Album Review: Machine Head – Catharsis

By Andrew Bansal

Oakland, California group Machine Head can legitimately be regarded as modern-day heavy metal giants, having formed in 1991 and carried on successfully through the past nearly 27 years, releasing 8 full-length studio albums and touring the world several times. Over the course of their career they haven’t been shy of experimentation and have copped their fair share of criticism, as from their groove-oriented thrash beginnings on the first two albums ‘Burn My Eyes’ (’94) and ‘The More Things Change…’ (’97), they swung wildly to a nu metal / rap metal recipe on the next two, ‘The Burning Red’ (’99) and ‘Supercharger (2002). Thankfully, they returned to doing what they do best on subsequent albums, i.e. playing groovy, proggy thrash, and this phase produced their best work as they hit their peak on the albums ‘Through the Ashes of Empires’ (2003), ‘The Blackening’ (2007) and ‘Unto the Locust’ (2011). The 2014 follow-up ‘Bloodstone and Diamonds’ was somewhat of a letdown from the dizzy heights of the previous three but was still fairly well-created and well-received. But now, Machine Head is ready to release their ninth album ‘Catharsis’, and it is the kind of album that is certain to leave fans scratching their heads, wondering what on earth happened to what truly was a great band not long ago.

Where to begin? First of all, this album is a whopping 74 minutes and 17 seconds long, and has 15 songs on its standard edition. 15 songs! Whatever happened to choosing your best 8 or 10 songs for a full-length album? It is quite possible that this album would have been better received if it was shorter, because it would have meant less bad songs to sit through.

Fearing the worst and pressing ‘play’, the listener is in fact greeted with a pleasant surprise, because the opening track ‘Volatile’ is more than passable as a quintessential Machine Head tune, except for lyrical phrases like “fuck the world” and “sick of the pain” which are strongly reminiscent of the kind of drivel bands like Slipknot deliver on every song. Anything resembling Slipknot is bad, end of story. But regardless, this is actually a solid start to the album, and even boasts some signature MH guitar harmonies, which are mostly absent from the rest of the album. Next, you get into the title song, and your buzz is killed instantly. From here on, there is no turning back.

The title song is shockingly distant from anything remotely resembling a listenable incarnation of Machine Head, as overly melodic, over-processed lead vocal lines dominate this song, and Robb Flynn tries his hand at a straight-up pop-metal number here. Then comes ‘Beyond the Pale’, which is a heavy on the groove, and despite the generic down-tuned riffs, is another passable song. On a better album this would have been considered a weak link, but on this one it’s like gold dust. This is where the album really starts going downhill fast, as you are treated to the fake-agro nu metal song ‘California Bleeding’, complete with bad lyrics about California, while ‘Triple Beam’ goes full-on rap metal, and you are best advised to press ‘skip’ well before the song is finished. ‘Kaleidoscope’ revisits the pop-metal tendencies of the title song and has little to no redeemable qualities. 6 songs in, shit has hit the fan, as next comes ‘Bastards’, Machine Head’s attempt at a celtic pop-punk song. The less said about this, the better.

We’re far from done yet, as there are 8 more songs before we’re finally put out of our misery. ‘Hope Begets Hope’ and ‘Screaming at the Sun’ are generic groove metal numbers in every aspect, ‘Behind A Mask’ is a sappy ballad, and ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’ is the longest track on the album but it is hard to understand why exactly it is nearly 9 minutes long because it severely lacks the creative material to fill out that much sonic space. ‘Psychotic’, ‘Grind You Down’ and ‘Razorblade Smile’ are overflowing with rap metal mediocrity, and ironically enough, the album comes to a close with a 7-minute tune called ‘Eulogy’, and if you make it through to the end you might want to slit your own wrists. The worst possible ending to the worst album by a once great band.

Let’s get this straight: nu metal needs to die a violent death. In the year 2018, there is no place for this sub-genre to exist. But the undeniable fact is, it does, and is becoming as popular as it was in its heyday. Machine Head attempting to cash in on the trend is not entirely unexpected, given their history, but extremely disappointing all the same, and fans would have at least hoped that Machine Head wouldn’t be the ones to lead the revival.

Make no mistake, I am (still) a Machine Head fan, I have always supported this band loyally on this website through glowing positive reviews and numerous interviews in the past, but ‘Catharsis’ does not represent the Machine Head I have liked and supported over the years. Let’s just pretend that this album does not even exist and move on with our lives, because it does not deserve even the least bit of anyone’s attention. A colossal disaster.

Rating: 1/10

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Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: January 26 2018

Track Listing:
01. Volatile (4:38)
02. Catharsis (6:10)
03. Beyond The Pale (4:31)
04. California Bleeding (4:12)
05. Triple Beam (4:41)
06. Kaleidoscope (4:03)
07. Bastards (5:04)
08. Hope Begets Hope (4:30)
09. Screaming At The Sun (3:54)
10. Behind A Mask (4:07)
11. Heavy Lies The Crown (8:48)
12. Psychotic (5:01)
13. Grind You Down (4:06)
14. Razorblade Smile (4:00)
15. Eulogy (6:33)

Total Duration: 74:18

Machine Head links: website | facebook | twitter | instagram

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