Machine Head: Unto The Locust (Album Review)
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
Release Date: September 27th 2011
Review Date: September 13th, 2011
Four years since the epic success of "The Blackening", the seventh Machine Head studio album "Unto The Locust" is upon us. The band never did a headline run of dates in North America during the extremely long touring cycle for The Blackening, and we never really got to see the band present that amazing album in full glory. So even though a Machine Head tour has eluded us, a new album is something we can easily grab a hold of, and these two weeks leading up to the release of Unto The Locust should be an exciting time for each and every Machine Head fan. In my own case, I was brimming with anticipation when I pressed the Play button on the advance digital stream I've been given access to.
To start with, fans will be taken aback by the haunting multi-layered latin acapella piece by Robb Flynn which is the first thing you will hear on the album. This is called "Sangre Sani (Blood Saint)", the first of three segments that constitute the opening track "I Am Hell". The second part is quintessential Machine Head and consists of devastating vocals, deadly guitar riffs, blistering solos and killer drumming. It then dies down into the third segment where an acoustic guitar joins in, and I'm pretty sure I hear a bit of cello as well. This opening tune leaves me absolutely stunned and floored, and if it doesn't do the same to you, I'd be very surprised.
I just couldn't get over the awesomeness of I Am Hell, but after around 20 repeated listens, I finally moved on to "Be Still And Know". My amazement from the previous track didn't die down even one bit, because the opening riff of this song is strongly reminiscent of my favorite band of all time, Iron Maiden. It makes me think of their song "Wasted Years", and the riff continues to carry the song for the most part of it. Having said that, the riff is complimented excellently by a pounding, heavy groove of the kind you would expect only from Machine Head, along with some terrific interplay between Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel on the guitars. This gives way to "Locust", a song you must have heard by now. The music here is simply fantastic and just goes to show the kind of new ground the band has broken with this album, while keeping intact the musical elements they are known for. But, as much as I love this song, I was surprised that this was chosen as the single because to be honest, it gets overshadowed by other songs on the album in my honest opinion. May be it was a case of saving the best for last.
The album continues to throw up one surprise after another, as "This Is The End" starts off with a classical guitar intro, yes, a classical guitar intro. It instantly reminds me of Metallica's "Battery", and I'd be shocked if Metallica fans don't notice this. But what comes next couldn't have been more hard-hitting, as the intro gives way to a death metal-type riff which transforms the song into a flat-out 'moshpit classic'. There are lightning fast segments interlaced with slower, groovier parts, and all in all, it's a headbangers' delight. "Darkness Within" changes things up drastically, presenting the clean vocals of Robb Flynn for the entire song barring a few seconds in the middle. He is backed by some nicely crafted guitar layers that create an extremely rich melody. The music makes perfect sense because it compliments the intensity and darkness of the lyrics.
"Pearls Before The Swine" brings back the groovy aggression of some of the previous tracks, but if offers so much variety that it almost defies belief. Unlike all other tunes here, there is no particular structure to this one. It moves from one pattern to the next even before the listener gets a chance to get a grasp of what's happening. The rhythm section is much more prominent here as compared to anything else on the album. Adam Duce' bass is very audible in the mix, an aspect which makes this the heaviest out of the seven songs on offer. Dave McClain on the drums also adjusts brilliantly to the crazy variations and comes up trumps. Another thing this particular tune doesn't share with the others is, it might not be an instant classic and almost certainly, it will take you a few listens to get a true understanding of it. The riff pattern at the end is just brutal, and leads to the final track "Who We Are". Did you ever think you'd hear children singing on a Machine Head album? Well, believe it or not, it's definitely happening. A group of children sing the chorus lines to start the song, after which it turns into yet another enjoyable tune with plenty of hooks, grooves, solid guitar harmonies and trade-offs, and beyond all, a powerful vocal harmony with Flynn and the children singing together towards the end of the song.
All in all, this album exceeds all my expectations, and then some. It leaves me completely stunned in amazement as it maintains a firm grip on me even after numerous listening sessions. Robb Flynn's performance on vocals finds me in utter disbelief, and the vocal training he underwent in preparation for the album has clearly paid dividends. He has never sounded so powerful with his aggressive vocals, and never so intense with his clean vocals either. Music-wise, the band has collectively outdone everything they've done in the past. It's incredible how compact this album is despite it's musical diversity, and in a mere 49 minutes, they have expressed themselves way better than they did on 60-minute albums of the past. In my opinion, Unto The Locust is all set to stand firm as the best album of Machine Head's career.
If you're a Machine Head, I would suggest you to not waste any more time and pre-order this album right now, or go pick it up as soon as it hits your nearest record store. Even a 10 out of 10 is not a high enough rating for this one. Album of the year, without a doubt.
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