Sunday, 26 June 2011

Machine Head – “Locust” (Review)

One of the key difficulties faced by any writer reviewing music during the zeitgeist is the abundance of jargon at the time. By the mid-point of the first decade of the twenty-first century what came to known as “metalcore” become a defining stream in heavy music. Essentially a hybrid of melodic metal riffing and hard core’s breakdowns and sentiments it also combined the theatricality of metal’s melodicism with hard core’s motivational pathos. Naturally, purists from either camp opposed and derided the innovation, metal heads jaded by new metal found something to put their faith in and by natural consequence this new sound occupied public metal perception as the successor to nu-metal. Countless copy cat bands arose and aided by the speed of social networking this new sound permeated every last bastion of metal genre geography. So much so that it possibly represents one of the earliest articulations of a new idea burning itself out via rapid achievement of fame: the sound spread so far and wide across the community, so prominently that it verged on non-ironic self parody. That said, metalcore - much like the ailing deathcore of the present - injected a substantial amount of inspirational energy into middle ground metal. Gone were the techno and hip hop pretensions, the bandwagoners and pretenders and welcomed back were the double kicks, guitar solos and progressive risk taking.

However, even now an anti metalcore sentiment remains, indeed, with regard to describing one’s feelings toward particular albums or bands, metalcore has taken on connotation and function not unlike the playground epithet, “gay”.

In 2007, Machine Head released their second comeback album “The Blackening”. Filled with dueling leads, extended melodic passages and just flat out gnarly Machine Mead style post-thrash riffing, “The Blackening” is arguably the mainstream metal revival album. Thus, hopes are high for the follow up due to be released this September, metal heads the world over are collectively lurching over their computers, smart phones and other devices waiting to catch an aural glimpse of any offering from the new album. Well, we are in luck as Machine Head released a non-final mix of the album track “Locust”.

Frankly, this new track may leave more than a few Machine Head fans scratching their heads. More than a few will be screaming “metalcore”. This is not to say that the new track somehow comes to us via a Morbid Angel alternative-reality matrix where 90s industrial is cool again. Rather the sound is somewhat familiar and yet very new at the same time. Elements of “Locust” recall the widely disliked yet actually rather good left of centre “The Burning Red”. Personally, I am pleased that they have decided to revisit this sound. “The Burning Red”, while mostly definitely a zeitgeist album has a vulnerable, teeth gnashing melodic sensibility at its core, a sensibility that has been toned down somewhat and made to conform to modern metal standards. Even the twisted, slightly odd-metered main riff does not sound like the way metal should be at the moment. It is bouncy, elastic and dare I say it, loose. The rest of the track, including an excellent dueling guitars solo reminiscent of “The Blackening’s” “Aesthetics of Hate” (but I would argue, even better), slow rhythmic crushing at the end and Flynn’s impassioned vocal delivery.

What is incongruous about this new track and hopefully the whole album is that Machine Head seem to be able to read the wind of the times. In an era of perfectly, processed production, exactitude as a substitute for compositional precision and genre streamlining to the point of pointlessness, on “Locust” Flynn and co seem to have moved in a different direction, drawing on a diverse palette of sounds first hinted at on “The Burning Red”, played out on “Supercharger” and finally abandoned or otherwise reshaped on “Through the Ashes of Empires”. They have then applied this to the modern Head template. Too soon? Not a moment, I only hope that similar chances are taken throughout the rest of the album.

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