If it feels like another lifetime since Robb Flynn invited us all to let freedom ring with a shotgun blast that’s because, well, it is. In the intervening years, Flynn and his Machine Head bandmates have bestrode the metal community with style, invention, and attitude. Their legacy is, surely, settled and unarguable.
Why then does Catharsis (Nuclear Blast), their ninth and latest album sound like a band with something to prove? It may be a sign of these uneasy and uncertain times, but the music on this hefty and fascinating record also suggests a band not content to sit on their considerable laurels. Catharsis is a record of rage; of risk-taking and, ultimately, of power.
Despite (or perhaps because of) being a man entering his fifth decade on the planet, Flynn could be forgiven for wanting to take it easy, or easier, at least. We, clearly, are of little faith. “Fuuuuck the wooooorrrrlllddd!!!!” hollers Flynn at the start of opening track ‘Volatile’, which is all riffing and bilious hatred of everything that Flynn observes is wrong with the world today. It’s snarling and muscular and not so much the sound of the gauntlet being thrown down, as the entire suit of armour.
Flynn sounds resolute, irascible and as cantankerous as you could wish to hear, and this continues into the title track, a stomping, pounding slab of aural malevolence. “Can you feel my catharsis?!” hollers Flynn on a song surely set to be an instant Machine Head classic. Yes, we can Robb: only too well.
The huge riffing of ‘Beyond The Pale’ (as well as nods to Strapping Young Lad) continues the relentless pace and energy and, on ‘California Bleeding’ we get another snapshot into Flynn’s worldview of the social injustice he observes in his home state, set to a riff that hurdles along at breakneck pace. ‘Triple Beam’, a mix of heavy breakdowns and snarled whispers on its vocal track suggests Flynn has been spending a LOT of time with King810 records. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as we all know. If ‘Kaleidoscope’ seems lightweight in comparison (certainly in terms of its lyrical content), then that’s more than made up for with its riffing, adept use of strings and fat-free execution. After the claustrophobia of what’s gone before, this groove-laden track sounds positively carefree. It’s infectious as hell.
And then we come to ‘Bastards’. It’s the hand-break turn in a car driving at 125 miles an hour. It’s the song that is probably going to divide the Machine Head audience and the record’s biggest risk by a considerable mile. It’s Flynn’s reflection on the state of the world, a slow burner that morphs into a Pogues/Dropkick Murphys folk-soaked ditty about inclusion and acceptance. It’s unquestionably risky – the use of racial epithets perhaps not the greatest idea Flynn’s ever had (however well intended their use) – but the song itself, I think, really works. It is, unquestionably, a tune and, equally, like nothing the band has done before. They should be roundly and solidly applauded.
More typical Machine Head service is resumed in the second half of the album with ‘Hope Begets Hope’ and ‘Screaming at the Sun’, both of which have burgeoning energy and belligerence. ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ concerns itself with Louis XI’s reign as King of France and is an intriguing powerhouse of riffing and metal shenanigans. I know that Flynn has never really been in the top echelon of metal lyricists but I really do think that the words “I’m eating pussy by a dumpster/Beard stinking like snatch” on the Lemmy tribute ‘Razorblade Smile’ are, frankly, risible. He really should know better. Of greater appeal, ‘Behind A Mask’ suggests a broader, more expansive Machine Head but it’s not reflective of the wider record.
In this attention-deficit age, when instant gratification is the order of the day, the arrival of a 15 track, 76-minute long album is possibly not the greatest career move a band can take. Machine Head appear not to care less and, as such, Catharsis is the most aptly titled record of Machine Head’s career. It showcases all of their considerable talents on a record that takes a huge number of risks. This is a band that, even after all these years, are still hungry to demonstrate that they have more to give, have creative avenues to explore and, through the deep, personal and political anger on display here, have scores to settle.
After repeated listens, Catharsis reveals itself to be a record of ambition and defiant resolve.