Machine Head – ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN
Released: August 26, 2022
Robb Flynn | Vocals, Guitar
Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka | Guitar
Jared MacEachern | Bass
Matt Alston | Drums
As a long time Head Case, I already know what you’re thinking;
- Is this album as amazing as The Blackening?
- Is this album as “experimental” as Catharsis?
I’ll save you some angst now by giving you straight forward answers:
- No, that lightning doesn’t strike twice
- Thankfully, also no
Now that we’ve got that out of the way we can get down the business of going deep with Machine Head’s first concept album, Øf KingdØm and CrØwn. If you’ve been checking out the pre-release songs, then no doubt your expectations are high. I can assure you that each track released has been a great indication as to the album’s sonic direction and they take on greater significance once you hear them sequenced as part of the album’s concept. I think it’s fair to say that, whilst it had its moments, Catharsis didn’t quite hit the mark for Machine Head enthusiasts. But this isn’t a retreat, hell no. Whilst there are a bunch of times you’ll be reminded of previous MH songs, there’s still some stretch into different territory. But there’s no rapping, and that’ll make a lot of people happy.
It all kicks off with the stellar 10-minute epic ‘Slaughter the Martyr’. Sure, that run time immediately recalls The Blackening’s ‘Clenching the Fists of Dissent’ but whilst it does get down to being absolutely furious, this isn’t a rehash of an earlier success. Since 2005 Flynn has worked on his singing voice, in part inspired by covering Iron Maiden’s ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, and he’s here to show he can nail that clean approach. The guitars have a dissonant echo that helps highlight his vocals as he modulates higher to express his protagonist’s suffering. Bassist Jared MacEachern chimes in on vocal harmonies and the whole performance just soars. And then the headbanging pinch riff drops in, the spark is lit and this is MACHINE FUCKING HEAD the way you’ve been digging since 1994. There’s a massive hook, one that recalls the more recent albums, but that riff is classic MH. Lyrically it is full of rage and sorrow, two themes Robb Flynn knows how to express. It moves through the ‘heavy’ part and into a third section that combines the distortion with clean vocals before fading out with more dissonant and some acoustic guitars. How the hell do you follow this? Well, you drop two straight-up thrashers: ‘ChØke Øn the Ashes Øf YØur Hate’ and ‘BecØMe The FirestØRm’. If you’ve already heard these then you know they freakin’ rule and they don’t mess around with minute-long intros or anything, they drop the riff and then it’s an adrenaline rush for four minutes each. Both choruses are killer and are easy to pick up and sing along with. Should come with a warning: Will Cause Whiplash.
The album’s concept is fleshed out by short segues between some tracks, such as ‘ØVerdØSe’, in which one of the protagonists suffers a medical overdose. It also signals a change in style following the two blistering tracks, since the next couple are much more melodic at a slower tempo. The track flows into ‘My Hands Are Empty’, the lyrics of which make more sense with that segue in place. It starts with melodic chants but gets down to some serious groove before returning to the chants as part of the chorus. It’s a song that is infused with trauma and seeking forgiveness. The harmony on the solo is tremendous. Recent single ‘UnhallØwed’ is next, it continues the melodic approach with lots of clean singing though some quite good riffing too. It’s probably this track that is the most Catharsis-like on the record, and to be honest, doesn’t totally work for me. It picks up in the second half but the overall song structure never quite gels. Again, the solo is really good though and to be honest this might have some of the best guitar playing on any MH record. Maybe that is Vogg’s influence, maybe Flynn just had more time to really nail the riffs and structure the leads. Either way, it works.
There’s a minute of industrial noise and synths with a mechanical voice over (‘Assimilate’) that sets up ‘Kill Thy Enemies’, another blast of headbanging metal. It really works to create the dystopian environment of the concept, with a stronger death metal influence than you might expect. It does grow into a call to arms, via clean vocals, with some great multitracking to make Robb sound massive. Similarly, we get ‘NØ GØDs, NØ Masters’, in which the Flynn/MacEachern combo shows their synchronicity (honed with their live Electric Happy Hours on Facebook). It shifts between heavy and softer before really smashing it out with Alston going hard on the double kicks. Took me a bit to warm up to it, but works on repeat listens. ‘BlØØdshØt’ on the other hand is just classic Machine Head. Just immediate and down to being ferocious and intense. It caused my brow to hurt from just making that scrunched-up ‘metal face’. Blergh indeed, showing those young metalcore bands how to do it. It has legit been many years since we got a song like this, probably since The More Things Change in 1997. ‘RØtten’ also brings back the pinch harmonics that were so characteristic of those early albums. Ditto the lyric: “Will You Stand Beside Me and Change the World?” These couple of throwbacks are well timed after the last half dozen tracks being more reflective of recent Machine Head albums. Punters are going to feel an unspeakable desire to run around in circles when these ones drop in the set.
Worth noting is that, other than ‘Slaughter…’, the tracks are under six minutes. There’s no attempt to recreate the greatness of ‘Halo’ or ‘Descend the Shades of Night’ here by just stretching out songs. They come close though on the closer ‘ArrØWs In WØRds FrØM The Sky’, a genuinely moving and majestic track. I will admit I didn’t love this song when I first heard it on the EP release a year ago, but as the culmination of this album, it works perfectly. It’s heavy and menacing but also rhythmic and gentle. It sounds like the band put a lot into this, especially the solo which just feels perfect for the song, and leads into a deep Flynn growl.
I hesitate to call this a return to form. What Øf KingdØm and CrØwn actually does is continue the story of Machine Head’s evolution as a band and songwriters. Despite the 13 tracks, it isn’t the chore their last album was, nor is it quite the sonic mess. Whilst there are a lot of positive comparisons to previous works, it also has enough points of difference to make it a worthy addition to their canon and a high-quality one at that. So set those fears and biases aside and jump in – Machine Head is back and ready to roar.
Machine Head – Øf KingdØm and CrØwn Tracklisting:
- Slaughter The Martyr
- ChØKe ØN The Ashes ØF YØUr Hate
- BecØMe The FirestØRm
- My Hands Are Empty
- Kill Thy Enemies
- NØ GØds, NØ Masters
- ArrØWs In WØRds FrØM The Sky
Listen to our interview with the General himself, Robb Flynn right here
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