Machine Head

Unto The Locust

1. I Am Hell
2. Be Still and Know
3. Locust
4. This Is The End
5. Darkness Within
6. Pearls Before The Swine
7. Who We Are

[09/27/11]
[Roadrunner]

Machine Head fans rejoice and raise your glasses in the air, for the Bay Area thrashers’ new album Unto The Locust fucking rips. You are going to love it. I can’t help but feel like it doesn’t quite top their 2007 opus The Blackening, but then again how could it? In my opinion The Blackening is one of the very finest heavy metal albums of all time, and there was no way its follow up was going to stand up in my mind. I almost dreaded Unto The Locust’s release as much as anticipated it; mostly for fear that it would be a step backward. Or, in a nightmare scenario, for fear that it would somehow be a steaming pile of garbage.

Thankfully, while it is probably not as good as The Blackening, this album is in no way a step backwards for Machine Head. It’s the sound of a legendary band confidently playing at the top of their game and doing whatever they hell they want to. They have nothing left to prove, and it shows in every note of every one of these seven songs of utterly EPIC (with a capital E, P, I, and fucking C) proportions.

The album is quite paradoxical in nature though. It’s as heavy as a ten ton hammer to the skull in spots (“I Am Hell”s refrains are completely devastating), but overall it doesn’t feel like a super heavy album. It’s actually incredibly melodic, and there are some very disarming quiet parts throughout (“The Darkness Within”). The material is among the most technical on any Machine Head record ever, yet the album feels simultaneously simpler and less direct in nature. The songs move quickly, but somehow unfold slowly – and while some of the layered choruses are almost poppy enough for rock radio (is that autotune I‘m hearing on “This Is The End” and “Who We Are”?) it’s weirder and less instantly accessible than the last few albums. It’s like listening to Machine Head through a hallucinogenic filter; like throwing on your favorite MH album after a few handfuls of magic mushrooms. The record takes plenty of orchestral, acoustic, and psychedelic detours in between the more anthemic, traditional fist pumping and head banging (“Locust“). Some stuff wanks around a bit (“Be Still and Know”) and perhaps gets a little caught up in trying to be too ‘progressive’, but then again most of the album actually is pretty damn progressive. Hmm…

Wankery be damned, these songs still pack plenty of the patented Machine Head crush, and the production may be my favorite of any of their albums. It sounds very processed in spots, but the mix has tremendous sonic clarity, balance, and balls. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard better guitar tones from them. Dave McClain’s drums sound fantastic as always, and ditto Adam Duce’s bass.

I’m not sure the band have ever played their respective instruments any better either. They spent nearly the entire four years between The Blackening and Locust on tour, and it really shows. McClain and Duce have always been a beastly rhythm section so it should come as no surprise that they create a head-splittingly sharp pocket no matter what speed they are playing at, but guitarists Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel have stepped their game up tenfold. They stay true to the patented Machine Head sound, but just seem to get infinitely better with each and every release. Phil slays the lead guitar parts and solos, and Robb—good luck playing these riffs and singing at the same time live, man; but if there’s a man for the job, it’s Sir Robb fucking Flynn. No doubt about it.

Perhaps the only area of this album that comes up short is the lyrics. I could have told you that before even reading them, just by checking out the song titles. “I Am Hell”, “This Is The End”, “Darkness Within”, and “Who We Are”, are all fairly stock song titles. By extension, some of the lyrics on these tunes are fairly generic. Not really cringe-worthy at any point, but not nearly as good as the pointed, eloquent barbs found on nearly every verse of The Blackening or Through The Ashes of Empires. Fortunately Flynn delivers the lyrics with an unbelievable amount of conviction and character per usual, which helps cover any lyrical weaknesses.

Nitpicks aside, I totally love this album, and it’s been growing on me with every listen. I am very biased in Machine Head’s favor (I have their logo tattooed on my shoulder, for chrissakes), but I think they have done it again. Unto The Locust is one of the best albums you will hear this year, without a doubt.

Machine Head – Unto The Locust gets…

5/5

– JB

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