REVIEW: MACHINE HEAD – “Catharsis”
Never a unit to fear change or diversity, Machine Head have courageously and unapologetically ventured into more than a few sub-genre corners of the metal world over the years. From their thrash roots to their temporary nu-metal reinvention and beyond, they’ve triumphed over the backlashes and endured the merciless test of time so many fall victim to. Going from strength to exploratory strength since their inception, they’ve produced redefining and ground breaking classics like ’The Blackening’. ‘Unto the Locust’ exceeded follow up expectations while ‘Bloodstone and Diamonds’ proved to be yet another worthy installment in the bands rich catalogue. The random single drop that came to be a fan favorite “Is There Anybody Out There?” only cemented the fact that the Machine Head camp were on top of their game.
Which makes the somewhat premature dismissal ‘Catharsis’ has received in several quarters, given that it is yet to have dropped officially, seem a little odd. It’s certainly caused quite a stir among anxious fans, courtesy of some tasty teasers from certain critics who have them wondering is ‘Catharsis’ a slow burner that will flourish in time, or have Machine Head simply missed the mark on their latest installment?
The simple answer is; it’s both. ‘Catharsis’ doesn’t always hit the mark, and often misses its mark entirely at certain times and in certain places. Having so generously gifted fans with a handful of tracks from the album, beginning with “Beyond the Pale”, something wasn’t sitting quite right from the word go. Despite its initial ripping energy, for many “Beyond the Pale” lost much of its steam when the apparent mistaken case of riff sharing with Strapping Young Lad’s “Love?” came to light. If title track “Catharsis” contains an intro that will raise the hair on your arms before heading into an atmospheric and wonderfully melodic Machine Head track, it also feels like an unfinished Machine Head track, never quite peaking. Which brings us to the much-debated “Bastards”. Admirable in its quest, it fails in its execution, leaving us with a folk song that should have been left in the vault along with the B-sides. Lyrically, “Bastards” snarls its way through personal disheartenment and seems to heavily reference the spoken word work of Mike Shinoda in Linkin Park’s “Hands Held High.
Disappointed yet? Fires lit and pitch forks at the ready? Well you might want to douse those flames. For this seventy-five minute, fifteen-track ensemble, also has some incredible high points. “Triple Beam”, if a little adolescent, is both lyrically engaging and musically empowering. Indeed, it would be doing the song a serious injustice if it didn’t find its way into their set-list. The acoustic based, “Behind the Mask” also has some standout features, utilizing subtle chorus harmonies that create an infectious space that pulls you right in. “Grind You Down,” calls all to the pit for pure chaos, while the relentless energy in “Razorblade Smile” sees drummer Dave Mclain and bassist Jared MacEachern lock in a great performance while guitarist Phil Demmel shreds through the track as only he can.
Part great Machine Head record, part love poem to the next generation, part hate poem to others, part curious yet interesting musical work, ‘Catharsis’ is not Machine Head at their best. Yet nor is it them at their worst. If it doesn’t feel like it knows entirely what it is, or exactly what it’s trying to say as it caters to the various states and places Flynn found himself and his world in writing it, it’s a work stuttering to find a voice. Refusing to stay stuck in the tried and tested. With an undeniable, lurking undercurrent suggesting there’s something here trying to break through.
‘Catharsis’ may come to be seen as another turning point for Machine Head, a transitional record as they seek out new ground. As they have done time and time again, Machine Head have a knack for proving their detractors wrong with their perseverance and evolution. It would be foolish to assume that Machine Head have seen the last of their best days. Who knows where ‘Catharsis’ might take them.
“And there’s no moral to the story. Read the lines in between.” Whether or not it was his intent, in just a couple of lines Machine Head front man, guitarist, and leader Robb Flynn captures the heart of the bands 9th studio album, ‘Catharsis’. An album that aims high, and if it doesn’t hit the moon, it still lands among quite a few stars.