You can always tell a Machine Head track from a number of motifs – namely lots of harmonic notes, lots of beastly grooves and lots of blood-pumping sing-growling courtesy of Rob Flynn. Over time, the Oakland metalheads have also brought in a number of new stylistic features. The Blackening saw them garnering more progressiveness and old-skool thrashiness, whilst The Locust introduced orchestral strings and more symphonic tracks.
Entering this album, I was a little anxious Machine Head’s sound might have started to stagnate by this point. The two singles that dropped beforehand, ‘Now We Die’ and ‘Night of the Long Knives’ although undoubtedly Machine Head, brought nothing new or that exciting to the table – except maybe some surprise blast beats on the latter track.
Fortunately, as it turns out after listening to the record, these singles are some of the least interesting numbers on the album. The rest are fairly creative and show some clear improvements to the band’s sound, the first being Rob Flynn’s singing. ‘Beneath the Silt’ features some dynamic clean vocals that I’d usually expect only off a Deftones track. Other moments include the long percussion-free segments of ‘Sail into the Black’ and ‘Damage Inside’ in which gothic vocal harmonies are also employed creating a truly ghostly quality. There's a real focus on atmosphere on these tracks that has never been the case in previous Machine Head releases. The softer parts are more ambient than ever.
And the heavier parts are heavier. Contrasting the eerie ballads, are tracks such as 'Ghosts will Haunt my Bones' which introduce some new sludgy, low-tuned riffage. ‘Game Over’, meanwhile, takes the speed and hostility up beyond 'Aesthetics of Hate' to a level of intensity that rivals some grindcore bands. All I can say is the group better be careful playing this live – people in the pit might die.
A personal gripe I have with the album is the lengthiness of some tracks here. ‘Game Over’ could have been left as a snappy two minute frenzy and had more of an effect. Similarly, ‘Sail into the Black’ could have been cut a couple minutes short and gets a bit repetitive towards the end.
The choruses on this record also sound a bit samey and the lyrics aren’t always inspiring. Revolutionary clichés such as ‘wake up America’ do nothing for me (In fact, it just sounds like to two Greenday hooks got mashed up).
That being said, the lengthiness of songs and the lukewarm choruses are outshined by the level of creativity being displayed elsewhere. Whilst some parts are predictable, others take wild twists and turns into territories that show Machine Head, as big as they are in the metal universe, are still a band to be respected. I’m not feeling this is 'the metal album of the year' as some people seem to be proclaiming but it is still far from being a forgettable footnote in the group’s career.