In human nature, we love the notion of retrospect, where we can only truly appreciate an art, era or expression after a sufficient timespan has surpassed to reflect back on it. In context to thrash metal, this has occurred through the debate of ‘The Big Four’ and who would be the ‘Fifth’, with extended discussions on the hierarchy. However, if you ask many of the musicians in this defining sub-genre of heavy metal, most of them will tell you that none of those retrospective discussions matter, because of the magic created at a very special point in time in the San Francisco Bay Area.
One of the definitive outcomes from that time was the birth of heavy metal veterans Machine Head in 1991. After releasing nine very important albums and preparing for the release of their tenth, they are true cultivists of what heavy music sounds like today. And as with many artists across the course of their careers, there are a series of lineup changes that indicate evolution. As this is also the case for Machine Head mastermind Robb Flynn (aka ‘The General’) who remains the only truly original member from when it all began. In terms of heavy metal musicians from this era, Flynn was and still is one of the most iconic figures out there.
One of the most notable periods of Machine Head was from 2006 – 2014, where the band transcended from their nu-metal roots and channelled their talents into some of the best albums of their career. The eight year period included consecutive records The Blackening, Unto The Locust and Bloodstone & Diamonds, the first of which was nominated by the UK.’s Metal Hammer publication as ‘Album of the Decade‘.
As with any band who’s existed for over thirty years, there comes adversity. For Machine Head it came with a bunch of lineup changes, criticisms over the direction of emerging music like 2018’s Catharsis and it even led to Flynn responding via his blog: The General Journals: Diary of a Frontman… And Other Ramblings. Since then, the band have bounced back monumentally and the frontman has reached a point of self-actualisation through his highly popular podcast (vidcast) No F’n Regrets (NFR) as well as his Electric Happy Hour Facebook livestreams.
With their tenth studio album on the verge of release, we got some time with The General himself to chat all about Øf Kingdøm And Crøwn, his NFR podcast, and a whole lot more.
**Prefer to listen?
Stream the entire interview below or via your fav podcast app here**
As we log into zoom, Flynn sports the NFR neon light backdrop with a close-up video-pan and his headphones entangled in his heavy metal mane. “It is a concept record which is a first for Machine Head,” he says, describing the forthcoming record.
“It’s set in a futuristic wasteland where the sky is always stained crimson red and it revolves around two characters. Character number one is named Ares, he loses the love of his life, Amethyst – and goes on a murderous rampage against the people who killed her,” the words roll off his tongue.
“Character number two is Eros who loses his mother to a drug overdose and in his downward spiral depression, becomes radicalised by this charismatic leader and goes on his own killing spree and he is one of the people who killed Amethyst, so the lyrics detail how their lives intertwine.”
The inspiration for the notion of even exploring a concept album came from a number of places, one was – “The Wall by Pink Floyd, I love that record so much, there’s so many great songs, and I love the movie.“
Another muse was Flynn’s sons watching Anime. “I’ve got two teenage boys, and I was a super anime nerd,” he admits with a hint of nostalgia. “When I was their age, I was going to the conventions – I was obsessed, and then for no reason I just didn’t pay attention to it, and now I’ve started watching it with them and all these new shows are brutal.”
So after Papa Flynn allowed Anime to feature on the family big-screen, he noticed interesting narratives developing. “We start watching a series called Attack on Titan, it’s a really long series and it’s very involved. At some point around Season Two or Three, I [didn’t] know who the good or bad guy is, and then I was like ‘no, they’re both bad’,” he smiles reflectively.
“That whole idea that both sides believe that they were good, but both sides were committing evil – was totally inspiring and fascinating to me.”
The 55-year old said that this story inspired him to expand the album both lyrically and sonically. “I could get way more brutal, I could get way more sad, and this comes after [writing] nine albums through the lens of my eyes.”
Singles ‘CHØKE ØN THE ASHES ØF YØUR HATE‘ and ‘UNHALLØWED‘ have led to stunning reactions from fans who are cherishing the direction the band have taken, with many alluding to similarities on groundbreaking records The Blackening and Unto The Locust.
However, Flynn isn’t one to characterise Machine Head records into ‘better or worse’ piles. “If that’s what fans think, that’s cool. I’m proud of all of our records,” he says with an ounce of defensiveness. “There’s things that I enjoy and I think each time you make a record, it opens up another door as to where you can go,” he says with an ontological view.
“A song like ‘The Burning Red’ from our third record is the reason we can make a song like ‘Descend the Shades of Night’ on our fifth record; and the reason we can make a song like ‘Darkness Within’ is because we were confident enough from ‘Descend the Shades of Night’.”
The metal frontman sees each track as a door opening for the next track. But he’s sure to state clearly, “This isn’t a return to The Blackening. This is going forward. Machine Head’s always been a band that didn’t want every record to sound the same.
“We don’t want to be the AC/DC of metal. We want to be the Beatles of metal, where every record is taking you on a journey, and the bands that have inspired me the most are the bands that (for better or worse) just forged ahead into unknown territory.”
Last year, prior to the announcement of their full-length album, Machine Head put out three-track single ARRØWS IN WØRDS FRØM THE SKY (our review here) which all feature on the extended-release. Between the 2021 trio and the two lead singles, around half of the album is available for streaming, which gives fans a solid read on its direction.
“I love that we’re in this time with technology where I could record a song today and it’s out tomorrow, that’s insane to me,” Robb says in support of the streaming era. “After being in the music business for this long, it’s just it’s so incredible that we can do this and I don’t think that artists take enough advantage of it. I think that metal bands are sometimes still just stuck in album mode.”
An interesting perspective from the vocalist who could have gone either way with the emergence of modern music consumption, particularly with the opportunity to lean towards the ‘Lars Ulrich – Napster‘ point of view.
“We started doing standalone singles back in 2016 and it just makes your fans that much more into what you’re doing,” he confirms, appreciating fans’ patient waiting in between album cycles. “Machine Head tends to take a long time between records – three years, sometimes four years.”
Flynn takes a moment to consider the story he’s about to tell as he’s thrived between the dichotomies of physical records and digital access.
“I grew up in the thrash scene, I was lucky enough to be born in the Bay Area when I was a teenager and the first time I went to see Metallica, they were supporting Raven at a 500 capacity room. There’s maybe 250 people there and we run into James Hetfield who’s just signing autographs at the bar stool.”
The frontman smiles as he sets the scene and reflects on an arguably simpler ‘pre-celebrity’ era. “It was this incredible time – it was very underground and it wasn’t getting played on radio,” he says describing the early days of thrash. “There was no mainstream attention, it was all tape-traders and demos being circulated at bootleg stores.”
“Me and my friend had bootlegs of every Metallica song that would be come out on Kill ‘Em All. When Exodus came out with Bonded by Blood, we already had that record six months before it came out,” Flynn announces, alluding to his relatedness to the hype of exclusivity.
“I had Reign in Blood still with the hi-hat counts at the beginning of every song – but that kind of sh*t didn’t make me not care about the music; in fact, it made me care about it more.”
The General assures that this advanced copy frenzy fed into the obsession. “It made me crazier about the band, I had this special thing that most of the world didn’t know about, and then the record would come out and it would sound slightly different.”
“To me, that’s all this is,” he says, alluding to the three-track single release in 2021. “I didn’t want to make fans wait, it was a pandemic. I was like, ‘let’s just give people music and not f*cking worry about whether it’s on a record, put it out there and make people feel connected to this music.'”
Another one of Machine Head‘s standalone pandemic releases was ‘Circle The Drain‘ from 2020 where the band leant into an experimental melodic side. “It’s done really well,” Flynn shares honestly. Driving his earlier point home he adds – “That was just a standalone single and it’s like one of our biggest songs on Spotify now.”
“I just wanted to put it out, to me it was this heavy riff but I had this really melodic vocal that I just could not get out of my head. I didn’t know if it would fit on a record somehow and I’d had the song for a while and I was like ‘f*ck it man, let’s just put it out, and I think it was very relatable for people.”
The modern music business has become a survive-or-die attitude. On one side of the coin, labels have artists fulfilling TikTok quotas as part of album campaigns, but on the other side of the coin – bands are leaning into the rhythm of singles and EPs more than ever before. Part of the recipe seems to be working and we’re seeing a huge wave of metalcore and deathcore bands thriving in the current heavy music scene.
Once again, Flynn’s embraced the post-modern heavy music era and has invited a whole bunch of the next generation onto his NFR vidcast. Some of the most successful deathcore acts have featured, including members of Whitechapel, Lorna Shore and Oceano – just to name a few.
“They’re killing it,” The General announces like a proud metal father. “It’s awesome, I love it – it’s so brutal. I think that it’s really refreshing and exciting to see this new stuff,” he says describing the modern deathcore sound.
What he loves most is the acknowledgement to the ageing generation of metal. “The guys definitely give respect where respect is due. I talked to Adam from Oceano not that long ago and he used to do backyard wrestling to Machine Head’s ‘Exhale the Vile’,” he laughs hysterically.
In terms of the music they’re putting out, Flynn loves it and completely appreciates where heavy music is going. “It’s not a new style but it’s like the modern version of a lot of ‘this’,” he says referring to thrash. “It’s great to see their take on it, like they grew up with a little bit of Machine Head and a little bit of deathcore and then put their own spin on it.”
The Machine Head singer is completely and utterly impressed with Oceano‘s Adam Warren (who just released new single ‘Mass Produced‘). “He’s a beast – oh, my god. I could watch that dude sing death metal all day, his voice is so brutal and I love that.”
Of course, Robb also hosted Lorna Shore‘s Will Ramos after they released …And I Return To Nothingness and the two got along like a house on fire. “I love to see that they’ve got this passion for it. He’s the nicest guy ever, him and I really hit it off – which I was not expecting. Super nice guy, killer singer, fantastic f*cking band.”
After a brief sidetrack, Flynn shares tour plans that are in the works for the new record and references An Evening With Machine Head – their more recent touring model. For the last couple of album cycles, the band have played shows around the world with no supports and a three-hour setlist.
The band seem keen to continue this way too. “We love it, the fans love it – it’s a win-win for everybody.” After having to cancel their most recent Australian tour due to COVID, they ready to make it up to fans.
“We were supposed to come down there for the Burn My Eyes 25th Anniversary and the pandemic f*cked that all up, so when we’re touring this album, we’ll continue it for sure,” he says referring to An Evening With Machine Head. The General also hints at when the next Machine Head Aussie tour could be happening.
“We’re looking at February 2023 doing Australia, Japan and South America. We’re booking U.S. tour dates for the end of March and then we’ve also got more U.S. tour dates for November and December of this year. Right now we’ve got that sweet spot right there in February, maybe the beginning of March that we’re looking at for Australia, I can’t wait to get back, man.”
Interview by Ricky Aarons (@rickysaul90)
Prefer to listen? Stream the entire interview below or your fav podcast app here
Pre-order Øf Kingdøm And Crøwn here
Machine Head – Øf Kingdøm And Crøwn tracklisting
1. Slaughter The Martyr
2. Chøke Øn The Ashes Øf Yøur Hate
3. Becøme The Firestørm
5. My Hands Are Empty
8. Kill Thy Enemies
9. Nø Gøds, Nø Masters
13. Arrøws In Wørds Frøm The Sky