Machine Head: Bloodstone And Diamonds (Nuclear Blast)
When Adam Duce left Machine Head in somewhat acrimonious circumstances at the turn of the year, questions about the future of MFH were asked by many. For a band that had released THE album of the 2000s in The Blackening, this seemed a little bizarre. Okay, we all know that Robb Flynn controls the band pretty intensely, but was there ever a doubt that MFH would return with a decent slab of metal? I don’t think so. The pressure that the band was under after The Blackening was immense. They toured their asses off on that album, hitting the UK a number of times and possibly suffered from over-exposure although I will state here that I have never seen a bad Machine Head show and indeed in the last ten years have spent more time pitting to this band than any other. The follow up release Unto The Locust in the autumn of 2011 was a decent offering with some great songs on it. However, there appeared to be a bit of a backlash to the band, possibly due to the decision to offer them the 2012 Saturday night headline slot at BOA, something which wasn't well received by some of the more extreme patrons of the festival. I have to admit I had my doubts and although I watched the show, it didn't grasp me by the bollocks like before. However, word from the front that night was that MFH were back on form. The last time we saw them on these shores was their arena tour later that year with the desperately awful Bring Me The Horizon in support, a choice that certainly impacted on ticket sales and led to the NIA where I saw them far from capacity. Still, they put on a decent show, and it is in the live arena where MFH live or die.
So what about Bloodstone And Diamonds? Well, it is a very good record, no doubt about it. Filled with the usual angst that fuels Flynn’s inner rage, the album has a greater number of songs on it than a normal MFH release; 12 in total. Is there a format to a Machine Head record? I suppose there is. A few fast thrashers, for example Killers & Kings, a lengthy epic that builds in the middle of the album, this time it is Sail Into The Black and a few weighty slabs of metal that get the head moving. Opener Now We Die is a stomping tune, huge hooks, string sections, catchy chorus and the obvious opener for their forthcoming UK shows. Flynn’s vocals are unmistakable, snarly and aggressive, spitting the words out with real venom and feeling. Killers & Kings is possibly the most instantly accessible track on the album, Dave McClain’s powerful drumming combining with new boy Jared MacEachern to form as cohesive a unit as McClain and Duce did. Ghosts That Haunt My Bones has a riff and a half in it, Flynn’s vocal calm and measured to start before it descends into classic Machine Head fare, elements of Descend The Shades Of Night combining with the power of Bulldozer, Phil Demmel and Flynn using their excellent guitar work to full effect. Night Of The Long Knives climbs from an atmospheric start into an absolute balls out gallop with McClain’s drumming quite incredible. This will cause some carnage in the pit. (Lucky I’ve got a sick note!) Sail Into The Black combines the intro tapes of Grand Magus and Dimmu Borgir, acoustic guitar and some piano dripping through whilst Flynn eulogises in the way only he can. The track stands alongside classics such as Descend The Shades Of Night and Darkness Within and will no doubt be the pacer track in the middle of their set. It then builds with MacEachern’s bass pounding before McClain uses blast beats as the track charges towards a massive crescendo.
Halfway point in the album and not a dud so far. Eyes Of The Dead continues where Sail Into The Black left off, an overture of doom before the dual soloing of Flynn and Demmel rip your eyes out. I think that Demmel in particular is a massively underrated guitarist and his work here is exceptional, peeling off the licks for fun, ripping through the track and cutting the listener across the throat. Although it is almost old school thrash, this track, like most on the album have numerous changes of direction and enormous dollops of old school MFH groove. Halfway through, and Flynn briefly turns into Dave Mustaine, all guttural and grimace before it kicks off again with rampaging solos and 100mph drumming. Beneath The Silt has a slower feel to it, with even bigger riffs and a true heavy metal feel. Andy Sneap’s mixing is of the usual high quality throughout the album. Another seven minute plus track follows in the shape of In Comes The Flood, string section and choral vocals layering the introduction before the slicing guitar work synonymous with MFH cuts across. The weakest track on the album follows, with Damage Inside a cathartic rambling construct which adds little. Indeed, it’s about here that the album starts to slow in pace and direction. Sure, it’s been a tough time for MFH of late and Flynn in particular carries spectacular amounts of baggage but there are times when you can’t help thinking that he brings some of the shit on himself. Game Over gets the show back on the road with some blistering thrash before instrumental Imaginal Cells leads to final track Take Me Through The Fire, an anthemic roller coaster of a track which combines some classic MFH thrashing to bring the album to a slightly overdue end.
Machine Head are still a vital part of today’s metal scene. Whether this album will put them back into The Blackening territory is questionable; they've public ally stated they are avoiding festivals next year to focus on their own gigs which I think is a good move. An intense Machine Head gig is one of the most incredible sights in metal, and for a band who have 20 years + under the belt, still damn fine going. Machine Fucking Head. Indeed. 8/10