While nu metal has been peakingand flooding the charts, one crew of Bay Area thrashmetallers have had a rough couple of years, with theirpast two albums being torn to shreds by a media thathad hailed them as Pantera v2.0 after the release oftheir debut in 94. It all went well until The BurningRed, when lead singer Rob Flynn flirted with rap, and “hardcore” fanssnubbed the Police-covering “sellouts”.
Follow up album Supercharger wasreceived even less favourably, with lead singleCrashing Around You being tragically released on theeve of the September 11 attacks on America. The consequencesof this downward spiral included a serious bout ofdepression for Mr. Flynn, as well as the loss ofanother guitarist and even more fans.
But this is 2003 and MachineHead are back: vexed, heavier than ever, and snarlingat anyone who so much as dares to look their way. Ohhow beautifully this album captures the spirit of aband who have to be seen live to be experienced fully(and no, this year’s live album did NOT do them justice!).
From the first notes of guitar on opening track Imperium, ifyou know Machine Head, then you will literally be ableto smell the impending onslaught of sonic violence.Building like Vesuvius on a bad day, the militantdrums and squealing harmonics precede riffage thatbreaks into a vibe groovier than Austin Powers onamphetamines.
Fusing raw metal with occasionalmoments of nu-metal melody, Imperium is somehow reminiscent of Machine Head’s classic track, Davidian. It even gets very Shadows Fall around the five minute mark, with doubled lead licks anddrumming intensive enough to give Fear Factorya run for their money.
It is often hard to likenMachine Head to any band other than themselves, but ifthere was a gun pointed to my head, and my lifedepended on who was singing track four, I would, swearit was Tool‘s Maynard James Keenan without a nanosecond’shesitation every time. That is how far beyondmimicking Mr. Flynn takes his vocals on Elegy.
The debt for this blatantplagiarism is more than repaid on Days Turn To Grayhowever, with Robb’s ferociously raw vocals searingthrough the mix whilst fusing emotional intensityand beautiful melodies flawlessly. Conversely, AllFall Down sounds like leftovers from the Superchargersessions and the lyrics of Wipe The Tears sound likethey have been pieced together from one too manyprevious Machine Head songs.
On the other hand, if there isone instrument that slams the others into therelegation zone and scoops the treble with its eyesclosed, it is Dave McClain’s drumming. He hasdelivered straight and true on every album from 1997′s The More Things Change… right through to this latest offering. The versatility and sheer musical genius displayed on BiteThe Bullet and Vim should be used as the benchmark forall metal drummers!
Produced by Mr. Flynn himself(with a little help from long-time collaborator ColinRichardson), Through The Ashes Of Empires is not thebest metal album of the year and, although it doescapture the spirit of the band beautifully, themajority of the songs aren’t quite in the same leagueas Davidian or Ten Ton Hammer. There should be somekick ass live shows though!