Catharsis by Machine HeadRelease date: January 26, 2018
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Robb Flynn is a very angry man. This is not news – Machine Head have made nine albums and a successful 25-year career out of that anger. However this time it feels personal – the album is called Catharsis, and that is pretty much a statement of intent. And yet, that anger feels directionless. Lyrics jump from politically motivated rants about the state of the world; to the rock and roll lifestyle of drugs and alcohol; to just how great music is (which seems like an odd thing to be so angry about). There’s even a brief stop in Fifteenth Century France, for a track about King Louis XI of France (even if the song and especially the title ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’ manages to feel a bit self-referential at the same time). If this is supposed to be a cathartic release of emotions, it’s done in a very meandering way.
At this point in their career, Machine Head have established their groove metal sound. Chugging riffs, squealing guitars, militant drumming, repetitive shouted choruses mix with melodic hooks… this was never going to be a complete reinvention although Catharsis does have a few surprises. For one this record sees the return of the nu-metal style rapping vocals last seen on the band’s Supercharger album, even if they only truly take centre stage on the track ‘Triple Beam’, a gritty piece of verse whose life-on-the-streets message mixes well with rap. Elsewhere, ‘Bastards’ provides a piece of angry folk, ‘California Bleeding’ a hard rocking edge, ‘Behind a Mask’ a fine acoustic interlude and ‘Eulogy’ a mournful dirge to close the album out. For the most part though, new ideas aren’t given enough room to grow – at fifteen tracks the record is tightly packed, and too many songs come and go without leaving any impression. It’s a shame – when an idea is given room to breathe it can be fantastic: the aforementioned ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’ is a cleverly crafted epic, slowly building into an explosive release that mixes violins and pianos with the thrashing Machine Head sound. It is an excellent moment, sitting among the best of the band’s career. Unfortunately the rest of the album doesn’t hit those heights.
Machine Head fans might question some of the decisions made, but in the end they will lap up ditties such as ‘Volatile’ and the title track. The trouble is, too much of the album just drifts by, a drab chug of riffs and anger. There is no real flow to the songs, with the album seemingly thrown together in a random order – ‘Bastards’ feels like it comes too soon in the running order for example, while tracks such as ‘Psychotic’ and ‘Screaming at the Sun’ simply get lost in the mix. Catharsis feels too much like a stream of consciousness from Robb Flynn’s mind, a vanity project for him to vent his own opinions. With some refinement and three or four filler songs taken out, there are the makings of an album up there with the band’s best. As it is it feels like a missed opportunity.