Heavy metal giants Machine Head are back with their ninth studio album. The band released “Catharsis” on Jan. 26 with great hopes which many felt were not achieved. Machine Head broke onto the metal scene back in 1994 with their album “Burn My Eyes” which to this day is regarded by many as one of the band’s heaviest albums and a groundbreaking album for the American metal scene. Machine Head is also credited with being one of the founding bands of the “New Wave of American Heavy Metal.” Band’s that defined this rebirth of the genre include acts like Bullet for My Valentine, Trivium and Shadows Fall. As someone who grew up in this new wave of American metal I was super excited to hear and review this album.
Just a little background. “Catharsis” is the band’s first album since 2014’s “Blood and Diamonds” which charted at number 21 on the Billboard 200, the highest ranking the band has ever had. Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn has spoken a lot about “Catharsis” coming into its release. While many fans had high hopes for the album, Flynn warned that not everyone is going to like it. According to Flynn, “Catharsis” was a chance for the band to try some new things.
Getting into the album, it’s easy to see why Flynn gave fans a bit of warning. This album is not a straightforward metal album, or even straightforward Machine Head album in any respect. The band jumps throughout the album from thrash metal, to nu-metal to some acoustic metal before jumping back to classic thrash.
Songs like “Catharsis,” “Volatile,” “Hope Begets Hope” and “Screaming at the Sun” speak to the band’s thrash metal and groove metal origins. I first listened to the album while working out in the gym and I have to say, between those three songs I have never felt so motivated to finish a workout. The driving drum beats and breakdown-rifts keep you edging closer to the edge. “Behind A Mask” gives a nice acoustic break to the whole album. “Heavy Lies the Crown” is particularly unique in that it tells the story of the “Spider King” of France, Louis XI. The orchestral elements of the song are particularly interesting and bring an exciting mysteriousness to the song.
Flynn has never been the kind of person to avoid controversy. When Phil Anselmo made his “white power” statements at a Dimebag Darrell tribute show, Flynn was one the most outspoken critics against him, especially on his album. The first song on the album, “Volatile” was written and recorded in the hours after the slaying of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. The band and Flynn express their anger at the state of the United States where Nazi’s can openly march with a huge “F*ck the World” shout at the beginning of the song. “Bastards” reflects a conversation Flynn had with his sons after Trump was elected. It’s a unique punk-Irish folk fusion song that shows the depth of the band and a classic Flynn who will speak out against anything he disagrees with.
Some songs, however, completely miss the mark. Many in the metal community are critical of the genre of nu-metal. While I have no problem with the genre, their use on this album are way too crazy, and not in a good way. While “California Bleeding” is not a bad representation of the genre “Triple Beam” is honestly just garbage. The lyrics in “Triple Bream” are great but the actual harmonies are way too overdone to be taken seriously. “Beyond the Pale” has a bigger issues with it sounding similar to Strapping Young Lad’s “Love” which Flynn has not openly denied.
This album is not for everyone, and I definitely recommend giving it a listen before deciding to spend your money on it. To give a review of this album, it needs to be thought of in two ways; as a metal album and as a Machine Head album. As a Machine Head album, it is, at best, a three out of five. As a metal album it’s a good solid four out of five, the nu-metal sections were a little too grating. So I guess the best way to grade this album is an average of the two.