Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.
Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.
01. Unto The Locust (2011): This album in my opinion is their finest hour, the best balance of aggressive and melodic, the best balance of fast and slow, the most tasteful lyrics and vocals of their career, one of the best production jobs in their career (that guitar tone is killer!). This album is their most focused and succinct outing to date, seven songs and absolutely no filler, not even flab on indivdual songs (the only thing I would lose is the children’s choir in the intro of the album closer, but that’s just a couple of bars anyway).
‘Locust takes the formula set up over the past two albums and utterly perfects it. There is not one song on here I don’t want to see live. (When I have seen them live, songs from it have invariably been highlights of the whole night!). I’ve had a locust poster on my wall for most years since this albums release. I still have the keychain that came with it on my keys to this day. This may not be the one that gets all the magazine coverage and list features, but it is my personal favourite.
Best songs: ‘Locust,’ ‘Darkness Within’ & ‘Who We Are.’
02. The Blackening (2007): A truly classic album and one of the best heavy metal albums of the decade. This album has been called the Master Of Puppets of this generation. While that is a big statement and will likely shock and appal some people, it was absolutely beloved here in the UK and will be the highpoint against which all future records will be judged. There was such a swell of buzz and hype around this album cycle and the band were at their most respected and critically acclaimed since their debut. It also helped that they absolutely nailed the imagery, artwork and music videos. Everything just gelled.
The quality of the song writing is near peerless and it does feature some of the best guitar solos and most fired-up performances of their whole career. This album is the high water mark for the Demmel/Flynn guitar trade off.
There is really no denying the sheer energy and enthusiasm on display throughout the record. Everything just bursts out of the speakers. For example the level of musical, vocal and lyrical venom/anger in the Dimebag-honouring, troll-shaming anthem ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ is almost breathtaking.
I may prefer Locust more personally, but the majority of fans and critics will opt for this one, and the band have featured huge doses of it in every live set since its release. If you only buy one Machine Head album, it should probably be this one.
Best songs: ‘Clenching The Fists Of Dissent,’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ & ‘Wolves.’
03. Burn My Eyes (1994): The original classic album. When this was new it was the fastest selling debut album Roadrunner Records ever had at that point. This is a definitive metal album of the 1990s. Its up there with Vulgar Display, Demanufacture & Chaos AD in the most important and influential metal albums of my youth (and to some extent the 1990s in general). Like The Blackening it is a cannonised stone cold classic album, widely respected and prominently featured in many list features and retrospectives.
This album is really the definition of Groove Metal for me. There were traces of this sort of music developing one riff at a time over the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in various Thrash Metal and Hardcore Punk albums, but it truly comes together into something new, fresh and exciting here. Up until they released The Blackening, it seemed as though they would never be able to follow up this iconic record. So many live favourites. Such a perfect gelling of art, videos, music, productino and performance. A real complete package.
If you are new to the band and didn’t grow up in the ’90s, its worth pointing out that this album is a lot rawer, harder and dirtier than their later work, with a lot less melody, but what it lacks in fineness it makes up for it attitude and sheer umph.
Best songs: ‘Davidian’ ‘The Rage To Overcome’ & ‘Blood For Blood.’
04. Bloodstone & Diamonds (2014): I view the three album run of The Blackening through to this album as the pinnacle of the band’s career. This album would be higher if only their debut wasn’t so great. I really love this record, the strings and keys add an extra dimension of variety to the formula of the last two albums, it’s a bit more varied and there is a lot more light and shade than even before.
This was their first album without bassist Adam Duce, who was always one of the most important band members and the ying to frontman Rob Flynn’s yang (very much the David Ellefson of this band), so it was hard to imagine how they would sound without him. It is a real testament to the band that they carried on so strongly given the circumstances.
I caught the band live on this album cycle, and material from this record stood toe to toe with the very best of their back catalogue and was not found wanting.
Best songs: ‘Killers & Kings’ ‘Game Over’, ‘Eyes Of The Dead’ & ‘Night Of The Long Knives.’
05. The More Things Change (1997): The first album with Sacred Reich drummer Dave McClain who really helped the band define their sound. This album had the unenviable task of having to follow up such an iconic debut, and as such it is often a bit overlooked when people think of definitive metal albums of the ‘90s, definitive Groove Metal albums or even the best Machine Head albums, but it is essential listening for any fan of the band.
In some ways it is a continuation of the style of Burn My Eyes, certainly on the first half, but the second half showcase the band being a bit darker, slower and creepier. It does most of the same things that made the debut so enjoyable and adds its own dimensions into the mix too.
I feel almost guilty not having this higher on the list. If you had it higher on your list I’d totally understand why.
Best songs: ‘Ten Ton Hammer’ ‘Take My Scars’ & ‘Struck A Nerve.’
06. Through The Ashes Of Empires (2003): This record was something of a comeback. The band were an absolute punching bag in the media before this, they got dropped from their record label, people were starting to go off the band. This record was the path to redemption.
It wasn’t a rehash of the early days, or a continuation of the Nu Metal years, but its own new thing. There was still a bit of the distasteful lyrics, a bit of the string scratching and reverby noises and some of the vocal deliveries were still a bit rapped and rhythmic. However; The riffs were starting to be heavier. The songs were starting to be longer and broader. The band were starting to head in a new direction. I guess there’s just a little less technicality, a little less Thrash influence and the addition of guitarist Phil Demmel into the line up came too late to affect the song writing and recording.
This fit perfectly alongside the new bands gaining ground at the time such as Killswitch, Chimaira and Shadows Fall, bringing back guitar solos, traditional metal fashion but not just rehashing the past. It learned lessons of melody from the previous records but delivered it in a new way, covering more ground.
In hindsight it was sort of a stepping stone towards their real comeback The Blackening (kind of like how Aerosmith’s Done With Mirrors gave way to Pump).
However, that is not to detract from this album’s quality. The definitive track ‘Imperium’ will never not be in the Machine Head setlist ever again.
Best songs: ‘Imperium’ ‘All Falls Down’ & ‘Vim.’ (& ‘Seasons Wither’ if you buy the best edition).
07. Catharsis (2018): This album got an absolute critical lambasting when it was released.
Between some people hating Rob Flynn’s politics on the anti-trump anthem ‘Bastards’ and some other people hating the swearing, sex-and-drug fuelled lyrics, and indeed some other people hating the band both allowing a little bit of Nu Metal to creep back into the sound while simultaneously following some fashionable modern trends like electronics and autotuners… it seemed like every fan, critic and casual bystander seemed to have something rub them up the wrong way about this record, and let the world know about it online.
In the age of the internet it got absolutely slaughtered up and down blogs, websites and comments sections in every relevent corner of the web. Phil Demmel and Dave McClain quitting soon after really didn’t help the album’s reputation either.
The thing that people tend to overlook however, is that the things people dislike about this record are a relatively small part of the album. Most of the album is the same groovy thrashy guitar tone as before, the same distinctive drum style as before, the same vocal style as before. Most of the best parts of the last four albums are still here.
People who don’t like the politics obviously never listened to ‘Slanderous’ on The Blackening, or ‘A Nation On Fire’ on the debut, or ‘In Comes The Flood’ on the previous album. The band have always been political.
People who don’t like the addition of modern touches are forgetting that from their very ’90s debut to their Nu Metal period to their guitar and metal focused renaisance period happening at the same time as the Thrash revival and melodic metalcore being popular, the band have always tried to stay modern and relevent.
People who don’t like the lyrics are overlooking lines like ”Fuck you you cocksucker, fuck you you whore” on Through The Ashes Of Empires.
If you see the millions of negative reviews out there, you may want to skip this album entirely. I’d advise you treat it with caution, but don’t just skip it altogether. This is not the train wreck it was made out to be. A little different, yes. A bit unpalatable, yes. Misguided. Certainly. But rubbish? Not even close.
Best songs: ‘Volatile’ ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ & ‘Hope Begets Hope.’
08. The Burning Red (1999): This album has a bit of a mixed legacy. Fans who were there in 1994 often cite this as a horrendous stain on the band’s legacy.
Ross Robinson’s production and the music videos for this do clearly show a band getting involved in the popular trends of the day and many people called this record a sell out. Fans who got into the album after Nu Metal broke but before Through The Ashes Of Empires however tend to have a really high opinion of it.
For me, I sit somewhere in the middle. As you can guess, given how low down this is on the list, this is not my favourite Machine Head record. That being said I can still appreciate the good moments, and I do have a soft spot for it. I guess it helps that I grew up in the Nu Metal era, and can forgive its trapping a lot more than someone who grew up in the Thrash Metal or NWOBHM eras usually can. The tracks from it are a lot better live, such as on the Hellalive album or Elegies DVD.
Also, in hindsight, you can see how the melody, slow moments and variety on here would give way for future ideas on Through The Ashes Of Empires, which was in turn the begining of the band’s best run of albums, so this was an essential lesson the band needed to learn in order to have a long career instead of just burning out as a one trick pony and never taking risks.
Best songs: ‘Nothing Left’ ‘Exhale The Vile’ & ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears.’
09. Supercharger (2001): Its weird, but while this album features one of the best songs in their whole career (live favourite ‘Bulldozer’) most fans seem to utterly hate this record. While previous album The Burning Red has a mixed legacy, this album has pretty much always been viewed as the absolute nadir of the band’s career. I don’t think you’ll find anyone call this their favourite Machine Head album.
The production is a lot better than on The Burning Red but unfortunately the performance is a bit more mechanical and the lyrics are quite unpalatable. Most of all though, outside of a few notable exceptions listed below, the songs are either unmemorable (I can’t remember how ‘Nausea’ ‘Blank Generation’ or ‘Deafening Silence’ go off the top of my head, and I’ve listened to this album dozens and dozens of times) or conversely memorable for the wrong reasons (‘American High’ is the lyrical template for all the cringey bits on Catharsis, and also comes with an amusing David Draiman-meets-Tarzan style vocal intro that people love to make fun of).
Once again, songs from this album come across a lot better live. Lead single ‘Crashing Around You’ in particular is great on the Hellalive live album.
While I have always been a bit defensive about supercharger, and have at times called it underrated, there is no denying that the other albums in the list are better.
Best songs: ‘Bulldozer’ ‘Trephination’ & ‘Supercharger.’