- The ambition & bravery exhibited throughout.
- The first three tracks are killer.
- The baseness & simplicity to lyrical approach.
- Lack of face-melting guitar solos.
The Oakland native metal titans return since their last offering ‘Bloodstone and Diamonds’, kicking off 2018 in traditional Machine Head style by making the music they want to make. With the aptly titled ‘Catharsis’ MH seemingly polarise a lot of ‘fans’ who don’t seem to be fans of the artists, or who have shown themselves to have a poor understanding of what to expect from true artistry. So many seem stuck in a timewarp to 2009 and are constantly hoping for and expecting a new version of ‘The Blackening’ album, as if they do not want to see evolution.
Having watched interviews with Robb discussing the album prior to release – and knowing Machine Head’s previous tendencies to explore and experiment a little, namely looking at 2001’s The Burning Red, it should be known they are no strangers to controversy and testing boundaries – fans would have known not to expect another ‘Blackening’, as he stated it was probably the most melodic and groovy album the band has concocted yet, either people didn’t do research so weren’t invested enough or maybe thought he was joking? Either way, to me it appears foolish to act ignorant when the album isn’t what YOU expected or wished for, but this is a rant I’ll vent about another day!
One of the biggest problems that I interpret most people’s problem with the album to be which I don’t think many would disagree with, is the standard that Machine Head had set with ‘The Blackening’ and consistently upheld with the following two releases; 2011’s ‘Unto The Locust’ and 2014’s ‘Bloodstone & Diamonds’ was on such a raised pedestal achieving that level of excellence would not have been easy. The biggest difference between this effort and these projects, is the length of the album – fifteen much shorter (than is the Machine Head norm) tracks spanning a total of seventy five minutes, this affords the album a grandiose feel and signifies a desire to stray a little from the path they were hammering down; a lot of the blunt and direct lyrical approaches to the politically charged tracks supports this want and brings me back to my initial comments about the artistic nature of the band.
Personally I totally agree with the messages and intent of such tracks as ‘Bastards’, yet I do feel that addressing such topics as racism, what’s wrong with the world, the harshness of life, personal conflicts etc. is something the band have always done better when they are more indirect and the message is to be read in between the lines, rather than smack you in the face. This is a minor personal gripe that I allocate to any music and artist trying to convey an impactful political message, as music is very subjective I believe that hinting at such themes a little more subtly increases the window of relativity for more people to see through.
As the album is a heavyweight offering totalling fifteen tracks I’m not going to delve too deeply into each of them, rather I will highlight my favourite cuts and speak on the moments that counteract these as although there are plenty of decent songs on the album that would probably amass praise had this album come preceding ‘The Blackening’ or be the product of different bands.
The album opener ‘Volatile’ is a promising start and seems to kick off the ensuing barrage of signature Machine Head balls to the wall, in your face, heavy ass metal, man! Beginning with a charming and reminiscent of ‘Beautiful Mourning’ “wooah, fuck the world!” The anger-laden track exhibits well the beginning of the band expressing and releasing repressed emotions and feelings, building up to a headbang friendly breakdown that MH have proven themselves to do so well and I have a lot of time for the sleek sliding guitar solo intro that climaxes well back into the repetitive but catchy chorus.
The title track continues in this vein and has a great structure, with the track simmering and breaking down only to re-emerge in such an explosion of a chorus, you most definitely can feel the bands ‘Catharsis’! It goes without saying that music generally sounds better and you can hear more elements through better speakers, but to get hit with the full force of this volcanic eruption please do yourself a favour and blast it through some quality headphones, as I did and was still a little shaken up every time it came back to the chorus, in a good way that is!
‘Beyond The Pale’
– provides a velvety smooth grooving riff that feels a little like it’s being attacked by the extreme hearseness and aggression of Robb’s vocal delivery, leading one to wonder how many he smokes a day… This is not a detraction though as I’ve found this one of the catchiest tracks, with the almighty chorus getting stuck in my head as if the band have without my knowledge laid the track with some high strength glue that is as you’d expect tough to remove.
‘Screaming at the Sun’
– is a joint I immediately enjoyed and feel Machine Head found a happy medium here with experimenting with a different style yet keeping present aspects we love them for. With the groaning vocal backing beat (thank you Jared!) intermittently laying an intriguing and easy to ride to foundation, merging classic band elements executed well culminating in an abrasive yet slick effort that comes across as fresh and hits the nail on the head for what ‘Catharsis’ sets out to do.
tracks like ‘Triple Beam’, (decent instrumentally and the message being conveyed / story told is worthwhile, the basic approach comes off as a bit cheesy and is simply not as memorable).
The slower paced, emotionally driven ‘Bastards’ – Robb telling his sons about how messed up the world we currently inhabit is, and how his boys need to be strong and hope for change -, which again is a valid point but the way the guys have gone about portraying this to me at least is far too surface, as if they felt if they had layered the message in any sort of ambiguity it would have gone straight over everyone’s heads; this track is guilty of some of the cringiest moments lyrically too:
“No, no, no, no, no
We say, “No, no, no, no, no. Fuck no!”
No, no, no, no, no. Fuck no!
So give us all your f*****s, all your n*****s, and your sp**s
Give us all your Muslims, the so-called terrorists
We’ll welcome ’em with open arms and put ’em in our mix
We’re better off together now, embrace our difference”
The rather mellow ‘Behind A Mask’ deserves merit for again clearly showing the band are not scared to step some distance outside their comfort zone and is a testament to their ambition to push boundaries and prove versatility, however apart from Phil Demmell’s acute guitar solo that seems to end as quickly and suddenly as it begins, there isn’t much in the way of memorability to this one.