Album Reviews

Machine Head – Through The Ashes Of Empires

(Roadrunner) UK release date: 27 October 2003

Machine Head - Through The Ashes Of Empires While nu metal has been peaking and flooding the charts, one crew of Bay Area thrash metallers have had a rough couple of years, with their past two albums being torn to shreds by a media that had hailed them as Pantera v2.0 after the release of their debut in ’94. It all went well for Machine Head until The Burning Red, when lead singer Rob Flynn flirted with rap, and “hardcore” fans snubbed the Police-covering “sellouts”.

Follow up album Supercharger was received even less favourably, with lead single Crashing Around You being tragically released on the eve of the September 11 attacks on America. The consequences of this downward spiral included a serious bout of depression for Mr Flynn, as well as the loss of another guitarist and even more fans.

But this is 2003 and Machine Head are back: vexed, heavier than ever, and snarling at anyone who so much as dares to look their way. Oh how beautifully this album captures the spirit of a band 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, if you know Machine Head, then you will literally be able to smell the impending onslaught of sonic violence.Building like Vesuvius on a bad day, the militant drums and squealing harmonics precede riffage that breaks into a vibe groovier than Austin Powers on amphetamines.

Fusing raw metal with occasional moments 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 and drumming intensive enough to give Fear Factory a run for their money.

It is often hard to liken Machine Head to any band other than themselves, but if there was a gun pointed to my head, and my life depended on who was singing track four, I would swear it was Tool‘s Maynard James Keenan without a nanosecond’s hesitation every time. That is how far beyond mimicking Mr Flynn takes his vocals on Elegy.

The debt for this copycat tendency is more than repaid on Days Turn To Gray however, with Robb’s ferociously raw vocals searing through the mix whilst fusing emotional intensity and beautiful melodies flawlessly. Conversely, AllFall Down sounds like leftovers from the Supercharger sessions and the lyrics of Wipe The Tears sound like they have been pieced together from one too many previous Machine Head songs.

On the other hand, if there is one instrument that slams the others into the relegation zone and scoops the treble with its eyes closed, it is Dave McClain’s drumming. He has delivered 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 Bite The Bullet and Vim should be used as the benchmark for all metal drummers!

Produced by Mr Flynn himself(with a little help from long-time collaborator Colin Richardson), Through The Ashes Of Empires is not the best metal album of the year and, although it does capture the spirit of the band beautifully, the majority of the songs aren’t quite in the same league as Davidian or Ten Ton Hammer. There should be some kick ass live shows though.

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More on Machine Head
Machine Head – The Blackening
Machine Head: “This band, from the start, was about playing heavy music, writing not for radio but for ourselves” – Interview
Machine Head + God Forbid + Caliban @ Brixton Academy, London
Machine Head – Through The Ashes Of Empires