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Machine Head Catharsis

2018 Nuclear Blast Entertainment

A burning yearning.

Machine Head - Catharsis

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Machine Head have rarely been shy about sticking their neck out. Be it their 1999 deep dive into nü metal with “The Burning Red“, or its often derided 2001 follow-up “Supercharger“, the band have traversed some diverse terrain in their roughly 27 year existence. Sure some have labeled them trend jumpers for their actions, but the streak of four critically lauded albums that have arrived since established a firm bedrock they could have built on for the rest of their career.

Having won back fans trust with sprawling song arrangements and a grandiose flair, it turns out the die had not been cast when it comes to what you’ll get from a Machine Head album. To his credit, the band’s frontman/guitarist Robb Flynn has been transparent in advance of what listeners can expect from this opus, though few are likely ready for the approach taken on many of the included songs.

In particular, the chunky nü metal riffage and rap vocal led “Triple Beam” stands out as a point of contention. Unabashedly adopting nearly every cliché of the oft-maligned genre, the song indulges in a gangsta rap reminiscent tale of urban drug dealing woes. It’s peppered with piercing guitar harmonics and writhing vocal moans that recall Jonathan Davis at his most tortured, but mostly just sounds clunky and dated.

While nü metal has certainly been making a comeback these days—particularly among younger bands—the elements Machine Head surprisingly once again adopt here rarely amount to anything new. It’s more like something you would hear opening a third-tier ‘Ozzfest‘ stage in the early 2000s. Thankfully though nü metal isn’t really the main ingredient found on “Catharsis“. Melody is the true focus as the band have loosened their songwriting and implemented a sizable amount of clean singing and harmonies.

Notably there’s the Alice In Chains styled chorus of “Screaming At The Sun“, a song which takes on a decisive, predatory pace. There’s also the tearful, acoustically powered ballad “Behind A Mask“, which treads a markedly vulnerable path for a career band. Perhaps more controversial than “Triple Beam” though is “Bastards“, a polarizing protest song which decries current U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration’s various policies.

A spirited jump into rollicking folk rock, the song sounds like the Dropkick Murphys without the Irish bent. That it also uses racial and homophobic slurs in this era of PC culture is worth mentioning, but so is the fact that their intent is meant to be inclusive rather than derogatory. Ultimately the song also feels like the centerpiece to the record, as its melody also resurfaces later on in a more dirgy incarnation via the album’s closing track, “Eulogy“.

Outside of more melodic fare, there’s the nearly nine-minute “Heavy Lies The Crown“, which aligns itself with the band’s more recent output—though it winds up being at odds with the rest of the album as a result. There’s also some less extreme experiments and homages.

The manic motor mouth delivery of “Razorblade Smile” proudly wears its Motörhead influence on its sleeve, but that’s not to say that Flynn entirely pulls it off. The same could be said for “Psychotic“, which sounds like Body Count without the charisma and street cred.

Though an uncharacteristically contemporary indulgence, the turgid nü metalcore elements found on “Grind You Down” ultimately fall flat—even though the song does showcase an inspired chorus melody that sidesteps convention. Truly, “Catharsis” looks poised to stand as the band’s most divisive effort to date. While it may have been liberating for them to let the air out of the pomp found on their most recent efforts, this looser, off the cuff approach generally suffers from an air of arrogance.

A big part of that comes via the blunted lyrics. Their direct nature with little metaphor can be effective, but what’s often displayed here feels more like a reactionary stream of consciousness. And that’s the problem: We’re inundated with gut reactions on a daily basis and hearing them put to song doesn’t exactly afford them staying power.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a band being political and using their music as a platform. But Flynn seems to have retired metaphor for topical shock value that expresses little more than the average angry comment section on a piece of breaking news.

That the album also combines well-worn influences and styles with pieces of riffs that recall other songs (“Beyond The Pale” & Strapping Young Lad‘s “Love?“, “Volatile” and Chimaira‘s “Cleansation“, etc.) also shows that flying by the seat of your pants isn’t always the best approach. But mostly, what’s offered here just feels redundant. The band have been here before and so have other groups.

At face value, “Catharsis” can be refreshingly direct and raw nerve when stacked up against their last few records. But the lack of overall filtering and songwriting refinement provide little incentive to keep coming back.

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