I think it goes without saying that American metal titans Machine Head need no introduction, their twenty-plus career spanning multiple sub-genres of bone-crushing heavy metal has kept head-cases satisfied throughout the decades. Not even one month into 2018, Machine Head’s ninth studio album ‘Catharsis’ has garnered much hype in the metal community as the expectations surrounding ‘Catharsis’ have been swelling to almost critical levels, with fans expecting a continuation of their latest offering ‘Bloodstone and Diamonds’, with others expecting a throwback to classics like ‘The Blackening’ or ‘Burn My Eyes’. But in reality, ‘Catharsis’ is neither a natural progression from their latest releases, nor is it a throwback to pinnacles in the band’s discography. But rather, ‘Catharsis’ is an amalgamation of several elements both familiar to Machine Head fans world-wide and obscure to even the most hardcore head-cases. Clocking in at a whopping seventy-four minutes (their longest studio album to date), ‘Catharsis’ has plenty of running time to provide moments of satisfaction, and in truth, has provided en masse.
Opening track Volatile, like the name suggests, is a full-frontal thrash assault on the senses that will quench even the greatest thirst of Machine Head fans looking for that ‘Blackening’ vibe. It’s apparent that Robb Flynn and Co. are still capable of achieving almost lethal-amounts of sonic power with intense riffs and gut-wrenching screams. Right off the bat the guitar work is one to be commended, with lead guitarist Phil Demmel proving that he one of metal’s most underrated guitarists with a shred solo unlike I’ve ever heard. Whilst the thrash onslaught of Volatile is one that captures the interest of listeners instantly, these moments of aggression reappear throughout the album on Kaleidoscope and Psychotic, keeping fans in need of a fast-paced rager satisfied throughout the album.
Outside of the fast-tempo onslaught, ‘Catharsis’ is extremely melodic with a strong focus on the “groove” element reminiscent of their 90’s catalogue that made them the legends they are today. Hope Begets Hope, Heavy Lies The Crown and the rather controversial Beyond The Pale have enough groove to ensure no heads are still throughout these absolute bangers. Drummer Dave McClain is one name that garners much respect in the metal community, and rightfully so, as he once again displays incredible chops in his rhythmics and precise-yet-unpredictable drum attacks throughout the heavier tracks on ‘Catharsis’. The latest addition to the Machine Head family, bassist Jared MacEachern showcases his affinity for the groove, especially in the title track of the album. Machine Head feel like one cohesive, single-minded unit, despite line-up changes they have managed to bring it together once more to create potential classics.
Whilst the vast majority of listeners will be expecting the Machine Head of old with enough thrash and groove to bring down the walls, what fans won’t be expecting is the substantial amount of soft, almost ballad-esque elements featured throughout the album. The first experience of this is during Bastards, where the almost-country rock vibes give off an eerie feeling of whether a band like Machine Head should be writing songs that would otherwise be reserved by an angry Garth Brooks. But in all honesty, after a number of listens, the eerie feeling dissipates and I could truly appreciate the creative ambition of the track. Whilst there are rather obscure elements in the album I can appreciate over time, the west-coast rap stylings reminiscent of 1999’s ‘The Burning Red’ is one that I wish Flynn kept out of the 21st century. Whilst fans of the era will find this a pleasant surprise, I struggled to get behind the vocal stylings, which are fortunately backed up by killer instrumentation from all four members and lyrics that when you ignore the delivery, are words worthy of your ears.
‘Catharsis’ is a roller-coaster of heavy metal at its stage of missing identity, where it struggles to coordinate a definitive sound throughout and has instead opted to cover as many bases as possible with elements of groove, thrash, nu and even country rock amalgamated into seventy-four minutes of what will be the most interested album you’ll hear all year, but as a Machine Head fan myself, it’s something we as head-cases are used to from the west-coast metal titans. From its energetic, full-on kick-in with Volatile to the six-minute drone-like conclusion of Eulogy, ‘Catharsis’ is a perfect contrast of both an understanding and delivery of everything heavy metal can be, but is also a clear sign of Machine Head’s inability to let go of former sounds and mannerisms. Whilst some will no doubt complain about the lack of consistency throughout ‘Catharsis’, I praise the album’s ability to provide so much in what is considered by many a lengthy running time, providing enough pleasant surprises and familiar sounds to keep me enthralled throughout.
Whilst the entirety of ‘Catharsis’ will struggle to be an enjoyable experience for every Machine Head fan, there will be enough tracks off this album to please every head-case, both young and old. And it is by that statement alone that I believe ‘Catharsis’ will go down as of Machine Head’s most memorable albums to date. This album will be one where every fan will look back and say “It was a good album, but that one song off it was incredible!”, and believe me, that “one song” will be completely different to the one your fellow head-cases choose.