Machine Head – Civil Unrest (And other recent singles) Review

Civil Unrest is the new single from veteran Bay Area Metal band Machine Head. It is the third non-album single made since the controversial Catharsis album and their very public split with long term band members Phil Demmel and Dave McClain.

Some comments sections on the internet are absolutely lighting up at the moment with people shocked and appalled that Machine Head have suddenly made a political song about race relations due to current events in the news. The thing is though; Machine Head writing about racism is nothing new. Machine Head writing about politics is nothing new. Machine Head writing about current events is nothing new either.

Their last album featured the track ‘Bastards’ about the current political climate in the US, prior to that the non-album single ‘Is There Anyone Out There?’ was about feeling disbelief about and disconnected from racist musicians in the news at the time. Even on their classic The Blackening album there’s a track called ‘Slanderous’ full of anti-racism lyrics. Before that, their fan favourite song ‘Imperium’ opens with the line ‘fuck your prejudice.’ Oh yeah, and all the way back to their 1994 debut album Burn My Eyes they’ve been talking about racism and current events, like Rodney King and the L.A. Riots. Heck, on the track ‘Old,’ which is basically the title track of that album, the first thee words are ‘‘1994. Corruption. Racism.’’ That’s the current, political and racism boxes all ticked in the first 30 seconds.

In short, you really shouldn’t be surprised about it!

Now that the educational portion of the review is over, we can discuss the actual music. The first track, ‘Stop The Bleeding’ features guest vocals from Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach. I figure Rob must have decided to do this because the guitar itself is very Killswitch sounding. The first 30 seconds of the track could almost be Killswitch if you didn’t know any better. It’s a nice, catchy up-tempo riff, with a sort of loud/quiet dynamic. Towards the end though, it sounds classically Machine Head, slow riffs, harmonics, groove that could fit on the first two albums if the tone weren’t so bright. In the way Zakk Wylde has a signature sound, so does Rob Flynn. New drummer Matt Alston also does his best job of attempting to stay true to the established Machine Head style. Definitely not a throwaway song.

The next track on here is ‘Bullet Proof’ which is a lot heavier, dirtier and nastier. Its got a similar stock market/wall street lyrical theme as ‘In Comes The Flood’ from Bloodstone & Diamonds and musically it mixes the heavier moments from Through The Ashes Of Empires (think the ”On Your Grave I Will Stand” section of ‘In The Presence Of My Enemies’), with the clean-but-not-clean moments in the style of The More Things Change, topped off with the nice guitar solo trade-offs in the style of all the albums since and including The Blackening. Its basically a career retrospective in one song. For my money, this is probably the best individual song the band have put out since Bloodstone & Diamonds.

Overall, Civil Unrest is just two short and angry songs released spontaneously in a strange year, but if it is any indication of the future, I think maybe Machine Head should be album to find their feet again after their midlife crisis of the past few years.

While I’m on the subject, I have never reviewed the other two songs the band put out since the line-up change; ‘Do or Die’ and ‘Set It Off.’

‘Do Or Die’ was a fast and very angry song, with slightly cringey lyrics (‘step into the terror dome’?!?), and a slightly ‘off’ production, but overall a decent song in the vein of the Blackening/Locust/Bloodstone formula. Its not quite there yet, but it is a step in the right direction. The song it reminds me most of is probably ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ – it’s a thrash influenced song about something on the internet that made Rob angry, and it has a prominent guitar solo.

‘Circle The Drain’ on the other hand is a more melodic, catchy radio single attempt like the aforementioned single ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ was. Rob really stretches his vocals here, with some cleans you haven’t heard before and some patterns you haven’t heard since the Nu Metal days. There’s some phrasing that wouldn’t have been out of place on Supercharger, there’s melody that wouldn’t be out of place on US rock radio, but then they save it by having a dirty main riff with trademark harmonics that again could have fit on The More Things Change if the tone wasn’t so bright.

If you imagine all four songs were one hypothetical EP, it is certainly a mixed bag both stylistically and in terms of quality. The one thing I think all of it has in common is that on first listen it may be either mildly disappointing to hardcore fans or downright off-putting to the less devoted out there, but that it really does grow the more you listen. I think Machine Head may have stumbled slightly in recent years (not the car crash the internet would have you believe, but certainly a stumble none the less), however I think if they’re able to adjust and grow from here, then the future is still very bright for them.

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