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.

Machine Head Albums Ranked:

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.

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MACHINE HEAD:

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.’

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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.’

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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.’

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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.’

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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.’

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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).

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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.’

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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.’

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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.’

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I went to see An Evening With Machine Head last night in Cardiff, Monday 14th May 2018.

I went to see An Evening With Machine Head last night in Cardiff, Monday 14th May 2018. There were no support bands and wasn’t much waiting around, just about three hours of Machine-Fucking-Head (as they like to be called).

After playing some Slipknot, Metallica and Killswitch Engage songs over the PA, and coming on to ‘Diary Of A Madman’ by Ozzy, the band took the stage. It was all decked out in cool mats and banners with the band’s iconography on it, there were no visible amps as it was all covered in screens which were white and blood stained, the drum kit was even white. I think at other shows the band might’ve been dressed white as well but they were dressed normal tonight.

The audience reaction was really great. I’ve seen Machine Head twice before and in the UK they are utterly beloved, so you can imagine how good the energy in the room was.

The night held a mixture of old and new, fast and slow, heavy and quiet. They played a decent chunk of their controversial (but excellent) new album Catharsis, which I appreciated as although I thought it was good on first impressions, it has been my car album ever since and in work that is the soundtrack to driving and I’ve really come to love it over the months. They played 6 whole songs of it, which is a pretty good showing for a new album. The audience reacted really well to the new material and the sing-alongs to songs like ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘Catharsis’ and even the controversial ‘Triple Beam’ were all just as good as fan favourites like ‘Bulldozer,’ ‘Take My Scars’ or ‘The Blood The Sweat The Tears.’ There was one typical meathead guy just shouting ‘Davidian!’ all night, but he was a small minority, the new stuff went over really well. Take that internet trolls.

The audience lapped up stuff of the classic albums like Burn My Eyes and The Blackening, reacted very well to material off my favourite album Unto The Locust and went mental for even stuff off the controversial albums like The Burning Red and Supercharger (yes even the much bemoaned rapping in From This Day, their late ’90s single which is often complained about by the bullet belt crowd. Hey, I love it and I showed up in a patch jacket full of Forbidden, Exodus and Testament patches). The only point in the evening was when it dipped was for the new ballad ‘Behind A Mask’ (which I loved and happily sang along to) but which seemed to die on its ass. One mosh-pit enthusiast turned to me and yelled, ‘this is why we have support bands!’ – meaning he didn’t like it. But to be fair the crowd might have just been tired from banging around for two and a half hours and just having heard ‘Davidian’ 19 songs into the otherwise crushing and energetic set.

There were all the songs I can’t live without nowadays like ‘Locust’ ‘Game Over’ ‘Killers And Kings’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ and ‘Imperium’ (I think I’d cry if I saw Machine Head and they didn’t play all of those) as well as the old reliable tracks like ‘Old’ & ‘Ten Ton Hammer.’ They even threw in ‘None But My Own’ off the debut which they didn’t play either time I saw them before which was a nice change.

The way the lighting works, with green for Locust era songs, Orange for Burn My Eyes era songs and Red for Burning Red songs is really cool, and with occasional towers of smoke and a very enthusiastic band interacting constantly with each other and the crowd, it is a joy to watch. You catch little bits like Phil and Dave making faces at eachother or Phil tuning Robb’s tuning peg in the middle of a part for laughs and you can tell they’re having fun. Although not new anymore, the new-ish bassist Jared MacEachern has such a great stage presence and is a perfect fit for the band, just like how Phil was when he joined and now you can’t imagine the band without him.

As for the performances; pure flipping magic! Watching Dave McClain drum is like watching a science experiment on a voodoo ritual. The man comes up with some bonkers patterns and just the best fills, and its hard not to spend the majority of the concert air drumming. The guy is a beast.

The vocals from all three stringed players were great, and Rob really holds up live. He is a brilliant frontman, you get peaks of it on the old live at brixton DVD and the live CDs but in person its a whole other level, he is the perfect mixture of grateful and humble but also commanding and dominating. Its awesome.

Apart from one or two very minor technical issues, the music was amazing. (I think Phil either broke a guitar string or had faulty equipment once as he dissapeared off stage briefly once). The jaw dropping guitar solos are such fun and people were singing along to parts like you do for Megadeth. I was in such a good spot – second row from the front, just left of centre – so could see everyone perfectly and see every little detail of the fretboards and drum kit. The venue has the stage quite close and low to the crowd so you really get to see everything and it was visually the best concert I’ve seen for a band of this size. You could practically make out their nose hair it was that good a view.

Considering Machine Head don’t have that many short songs, and played long tracks like ‘Clenching The Fist Of Dissent’ and ‘Halo,’ having 26 songs live was incredible value for money. Considering how ridiculously good the band are live it was anyway, but the sheer quantity as well as the spectacular quality make this one of the finest live concerts I’ve ever seen… Sometimes I’ve seen bands I love and been underwhelmed by sound, setlist choice or performance (see Monster Magnet for all the that one time when I was in Uni, or Slipknot when they supported Metallica that one time back in Dublin where the soundguy fucked them over and they only had a very short set) but with Machine Head everything has been amazing. Like Saxon, I’ve never seen them anything less than amazing and been totally satisfied.

If you get the chance, see this band live!

Ps. Shout out to the Cardiff audience members in the That’s Not Metal merch, I love that show!

Machine Head – Catharsis Review

Machine-Head-Catharsis-Artwork.jpgTo say this album is controversial is an understatement. To understand it, you really have to look at the psychology and recent history of the band and it’s frontman, Rob Flynn. When Machine Head first arrived on the scene in the early ’90s with their almost universally loved debut album and its follow up they were the hot new thing. By taking Thrash Metal, slowing it down, adding in lots of groove and Hardcore they ended up creating something unique that genre pedants still can’t agree on (Groove Metal or Post Thrash or just a weird version of Thrash, the arguments are endless). After that, when Nu Metal was popular and still new and exciting, the band who had always been talking about Hip Hop and Rap since their early days introduced Rap and Hip Hop elements into their music and changed the production and guitar styles, in so doing they made something altogether different that garnered both huge success and then huge backlash for their next two albums. After the backlash and all the constant criticism, the band almost broke up and their popularity plummeted drastically, but instead of throwing in the towel, they changed paths again and then released what can only be described as four of the best albums in the entire history of Heavy Metal… their stellar run from their return-to-glory Through The Ashes Of Empires to Bloodstone And Diamonds are four straight up faultless masterpieces, crowned by their beyond-popular The Blackening which is hailed as a classic by more people than there is time to list.

For the two albums after The Blackening though, even though they were incredible, it did not get the band the Festival Headliner status they justly deserved. Furthermore, after touring the material from those four albums, most of which is so lengthy and diverse that it absolutely ate up all the time they would get on festival slots thereby letting them only really play 4 or 5 songs… the band decided to start doing ‘An Evening With Machine Head’ shows where they could play multiple hour sets (often without a support act, although I’ve seen them twice, once with support bands and once without).

When doing those ‘evening-with’ shows and now having room to play more than just 4 or 5 of the newer era songs, they were able to drop in material from all over their career. Even tracks from the Nu Metal period that many people claimed to hate, but which the band are now getting nostalgic for and people seemed to be loving live.

So here we are in 2018; after four albums of absolute perfection, melding progressive flair, blistering thrash, flashy technicality, beautiful dual guitar melodies, and diverse mixtures of fast, slow, sludgy and groovy… the band needed to try something else to make a play for their absolutely-earned but frustratingly elusive festival headliner status. Full of nostalgia for the Nu Metal era and feeling no reason to be tied to a formula that isn’t giving them the success they deserve, Machine Head entered the studio and came out with Catharsis. The name has been explained as describing the writing process. Instead of having to hide away new ideas like incorporating poppy keyboard sounds that Rob is listening to on the radio, or delving back into the in their eyes unfairly overlooked Nu Metal stuff was cathartic for the band. Even though it is superb, they don’t want to just repeat The Blackening fifty times. It wouldn’t be fun as musicians. So back come the bouncy riffs and street-level lyrics, and newly incoming are the Jordan Fish sounding keyboard sections. That gets mixed in with the successful formula from the previous four albums, and the resultant mixture is what we have here on Catharsis.

Now; there’s two things that can make a certain time of metal fan do a spit-take. One of them is a Heavy band going Nu Metal. Another is anything that sounds like Bring Me The Horizon. So naturally; there has been a hell of a lot of negative reaction to this album. Not helping that is the world being so much more right wing now, people are complaining constantly about the socially conscious lyrics of this as if its a new thing. As if they weren’t singing about this all the way back on Burn My Eyes. As if the universally praised The Blackening didn’t have ‘Slanderous’ on it. As if Metal fans haven’t been praising bands like Anthrax and Nuclear Assault for being socially aware all the way back in the ’80s. As if music fans haven’t been praising bands like Dead Kennedys and Rage Against The Machine and the hundreds of other bands (I mean, there are so many more left wing or liberal rock and metal bands than its even worth counting, why is this even a topic of discussion?). I mean, its not as if Rob Flynn has ever guest starred on an Earth Crisis album or something is it? Oh wait…

Ok. So that’s the broad strokes out of the way. On to the specifics. It is almost an album of two halves (its almost two albums its that long, over 70 minutes… how does that compare to Unto The Locust getting pettily criticized for being too short?). The first half shows off the more experimental stuff. Songs like ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘California Bleeding,’ ‘Triple Beam’ and the album’s centerpiece ‘Bastards’ is where the real diversity and controversy lies. If you haven’t heard it or about it yet, ‘Bastards’ has been described as a folk song; four chords that have been around hundreds of years etc, and it climaxes with a shuffly drum beat that could be Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphies. It is a very surprising move from the band and sounds like nothing they’ve done before. ‘California Bleeding’ has that same style of lyrics that the much criticized ‘American High’ off of Supercharger had. ‘Kaleidoscope’ and the Title Track have touches of keyboards that have that Jordan Fish BMTH sound. There is a slight Slipknot influence on opener ‘Volatile.’ ‘Triple Beam’ despite having an absolutely brutal sledgehammer riff in it, is much-hated by people for being a very clear Nu Metal nostalgia moment. I think bands like Cain Hill and King 810 coming out, and bands like Coal Chamber reuniting, as well as fans at ‘Evening-With‘ shows enjoying the Burning Red material so much can explain this. This type of music was important to the band at one point and it must feel fun to write like this again and not have to feel ashamed of it. (Well, until now when the inevitable backlash came).

The rest of the album however is a bit more traditional. Its nothing you’ve heard before but if you really think about it, it is within expected limits of Machine Head. I mean, this whole album’s titular catharsis was them rejecting and pushing against those limits and that’s why the first half is the way it is. So of course, sure there is a bit of diversity in the second half too, with ‘Hope Begets Hope’ having a slight System Of A Down influence in the quiet guitar parts, and the odd melodic pre-chorus on the Motorhead tribute ‘Razorblade Sigh’ are a new addition but its all within the limits of a between-albums jump in their last four albums run.  They were never four exactly identical albums and there was a reasonable jump between each, but the second half here is very much suitable for anyone who has loved the band’s renasiance period. Don’t let people who don’t like all the change in the first half let you miss out on the quality stuff at the end. There are riffs as crushing as anything on ‘Locust or ‘Diamonds, there are guitar solos as good as the stuff on The Blackening and there are vocals as good as anything on ‘Empires. I mean ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ opens up with violins, but so did ‘Now We Die.’

Even though the heavier moments are what we all come to Machine Head for, one of the highlights is ‘Behind A Mask;’ a semi-ballad that sounds like a superb mixture of ‘Darkness Within’ and ‘Descend The Shades Of Night’ but with an almost Bon Iver backing vocal, some tasteful electronic snare sounds, and absolutely and a stunningly simple but beautiful guitar solo.

Now; I don’t think this album is anywhere near as deserving of criticism as it is getting. (Really?! Your review was so impartial thus far, how shocking!). That being said, I do have some personal-preference issues. I for one am not a fan of the lyrics. Not the political stuff, I actually like that. Its the poor-taste vulgar stuff that feels out of place. I don’t want to hear ‘sucking dick’ or ‘getting head’ or ‘eating pussy’ or ‘a boner for miles’ from the same band who wrote the excellent lyrics to ‘Locust’ and ‘Clenching The Fist Of Descent’ …that is not to my personal taste. I also am not a fan of the weird effects on the drums at times. Sometimes, the music will cut out and Dave will be about to drop a really powerful drum fill but the production job will put an effect on it and make it sound strange and toy-like and detract from the impact. I also don’t like the decision to use less rhythm guitar and do the dual leads over only bass. It sounds a bit empty compared to previous albums some how. Lacking a certain power. Not album ruining but a little niggle worth pointing out.

Is it going to topple Unto The Locust as my own personal favourite Machine Head album? No. Is it going to topple The Blackening or Burn My Eyes as the band’s most known and loved classic album in the public opinion? No. That being said; It is the travesty people have been hyperbole-gushing about? Hell no. Is it a return to Nu Metal? Not really no, there are tiny amounts only. Is it a betrayal? No, don’t overdo it now guys. Is it even a bad album? No.

There are a few aspects that aren’t to my taste, there are a few aspects that will have more militant bullet belt wearing fans crying foul. The majority of the album however is still the same thing Machine Head always do: Unique drums. Heavy riffing. Interesting solos. Rob Flynn’s voice. There is an absolute load of good moments on the album, and the lesser moments have been greatly blown out of proportion.

PS. Another really great reason to check this album out? The bonus disc! If you get the right version you get a full length ‘An Evening With’ show live in San Francisco in 2015. It has 21 entire songs performed superbly and well captured. It has all the MH livery and banners and the good light show. The band are firing on all cylinders. The crowd seem pretty into it. The camera work and editing aren’t annoying or distracting like some concert DVDs. Heck; The DVD is good enough to be a full price release on its own merit. I highly recommend you check it out. Even if you’ve heard ‘Kaleidoscope’ or ‘Bastards’ or something and are skeptical about the new album, how can you argue with live renditions of tracks like ‘Game Over,’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate,’ ‘Imperium’ and the like?

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds Review

Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds

In 2014, Nuclear Blast records released the eight full-length studio album by the now-legendary Bay Area based Heavy Metal band Machine Head, entitled Bloodstone & Diamonds.

It was their first without longtime bassist Adam Duce (a huge part of the band’s sound) and the first with new bassist Jared MacEachern. This line-up shift leaves frontman Robb Flynn as the sole original member. Luckily long-time drummer Dave McClain is still on board as he has been for everything except the debut, and Phil Demmel is still there as he has been for the last three exceptionally good albums, leaving a feeling of consistency and cushioning the blow of such a big loss.

Produced by bandleader Robb Flynn & Juan Urteaga, mixed by Colin Richardson (with additional work from Andy Sneap and Steve Lagudi); sonically, this is an exemplary record. The instruments are crystal clear, the mix is crushing and well balanced, and this only serves to highlight the superb, passionate performances and some of the best vocals in the band’s history. Its a real treat for the ears, as violins swirl warmly around and the gorgeously-recorded drum kit hammers proudly across the spectrum.

When I first got into the band, public opinion had turned on them, every magazine and website claimed they were on the way out, people spoke of them either with contempt or with rose tinted nostalgia and an “only Burn My Eyes was any good” historic revisionism. It nice to see how much the band’s star is on the rise now. Every album keeps getting better. They keep getting the recognition they deserve from critics. Live shows are full of adoring fans. This even ended up being, to date, the band’s highest charting record ever.

It deserves it. This is one stone-cold gem of an album. Almost flawless. There’s no filler, no weak songs, nothing out-of-place. The choruses are memorable. The solos are scorching. The fills are impressive and satisfying. The album is chocked full of riffs that sound like all eras of the band’s history and still move things forward to the future. There’s a bouncy scrappy Hardcore-influenced sound to “Game Over,” a haunting epic feeling to “Sail Into The Black,” a melancholy melodic feel to “Damage Inside” a big dirty sludgy sound to “Beneath The Silt” and more rampant Blackening-esque Thrashy aggression to the likes of “Killers & Kings” and “Eyes Of The Dead.” The titanic 71-minute record is full to the brim with all different sorts of ideas and directions but still feels like one cohesive whole.

The quality of the songwriting tips everything over the edge. Its not just immaculately produced, furiously performed and stylistically satisfying… but its also just plain brilliant in and of itself. It stands up remarkably well to repeat listens. All the little clever structuring decisions, neat flourishes and all the orchestral extras reveal themselves more and more with repeat listens. There’s an immense depth to this one. I’ve seen over half of it live in concert and it absolutely crushed and felt “right” beside stuff from all positions in the band’s discography. It felt incredible even without the lush production and the extra orchestral instruments. These are just brilliant songs, plain and simple.

It must have been difficult to live up to the impossibly high standards the band have been setting themselves for the last twelve-or-so years, but somehow Machine Head managed it, once again. This is an incredible record that will stand up well against any Machine Head record you care to name. Get yourself a copy if you haven’t already!

Get (Into) What You Paid For – Volume 5, No. 2: ‘Tis The Season

Howdy; welcome once again to yet another edition of my blog series, Get (Into) What You Paid For; a series in which I blog about the music and media I own, to distract myself from the fact that I am sworn off buying anything new for a month (or in this case, two months).

Its day 27, so that means I’ve made it 27 days without buying any cds, dvds, comic books or videogames. The man who started this blog four years ago could never have gone this long without consumerism. I’m pretty sure back when I worked my old job in 2010, I probably bought on average about two cds a week for the entire year at a minimum.

I haven’t actually posted much this time around because for the first 75% of the month, I’ve been super busy working crazy hours and having to fit in lots of academic work at home too for my final year. The other 25% of the month has been spent with loved ones and crazily poor internet signal. So, didn’t want to be rude and spend family time blogging, and didn’t have a good enough signal to do it much anyway, or at least do it easily.

Normally, going a month without buying anything would be quite difficult, but with the whole Christmas thing, I get to buy other people gifts and that sates the itch, so its been much easier. Also, you don’t know what you may receive as a gift and then buy nothing incase you’re gifted with it.

I’ve been really tempted a couple of times though, because, hey… I’m me. I saw Stratovarius and Accept albums in HMV this month and they never had them when I went looking for them. I saw Manowar albums on Amazon for between £1 and £3 that I’ve wanted for a while but are always more expensive. A lot of bands I like put out new albums and I’ve not gotten around to getting them (this year I’ve been so bad with buying new releases I can’t even put together an AOTY list!) even after seeing some of those bands live.

There’s also been numerous temptations within the world of comics. Just before starting this new fifth round of the GITWYPF challenge, I discovered Comixology. I mean I’d heard of it for the last two years, but Digital Comics seemed like a bad idea… I like reading physical books and laptops hurt my eyes and are the wrong shape for stories designed to be read in the shape of actual physical comics (unless you put a laptop on its side). So, for the two years I’ve been reading comics I avoided it, but the fact that so much is unavailable or only available on eBay for crazy prices, but available digitally for about £1 an issue (with no P&P because its digital) kind of won me over, and I can fill in gaps using this. Its not even poor to read due to the “guided view” feature, which zooms and readjusts the panels in order and blanks out the other panels, allowing you to watch the comic like a powerpoint or a slow cartoon. As a service, it’s a bit addictive though, and so a huge source of temptation. You the read two issues you want and then it makes you want to buy the ones before and after, or older ones of historical importance. Its too easy, too tempting, damn hard to stay away from.

Also, being in bookshops for getting others gifts makes me walk past lots of comic books and that makes you very close to just slipping one in there with the rest of the less-selfish purchases.

Videogames haven’t been a temptation at all, because I don’t have the time. It takes time to start up, time to shut them down or find savepoints, and your brain is abuzz afterwards so you can’t play them right before its time to sleep if you have to go to work in the morning. Compared to a book or comic book that you can just pick up and set down at a moments notice, its harder to fit them in. I got God Of War Ascension for my Birthday in the Summer and only managed to play it when Uni broke up about a week or so ago, and even then only for two days, and I still haven’t opened up Darksiders 2 which I got last Christmas. Theoretically I could now, but I don’t have a console with me at the moment, and by the time I get back to my term time address I’ll be hard at work again.

On the subject of God Of War Ascension, it was pretty good. I love that series, it is one of the most consistant and dependable series going. The combat is absolutely perfect, and its fun to see what vast-scale ideas they come up with next. It felt maybe like GOW 3 backed them into a corner and this prequel wasn’t just as impressive, but it was damn good regardless. I only got time to play one run-through of single player and no multiplayer, bonuses or second attempts, but on first impression it was very entertaining.

Anyway, the reason I right these things is to stop myself slipping up in the challenge. I may not have written many entries this time around, but I haven’t slipped up. I’ve stayed true, stayed the course (and whatever other “stay” phrases apply) and haven’t bought anything for myself since starting the challenge. Its been helped immensely by the Christmas presents.

I got the new Mushroomhead, Slipknot, Machine Head and Corrosion Of Conformity albums, as well as Helstar’s Nosferatu. I also got Spawn, Batman, X-Men and Spiderman comics. All delightfully nerdy gifts that stave off the “buy new stuff” urge very well. (Until I finish the comics and want the next in the series, at least).

Over the month, I’ve been really heavily listening to stuff I got for my Birthday, like the Tirivium, Judas Priest, Soundgarden, Helloween, Manowar and Savatage records I’ve already discussed on this blog ad naseum, in addition to Rishloo’s superb new album (of fucking course!) – because this year is going so ridiculously quickly that those still feel brand new despite being several months old – and in the last two days I’ve been blitzing those Christmas gift albums.

Did you know the Mushroomhead one has a cover of Adele’s “Rumour Has It” ? I had no idea until the chorus came in on my first listen through. Quite the surprise! Usually, I hate when Metal bands cover pop songs, especially if they aren’t particularly old. Covering a current pop song is a bit cheesy. But this works. Also, I’m way less snobby these days – Five Finger Death Punch covering “Moma Said Knock You Out” and nailing it will do that to ya.

The new Slipknot and Machine Head albums are good, by the way. Really good. The Machine Head one in particualt seems like a bit of a min-masterpiece in fact. If I heard enough new albums to do an AOTY list, it’d be damn tough choosing the top spot between it and Accept’s Blind Rage. Slipknot’s new album is interesting, beforehand I could not have been more cynical about or suspicious of. I was convinced it would be rubbish. It really isn’t though. Its strong. Damn strong. Stronger than the last one for sure. It seems to be a grower. Even all the lyrics about Paul’s death aren’t as cheap and cheesy as I imagined. I’d streamed “Skeptic” a few times because I’d heard that it was about Paul and I really cringed at the lyric “the world will never see another crazy muthafucker like you” – it just felt so dishonest and cheap, as if it was purely written to get sang along with and to make headlines, but the more I listen to it, in context, with the rest of the lyrics… I think its actually honest. Especially given how Corey and Shaun actually talk in real life.

The rest of that album is really good too. Its heavy, there aren’t any real ballads, the songs with poppier choruses never have as poppy verses as anything like “Dead Memories” or “Before I Forget.”

Not that heaviness in itself is good enough on its own. The thing is that the songs themselves are actually good. Memorable, catchy, the solos that feel more natural and less “look, I’m soloing.” There are some real fun, satisfying riffs on there and the new drummer actually keeps up Joey’s unique flappy, skittery style of drumming so it doesn’t sound like a huge departure.

I’ve also been listening to Machine Head’s older albums too. Inspired by the recent concert, and the new album, its always good to break out the ones I already own. Through The Ashes Of Empires has some of my absolute favourite Machine Head songs on it. “Vim,” “All Halls Down” and “Wipe Away The Tears” are the perennial favourites, and the concert made me reevaluate “Descend The Shades Of Night” and “Bite The Bullet” which I’ve overlooked in the past.

Then there’s Blind Guardian’s Nightfall In Middle Earth. Its like a mixture between Testament, Gamma Ray and oddly, Gentle Giant. I highly recommend checking that one out.

Being back with my family for the holidays I’ve also been exposed to my brother’s music. I’ve gotten to check out the new Animals As Leaders and Skyharbour albums. That is some seriously good stuff right there!

Check out the Animals As Leaders song “Physical Education” – such a fun tune!

I’ve also got access to my CDs again, because in my own place – half a country away – I don’t have the space to keep my CDs. My iTunes copies of a few Porcupine Tree and W.A.S.P. albums had glitches and faults in them, so being back here I was able to re-rip them. Its great listening to the songs properly without it skipping and cutting off short.

The rest of the time has been spent on romantic trips with my beautiful girlfriend, huge amounts of scrabble with the family, and watching all three seasons of That Mitchel And Webb Look and a series of Peep Show. I can’t go anywhere now without hearing Sir Digby Chicken Ceaser’s singing in the back of my head.

Its been an excellent break. The final one of this life as I’ll be qualified by the next one and go from someone who works to someone with a career – I forsee this will be my last Chirstmas day off for a while. I’ve been lucky in that my current job and my last job didn’t have me work on Christmas day (although I’ve done it before in previous jobs to that). Its been nice getting homework done and weights lifted in the same building as family instead of hundreds of miles away, its been nice having the time off work and its been nice having the free time to read so much. The crushingly slow internet was a tiny bit inconvenient but there’s only so many blogs about heavy music or Batman that a person can read in a month anyway.

Plus all this time in the middle of nowhere with no shops and too poor internet to access iTunes Store or Comixology well enough is pretty darn good for sticking to the challenge.

You can look forward to new album reviews and Amature Batfan articles too, as a result of all these lovely gifts. Merry Christmas, blogosphere!

I went to go see Machine Head live tonight at the 02 Apollo in Manchester, England on the 16/12/2014.

I went to go see Machine Head live tonight at the 02 Apollo in Manchester, England on the 16/12/2014.

I’ve never been to the Apollo before, I had tickets to see Motorhead with Saxon here but it got cancelled when Lemmy was diagnosed with Diabetes. It was a nice big venue with a good atmosphere and excellent sound quality. I wouldn’t mind going back there again.

The support acts where Heart Of A Coward and Darkest Hour.

Heart Of A Coward were a Parkway Drive or Killswitch Engage sounding Melodic Metalcore band with a bodybuilder singer. Their drummer seemed to play really lightly and politely and never “rocked out” much at all. The music was ok, and would’ve been alright if you knew the songs, but it was a bit “stare with blank expression” from me I’m afraid.

Next up were Darkest Hour who’s first two songs made them sound like a groove-focused modern Metal band like Lamb Of God but then they ended up being more normal Metalcore. They were way better than the first band, and their drummer (also a bodybuilder) had a lot of force, power and style. He even had a kind’ve unique setup with no rack toms and only floor toms. Their singer came out in a legbrace like he’d broken his knee (said it was from partying with Machine Head). He told a joke: “I heard you Brits like dry humour, so this song goes out to the Queen’s vagina” …Darkest Frankie Boyle more like it! They were interesting enough, especially at the start, but my attention waned after a while… again it’s a case of if you knew the songs it would’ve been good.

Then the main event, Machine Head took to the stage. Man… I’ve been to enough concerts to know this wasn’t normal… I’ve never been in such a crush before. I felt like I was in a trash compactor… the crowd just absolutely squished the crap out’ve the front few rows (naturally, as is the case in 99% of concerts I ever go to, I end up front row centre, barr one. So, I’m the second person from front row centre, and also almost always there is a tiny girl or skinny 15 year old dude in front of me who would get squashed if I didn’t have the good sense to spend the entire concert, muscles engaged to maximum effort, trying to push the crowd back).

Well, this crowd was waaaaaay too selfish and eager and they absolutely squashed the crap out of us and I got it from both sides and backwards and I’m not joking, my muscles hurt more than doing two hours of really focused weightlifting, on a day when I’m adding more weights to the bars (so as to advance). It was crazy. I felt like I was in an animal enclosure and not a rock concert. Lamb Of God fans weren’t this crushing, Hatebreed fans weren’t this crushing. Bring Me The Horizon and their attitude-problem hardcore dancing selfish-jerk audience weren’t this crushing. I, and basically everyone towards the middle of the first four rows just got absolutely crushed and pounded. It was exhausting, and out of the ordinary. Joke – All the lyrics about smashing an crushing probably didn’t help either.

…So it was more like a workout than a gig, and you’d think that would spoil it… think spending so much mental energy just not being bulldozed and trampled would’ve distracted me from the music – but no! What a concert! Machine Head were absolutely amazing. It was such a brilliant performance, such good vibes, such energy. The power and belief and showmanship was absolutely top shelf. I can’t recommend this band live enough. Its one of the best concerts I’ve been to in recent years. In fact, one of the best gigs I’ve been to period. And I’m not exactly a gig dodger.

The setlist was awesome too. They’ve been doing a revolving setlist thing on this tour; some nights you get “Supercharger” or “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears” whereas some nights you get extra tracks off the new album, there’s different songs from The Blackening on different nights, sometimes “Block” is there from Burn My Eyes and sometimes not. On the Dimebag death anniversary there was a load of Pantera covers.

On this particular night, the night I went to see them, they played “Imperium,” “Descend The Shades Of Night” and “Bit The Bullet” off of ‘Ashes Of Empires, “Beautiful Mourning,” “Now I Lay Thee Down,” “Aesthetics Of Hate” and “Halo” off of The Blackening, “Locust” and “Darkness Within” off of Unto The Locust, “Killers & Kings,” “Now We Die,” “Game Over,” “Beneath The Silt” and “In Comes The Flood” off the new album Bloodstone & Diamonds, as well as rap-featuring “From This Day” off of The Burning Read, “Bulldozer” off of Supercharger, “Ten Ton Hammer” off of The More Things Change, and of course “Old” and “Davidian” off of Burn My Eyes. What a setlist!

I am so, so pleased to have gotten to see the two Locust era tracks with my own eyes. Anyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely adore Unto The Locust. I still have the keyring on my keys, the poster on my wall, and the album never comes off my limited-space phone no matter the new stuff I buy. I dig the crap out of that record and to get to see “Locust” and “Darkness Within” live was amazing. Rob did a little speech about the bay area thrash scene beforehand, which was interesting. Those were my favourite moments of the night, with “Bulldozer,” “Davidian” and surprise awesome new track “Game Over” as the next best. But really, it was all golden!

Rob was a very good frontman all evening; being very entertaining, encouraging participation, getting everyone’s energy up, shouting out all the band members including multiple shout-outs for new bassist Jared MacEachern (man, replacing the amazing Adam Duce cant’ve been easy, but this guy nailed every part and “felt right” in the same way Pat Brudders does for Down). The only thing I didn’t like was that he made fun of a kid in the front row for not going mental enough and sitting there still all night with a Dr. Evil from Austin Powers pinky-finger to mouth gesture the whole evening… and fair enough it probably looked funny, but the kid was likely being crushed half to death if I was anything to go by, and he was little and skinny so in that position I wouldn’t have gone that crazy either. Rob did save it though by singing “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” so it felt less like bullying and more like a good frontman entertaining the crowd. Oh and the rest of the band had all got Santa Hats on towards the end. Fitting for this time of year, it was nice and amusing. Merry Christmas.

It was good that all the material went over well. People lost their shit for the Supercharger and Burning Red stuff equally to the classic Burn/Change stuff. Everything from ‘Ashes onwards got an extra special reaction. Anything to do with Phil Demmel is just beloved by the fanbase (and rightly so – what a great musician!). I’ve been at some concerts where people only react to the new stuff (Mastodon, Riverside, BMTH) or only the old stuff (Hatebreed, Megadeth, Slayer) but everyone reacted well to everything here.

It was such a great performance, and the band’s high quality, well-designed lightshow really added to things. It went green during “Locust” and red during “From This Day” off of The Burning Red to echo those album’s artwork and it would black out the stage but spotlight one person to highlighted members during key parts like interesting drum fills or separate guitarists on riffs that switch between separate earphones on the record (aka panning). Their stage show had big backdrop banners, Roman Empire looking plinths with the MH logo, smoke cannons, all sorts of lights, banners with lions on them off to the side. It looked expensive and impressive. To top it all off the sound was superb… during that super dirty riff at the end of “Davidian” (y’know that really slow, brutally ugly riff) it was the best sounding moment I’ve heard live in the last two years (and Rob even called out “so fucking heavy!”).

Also… I can’t describe how cool it was to see Dave McClain. He’s just such a unique, bespoke Drummer and no one else plays like him. His style is so singular it sometimes sounds like he’s playing “wrong” because no one else plays like that. Watching some of those badass fills with my own eyes was like a religious experience.

Overall; great concert… but don’t be surprised if you read in the news that someone died from crush injuries.

Get (Into) What You Paid For – Round 4: Episode 4 Day 18

Hello and welcome to my “Get (Into) What You Paid For” challenge, in which I attempt to not buy anything for a month, and reevaluate my opinion of records I bought previously but never really became a true fan of, taking this purchase-abstinence as a chance to finally “get my money’s worth” out’ve the more undervalued albums in my collection. That; and present thoughts and musings that don’t fit elsewhere on the blog.

Ok. Its now Day 18. Apart from the mistake with the excitement of the Machine Head tickets, there have been no purchases. I damn near bought the comic book Crisis On Infinite Earths but fought it off at the last minute. I also nearly bought a few Megadeth b-sides as single mp3s but shook that off too.

Other than that, I’m pretty temptation free. I’ve spent most of my time watching documentaries on Netflix about health and food and vegetarianism (I’m not a vegetarian myself, but it was still good entertainment), lifting weights and eating more fruit and veg than I did in the entire last two months, maybe three months (I let my healthy eating slide about a year ago and am getting back to normal again now). If you watch the documentaries it really reminds you to get your vitamins and minerals. If I was in charge, I’d make kids watch them once every year to just remind them. At least they’d probably eat veg for a month every year. Even that small thing would add years to their lives and oodles to their quality of life later on.

But enough health propaganda. What about music?

I am also happy that my copy of Accept’s Blind Rage has dispatched. I should hopefully receive it tomorrow. Just in time for my free holiday to mainland Europe. It would be nice to have Blind Rage for the bus ride to the airport.

What else? I finally finished Dave Mustaine’s autobiography. It was really interesting, it goes from his childhood right up until the writing of Endgame, and although the period from United Abominations to Endgame is really, really short compared to everything else (every other album and tour cycle gets a detailed story), this is a remarkably consistent, honest, interesting and deep book.

He discusses his flaws, his embarrassments and his mistakes in a way that makes you understand how he thinks and how much of this can be attributed to drugs, and how much is just his personality. You can see where the different parts of his problems come from. You can see why the Metallica-firing hurt so much and really understand him. You can also see what a jerk he was to people. He points out his hypocrisies and bad decisions. On a human level, its just a really interesting and brutally honest book. (A warning though, it is a tad too homophobic at times.)

In addition to finishing that book I’ve also finished the DC Comic Book Crossover story Final Crisis. This is a story in which the stories from a bunch of different superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern etc.) all crash into one larger story. It’s an apocalypse sort of story. Mind control, dark gods, the end of the universe. Big name characters die or are injured. The consequences of this story affected things for a while afterwards. Apparently it was a huge deal at the time.

It’s a remarkably intelligent work that works on several levels as a commentary on comic books, stories, authors, and the responsibilities and rights associated with those things. The first time I read it, roughly one year ago, I was beyond baffled. Impenetrable would be a fair description. This time around, armed with documentaries about its author, Wikipedia breakdowns of the plot and characters, a years worth of Batman experience, a detailed series of fan analysis online and more patience than last time… I went in prepared and was rewarded. I enjoyed it a lot. I was entertained, I was impressed, I was educated. Good job. I’d happily read it again now that I’ve “got it.” I’d recommend it too, so long as you already like Grant Morison’s style.

I’ve also been watching The Metal Voice. I had watched things like this before at times such as Dom’s Iron Sandwhich and Cover Killer Nation. Youtube shows that are basically a podcast about heavy metal, often in the form of a man looking at a webcam and reviewing a Metal album. The Metal Voice is slightly better than most others in that they put some effort into it and its more like a public access TV show sometimes. Plus its Canadian. I thought they were really unfair with Slipknot… but oh well, can’t have everything.

So… time to appreciate some albums I bought but never felt like I got my money’s worth out of:

Serj

I’m going to re-listen to Serj Tankian’s debut studio album, 2007’s Elect The Dead. This solo record, recorded shortly after the dissolution of the at-the-time absolute superstar band System Of A Down (an acrimonious demise that left you unsympathetic to the guys in the band), this album kind of passed me by as a bit throwaway.

Sure, here’s a new album, but who really cares?

It opens up with “Empty Walls” which is pretty much System Of A Down. Its also surprisingly awesome. I remember not liking it at the time because a) I had kind of got bored of SOAD and b) It seemed repetitive. Furthermore, it was 2007, so I was probably listening to nothing but Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Camel, Rush, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and ELP… Serj doesn’t really fit in with that sort of palate.

Listening back now, this song is a real “hit single” or “classic song.” Regardless of its actual financial success, artistically, this is as good as any SOAD hit. Its as good to me as “Sugar” or “Chop Suey” or “B.Y.O.B.”

The next song, “Unthinking Majority” is pretty much the same… a brilliant catchy single that is as good as any SOAD banger. It has a bit more of an Eastern-tinge, and an awkward time-change dynamic with keyboards that is similar to stuff on his next album Imperfect Harmonies. This song is pretty great too.

Next comes “Money.” It starts off as a soulful, piano-led sort of ballad. Then there is an explosive BYOB-style racket of energetic metal/punk noise. Then it goes back to the keyboard stuff. This is also a pretty great song, and the softer side provides contrast to the previous tracks, but the chorus keeps it from feeling like a slowing-down. The pre-chorus is excellent. Nice song.

This is followed by “Feed Us.” Oh, what’s the point? You know what? This WHOLE ALBUM can be summed up by my feelings for “Empty Walls.” I wasn’t in the mood when the album came out, but this is way better than it is given credit for. A forgotten gem.

Every song is a short 2-4 banger that could be a lead single on any other album. Well, except the somber album closer… but apart from that moody number, every song could be a bouncy first-single.

Apart from the lack of Daron’s backing vocals you can barely tell it isn’t a SOAD album. The highlights for me are “Lie Lie Lie,” “Saving Us” and “Sky Is Over.” Even the track “Baby” which I used to hate for being a bit too wacky (in a cheesy way, rather than in a Protest The Hero tasteful-but-hectic way) with its silly pronunciation of the word “Baby” is actually a fabulous song. This is a rock solid album. Way, way better than it is given credit for. More consistent than most SOAD records. Better than the majority of solo albums from anyone in the Alternative Metal/Nu Metal spectrum.

Serj 2

Wow. This is good. Its lead me to listen to Imperfect Harmonies too. Its good. Not just as good (and if you are in the mood for a Rock Band playing Rock Songs its not right for you because its more like a Nine Inch Nails album, in that one artist with a laptop and a keyboard has written an electronics and vocals based record.) If it wasn’t for the big style-shift, this would be a lot better received. If you’re in the mood for it, this is a real strong album. In and of itself, for what it is, this is really strong.

Following that, I’ve just given his most recent effort, Harakiri, again. Its good. It sounds trite, but it is the halfway point between both of those records and his discography would make more sense if this was released between the first and second albums. I liked it at the time, I like it now. Its highlights, including “Figure It Out,” “Occupied Tears,” “Uneducated Democracy” and “Weave On” are all strong and worth your time. It mightn’t be the most strong and consistent record ever, but its highlights are all pretty sweet.

MSG

What else is it time to get my money’s worth? How about my boxset of Michael Schenker Group albums? I listened to all four studio albums in preparation for this article. They are a pretty decent band. They are sort of like a mixture between Thin Lizzy without the Thin-Lizzy unique touch, with 70s Judas Priest without their heaviness, with Coverdale era Deep Purple without their funk. Also some real pop radio choruses that can feel out of place. Awesome guitar solos as you would expect. Its really a guitar album (or albums). Its such a weird point between Rock and Metal that I can’t compare it to anything else I know (apart from UFO, obviously). I would love to hear Children Of Bodom or someone like that cover their songs. “Attack Of The Mad Axeman” is the prize find of the collection, an absolutely wonderful rock song. Such a fun riff! – The rest of it is a mixed bag of mostly good but rarely memorable. Every time I’ve ever listened to them, I’ve liked them more, but I’ve never gotten to the boy-oh-boy-I-love-this-band stage. Still, I don’t regret buying the nice cheap boxset of five albums (there’s a live album in it too), but I think it’ll take a few more listens before I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

FF

On the subject of getting your money’s worth. I also spent last night listening to Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture. What can I say, I liked these two albums a lot anyway, and I already feel I got my money’s worth out of them, but I had some sort of real revelation last night and I really, really “got them” in a new way.

Its like, every other time I listened to them, there was a cloud of static in my brain. Like when you see a difficult math equation and you can’t even try to solve it because there is a cloud of static in your brain. Its that same exact feeling, and it has just cleared. I heard what a truly wonderful album Demanufactue is last night in a way I never knew before, in the entire decade (and more) since I bought it.

Sometimes its hearing another album, or seeing a documentary, or using new speakers, or a new EQ setting, or simply aging, but sometimes my brain just totally changes shape and new things come in. On first listen, Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory was a cheesy mess of stolen ELP parts and no Metal, and now it is a masterpiece and surprisingly heavy.

Now, Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture just got some “golden ticket” invitation to the awesome centre of my brain. Interesting how this stuff happens. I’d like to see some neurological data about it, but…. Failing that, I’ll just blog about it here and see what you guys think is going on?

What is the cloud of static in my brain, and why has it shifted away from these two records?

Get (Into) What You Paid For – Round 4: Episode 3 Day 15

Hello and welcome to the 15th day in this fourth round of my “Get (Into) What You Paid For” challenge, in which I attempt to not buy anything for a month, and reevaluate my opinion of records I bought previously but never really became a true fan of, taking this purchase-abstinence as a chance to finally “get my money’s worth” out’ve the more undervalued albums in my collection. That; and present thoughts and musings that don’t fit elsewhere on the blog.

I’m half-way through the challenge and have not caved in yet. Its been about a week since I last did a write-up. I have been pretty tempted at times to go into town and see what I could pick up… a quick visit to HMV or Forbidden Planet couldn’t hurt, right? NO! Stay focused….

I’ve also found myself drifting onto Amazon a lot. Maybe I’ll just pick up a copy of Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse, what with all this reunion concert stuff in the news…. NO! Just listen to the three Emperor albums in your existing collection idiot!

Well, maybe I’ll just go on Amazon and read reviews of Death’s Leporasy and Venom’s first three albums….whoah, what’s this, “add to basket”?…. Aaaahhhh! Undo, Undo Undo!

“Ok, I’ll just distract myself by re-reading DC’s Final Crisis, since it confused me the first time I read it but now I know more background and might be able to understand more… oh, Green Lantern is kind of cool, Captain Marvel is kind of cool. I wonder if there is a Justice League TV show… oh there is. I wonder if its available on Amazon……..Oh no, not again!…undo, undo, undo!”

I did eventually manage to distract myself by finally cracking open my copy of Dave Mustaine’s autobiography, which I actually received back in December as a Christmas Gift. Great book. I’m enjoying it a lot (despite the homophobia practically seeping through the pages and making me want to wash my hands) and I’ve got through the bits when he was in Metallica, to when he invented Megadeth and all the way up to where they’re just about to record Rust In Peace. Its cool. I never knew Ellefson was a drug addict too. I never knew the backstory of how Jeff Young and Chuck Behler got and lost their jobs. I never realized that Megadeth were almost as bad as Motely Crue for Sex Drugs and Rock N Roll decadence.

This made me go on a gigantic Megadeth listening spree, which is always a good spree to go on, if you ask me. Like Pantera, I never want to go too far without hearing some Megadeth. Its easy to let the bands that you really love go un-listened to when exploring new things, but its always good to just cast off the explorer’s hat and sit down in your favourite country. (What an odd analogy).

I really like rock star biographies and especially autobiographies. I’ve read Marilyn Manson’s one, no exaggeration, at least 20 times. If anyone would care to recommend some in the comments, drop me a line. Is Motorhead’s White Line Fever any good? Are there any good Metallica ones? Is Heavier Than Heaven good? Has anyone written one about Judas Priest? How about Anthrax?

Also, my non-music time can still result in a Metal-spotting news update; I watched the movie Zombie Land on Netflix recently. Metallica and Van Halen tracks were used. Reminds me of spotting Pantera on Orange Is The New Black. Sons Of Anarchy was great for that sort of thing, lots of stuff like Monster Magnet, Clutch, Soundgarden etc.

Zombie Land itself was OK. I like Jesse Eisenberg now, after The Social Network made him seem more than just “we can’t afford Michael Cera, hire someone similar” so just his presence is enjoyable. I wasn’t never a zombie fan and that always put me off trying out this movie. It just seemed like a lazy cash-in on what internet-users enjoyed that year (like if they made a Bacon movie last year). I’ve also watched the documentaries Supersize Me and Food Matters, but you’ll be disappointed to hear that there weren’t any Cannibal Corpse tracks in their soundtracks.

So yeah anyway… the week was going OK temptation-wise. Getting shaky but nothing I wasn’t able to stop when I thought about it. Then comes today…Oh, dear. You know what I just did? I just broke my damn challenge, didn’t I?

At the time of writing, I’ve just received an email about Machine Head tickets going on sale, and I automatically went and bought some straight away in case they sold out… temporarily forgetting the whole “don’t buy anything challenge” even as I was simultaneously writing about it here. Idiot. I should’ve waited until September to buy tickets, and if they sold out by then C’est La Vie.. at least I’d saved money, at least I’d learned discipline. Woops. Well, I guess this challenge is now going to be extended then, to make up for it. Damn. Shall we say another 15 days? A month from today, instead of a month from August 1st? No, today had a purchase in it, so I better make it 16 days. So, on September 15th it now ends. (August has a “31st”).

“Couldn’t have put tickets on sale a few weeks later, could you, 02 Apollo?” “Its not as if Machine Head are going to struggle to sell them out quickly in the UK. Are they now?”

Oh well. Nobody’s fault but my own. Still…. Machine Head tickets, ey? I haven’t ever gotten to see Machine Head before. This will be great. Think of the absolute thunderous up-wards trajectory they’ve been on for the past decade or so! Three absolutely superb albums, a fourth about to drop that seems every bit as excellent. I’m very excited about this. Its not like I broke the challenge by buying an album of Obituary B-sides or something… they say the key to happiness is buying memories instead of possessions. I reckon I’ll remember seeing Machine Head for some time to come.

Or so I’ll tell myself so I don’t look too stupid for breaking the challenge.

So. That’s the temptation and random thoughts aspect covered. What about the whole listening to things aspect of these articles?

B.J

I decided to augment my weightlifting experience today by listening to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (hardly an under-listened gem seeing as its one of my favourite albums of all time and I listened to it almost daily for the three years or so after I initially bought it) and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet; which I bought a while back, along with some other Bon Jovi albums, to celebrate the end of my Exams. I’ve not listened to any of the Bon Jovi albums as much as I should have since that purchase, but they still aren’t in the under-appreciated zone yet, even if it is starting to look a bit like they might head that way. They are still in my new-purcahses drawer in the filing cabinet of my brain.

Slippery When Wet is a lot of fun. The hits are excellent. Even “Wanted Dead Or Alive” which I used to hate as a teenager, due to never sitting and listening to it all the way through. I had a gut-reaction of “yuck” and never questioned it. Well, much like the million faces Bon Jovi have seen, it now has rocked me. The only moment that is a bit questionable is the slow ballad “Without Love” which sounds too much like a high-school dance in an 80s movie for my tastes, but that is easily skippable. The rest of it? “I’d Die For You” is a monster. Really enjoyable song indeed. “Wild In The Streets” is similarly fun. I like “Raise Your Hands” a lot too. I certainly wouldn’t mind if this became a regular-listen of mine. Wouldn’t mind at all. OK… its not as heavy as W.A.S.P, or as infectious as Quiet Riot, or as brilliant a guitar-show as Dokken, or whoever else I’ve been listening to lately… but it is a very smooth, enjoyable listen.

The rest of my day has been spent listening to Kings Of Leon and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album because I’m visiting someone else’s house at the minute and they’re fans of acoustic Nirvana and electric Kings Of Leon. Its like how I listen to Arctic Monkeys’ new album AM even more when my girlfriend is round… not everyone can listen to Megadeth and Exodus without feeling a little put-off, but AM is a record no one could find too crazy. That and its awesome. So if you have non-Metal-fans visiting, you can still listen to music you enjoy, without putting on something your companions don’t enjoy. No need to be so Metal that you are just selfish, ey?

K.O.L

But anyway… Kings Of Leon got a lot of flack in the Metal community over the last few years, especially around 2010-2012. Listening to them now, I notice a lot of similarities with Pearl Jam, and sometimes their use of slide guitar or bluesy shuffle evokes a certain Zeppelin-y-ness. I think, yeah… they’re a credible rock act. A real band of actual musicians who write real songs in a room together. Its not some cynical pop music and its not an elevated-above-their-station-by-NME band with one hit single and no substance. They’ve got a lot to offer people who listen to 60s and 70s rock bands, and the less-metallic 90s Grunge-era bands (Pearl Jam, post-Core Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins etc).

I’ve got a lot of respect for them now after hearing deep cuts and songs I didn’t hear-to-death on the radio or in adverts. I mean, listen to “McFearless” with its awesome drumbeat, buzzy production and lead-bass. Until the singing comes in, that could be off of Antichrist Superstar. The intro to “Charmer” has a dirty punk feeling like Bleach-era Nirvana, and when the guitar solo and bouncy beat are going in “Black Thumbnail” they could be Black Country Communion or something… its that old rock done nowadays sort of thing. “My Party” wouldn’t be too out-of-place on Pearl Jam’s Vitology album. I’m not saying that you could mistake Kings Of Leon for Slayer any time soon, and they shouldn’t get on a concert bill with Lamb Of God or anything, but… they’re not exactly Jedward.

But hey, I am a huge Libertines and Arctic Monkeys fan (and a decent-sized Frattellis fan), and most of the people who hated Kings Of Leon in 2010-2012 would see that as a reason not to trust my opinion.

So um, yeah… **Cough Cough** “Death to false Metal, only listen to Manowar” and all that…

Am I credible now?

In honour of my un-Metalness, today’s Top 5s will be of the British Indie bands in my music collection. There aren’t many, but I like them just the same as Testament, Fear Factory or Carpathian Forest.

The Libertines :
1. Good Old Days
2. Never Never
3. The Man Who Would Be King
4. The Delany
5. Skag And Bone Man

Dirty Pretty Things :
1. Bloodthirsty Bastards
2. Last Of The Smalltown Playboys
3. One To My Left
4. Kicks Or Consumption
5. Best Face

Babyshambles :
1. Back From The Dead
2. Fall From Grace
3. A’rebours
4. The Man Who Came To Stay
5. Baddie’s Boogie

Yeti :
1. Never Lose Your Sense Of Wonder
2. Midnight Flight
3. Up And Down
4. Working For The Industry
5. The Last Time That You Go

Arctic Monkeys :
1. You Probably Couldnt See For The Lights But You Were Looking Straight At Me
2. Still Take You Home
3. RU Mine?
4. My Propeller
5. If You Were There, Beware

The Fratellis :
1. My Friend John
2. Got Ma Nuts From A Hippy
3. Creeping Up The Backstairs
4. The Acid-Jazz Singer
5. Tell Me A Lie