metal. Where the first two tracks have been thrash/groove perfection, this one leans a little closer to a metalcore sound – but it feels natural from the get-go. A wicked breakdown followed by a mellow shift in the guitars keeps it from getting too predictable, and while it’s a bit of a curveball, it manages to maintain the integrity the album has set forth. Credit to the band for continuing to try new things, all which continue to work.

But Machine Head aren’t about to pull any major style-change anytime soon, as is evident by the ‘thrash-only’ “This Is The End.” Thrash metal has always been one of my favorite genres, and holy hell do these guys know how to bring it. What really gets me is how thick the guitars, drums and Adam Duce’s bass come together. Sure, they can finger tap their way through a solo from time to time, but they really don’t even HAVE to. The togetherness comes through at the most frenetic moments, but hit just as hard when the band is emphasizing the slower, groove-laden parts as well.

Stretching the limits of what a band can do sometimes doesn’t lead to the best of results, as is evident with “Darkness Within.” What starts as a pseudo-acoustic piece never really gains its balance along the way, and it is obvious that the band is a bit out of their element. Flynn tries to pull off his best Dave Grohl, but it ends up being more like Dave Attell – and less funny. The track picks up a bit at the end, but the damage was already done. But hey, you can’t blame them for trying…

Returning to much more comfortable territory, “Pearls Before The Swine” gets the record right back on track with it’s Lamb of God-esque structure and force. There’s absolutely no denying the gravity of the opening track, but this one elevates to almost the same level. The bass line is a thick as wet cement, and the drums and guitars are as strong here as anywhere else on the album. The fact that this song is buried near the bottom of the disc shows just how far Machine Head has come since The Blackening.

“Who We Are” closes things out with a headbanger’s dream. The intro incorporates a chorus of children singing – which is incredibly effective and creepy – along with a cadenced snare and trumpet. As a call-to-arms for metal fans everywhere, the lyrics cry out for unity in a scene that – while pretty strong these days – could use the reminder. Covered with fantastic solos and precision drum blasts, this track – again – outdid itself.

On the whole, the album takes the band from near-epic status to something even greater. Had it not been for the hiccup in “Darkness Within,” there’s a good chance I would have named this the best album we’ve EVER reviewed here. That travesty aside, I still recommend this album to the highest degree. You won’t find many better albums records this year.

9/10

Tracklist:
01. I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)
—I – Sangre Sani
—II – I Am Hell
—III – Ashes To The Sky
02. Be Still And Know
03. Locust
04. This Is The End
05. Darkness Within
06. Pearls Before The Swine
07. Who We Are

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