Machine Head Release Through the Ashes of Empires Demos, Robb Flynn Continues Making-Of Recollections
Following yesterday’s inaugural installment of Robb Flynn’s epic multi-part recollection of the creation of Through the Ashes of Empires, Flynn continues that record’s tenth anniversary celebration today not only with another massive chapter of the story, but with demos for three tracks from the album: “Imperium,” “Days Turn Blue to Gray,” and “Descend the Shades of Night.” Not only does it provide some really interesting insights into how a modern classic was made, but I gotta say, it’s super-cool of Flynn and the band to just be sharin’ this shit online, and not making fans pays for it via some super-duper-deluxe-ultra-awesome-limited-edition-lenticular-cover-decoder-ring-inside special edition.
ANYWAY, here’s the latest chapter; the demos are way at the bottom. Enjoy!
In May of 2002 not long after we finished the ‘Supercharging America‘ tour our-then-guitarist Ahrue Luster quit the band. It seems weird even talking about the Ahrue-era of the band as feels like a lifetime ago, probably because it WAS a lifetime ago! Literally thousands of bands have come and gone from that era he was with us (98-02).
We get on fine now, so I don’t have anything negative to say about him other than he was just really a bizarre choice to get in the band. However to his credit he did bring in a some cool songs (“Blood, Sweat and Tears,” parts of “The Burning Red,” parts of “Silver” and “Blank Generation“), but yeah, when he quit no one in the band was surprised, and most Head Cases just went “meh.”
Once he was gone we decided to continue as a 3 piece and to write and record the next album that way. It was a good decision as we weren’t interested in bringing in another person and truthfully we couldn’t think of anyone off hand if we wanted to. We figured we’d cross that bridge when touring came up and guess what? We had some pending European festival dates coming up in June.
Someone (possibly Adam or our manager Joseph) brought up getting my old Vio-Lence guitarist, drinking buddy and partner-in-crime Phil Demmel to fill in for the dates. Phil was recently back on our radar as Adam had filled in playing bass for Vio-Lence in the Summer of 2001. But Phil playing with us? At first I wasn’t into the idea. After I’d quit Vio-Lence there was a long period where Phil and I didn’t talk, things didn’t end on a good note, and I blamed him for a lot of it.
On top of that, I had also taken a personal vow to never to mention Vio-Lence in interviews, advertisements, album covers, ANYTHING related to Machine Head. I wanted Machine Head to stand or fall on it’s own merits and I wouldn’t use my previous band in any way to help sell or sink it.
When Vio-Lence broke up, his next band Torque opened for Machine Head a few times, and later his next band Technocracy would open some shows too, but we didn’t really hang out anymore. It wasn’t until almost 8 years later than him and I had a real heart to heart (leaving an Oakland Raider’s game) that we cleared the air, and after that we hung out a lot. Usually at football games or shows.
Once I was on board we decided to see what he’d say, so Adam reached out to him (via AOL AIM… anyone remember that? ) and Phil came back and said “yes.” In fact he told us that it would be perfect as he had decided he was retiring from the music business.
He’d been doing it for 10 years since Vio-Lence ended and he was frustrated. He had been married for a while, had a long-standing steady job and the band thing hadn’t been working so what better way to end his music career than by jamming with one of his favorite bands?
His choice was a good one, he’d be jamming with his old friends, touring the world for 2 weeks where he’d be playing over Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson, headlining festivals to 20,000 people and then go and settle down.
It was perfect situation. We didn’t want a band member and he didn’t want to join a band and it was a simple agreement. Phil wheeled his stuff over from the Vio-Lencerehearsal room, (they’d recently re-united and had done a string of weekend shows, but were also getting ready to retire) and when we jammed together, it was just awesome! There was a chemistry. Something was different about the energy in the room. We all felt it.
And while I felt something, I didn’t voice it, I didn’t want to.
We went on tour and the first show was in Dublin, Ireland with Evile and Gama Bombopening. The show was nutzo!!! About halfway thru the show I looked to my right and thought, “hey, I remember that guy!” There he was, stage right muggin’ it up and smiling like a Cheshire cat every chance he got.
The next show was a “secret” Ten Ton Hammer show in London at The Garage (or as the Brits say “the gair-ige”) and hanging out on that small stage, jamming cover songs, annihilated on vodka, having onstage chug-a-lugs with hammered fans, and playing to a frankly insane group of Head Cases, there was something happening, something real, a connection.
And it wasn’t ok to talk about it…
Because he was retiring…
And we didn’t want someone in the band…
While we were at the London show, Mark Palmer and his team from Roadrunner UKcame out. They supported the show, they arranged press, helped spread the word. Before the gig even began Mark pulled me aside and said “we’d still like to work withMachine Head, would you consider signing another deal with us?”
The RR UK office had always kicked ass for us, but I said, “what about the American office, they’ll be pissed”, he said, “fuck them, they’re idiots, they don’t know what they’re losing, we’ve always had a great relationship, think about it”.
And think we did.
On a side note; A dickhead journalist for Kerrang! magazine would review the show, he did a quick chat with us before the show, and I knew he was gonna slam us, and we’d soon cross paths again later on.
We played Germany’s With Full Force festival and the Roadrunner Germany office came out, arranged press, pulled me aside and said the same things as Mark, “the Americans don’t know what they’re losing, would you consider re-signing with us?” We debated it a lot. Some people were against it. But as we traveled back from Northern Finland on a dangerously rickety bus with plywood bunks, while Phil slept, the 3 of us talked in the back, and agreed.
Maybe the best thing to do is continue a great relationship with Roadrunner in these territories and we could just look for an American-only deal once home. So that became the plan, get signed in America, release the record simultaneous overseas onRoadrunner Europe.
When the tour ended, we said our goodbyes to Phil. We were in the back lounge of the bus trying to make eye contact with the guy who brought in the magic chemistry we needed. It was the strangest goodbye we’d ever been a part of, “all right, well, thanks, and er, uh, happy retirement, it was uh… great….” He wished us well and we went our separate ways for what seemed like the last time.
We made a 4 song demo, we wrote a song that we thought could “get us signed in America.” A horribly cheesy radio track called “Pins and Needles.” We then made a cringe-worthy video (EPK) to sell our band to labels as our lawyer solicited us to every major label in existence.
David Draiman courted us to sign to Disturbed‘s new label imprint thru Warner Bros., and McClain and I brought the CD demo to Draiman when they played in San Jose, CA. on the Music As A Weapon Tour.
I specifically remember this show not for this, but because my friend Mike Parker had burned me a copy of a new band called Lamb Of God, the CD was “As The Palaces Burn.” As I picked up Dave to drive down to the show, I threw it in and when it got the song “11th Hour,” Dave and my perspective jaws just hit the fucking floor.
We both looked at each other and went “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!”, “PLAY THAT AGAIN!!!”. That album floored us, it signaled a change in the guard. As we got to the show and watched all these also-ran radio acts opening for Disturbed, I knew right then and there I didn’t want any part of that world.
It may not have happened immediately, but about 4 months later Lamb Of God‘s “11th Hour” would give some inspiration to the fast end section of “Imperium.”
And so we waited to hear back from the labels. We waited and waited, and waited. Months went by with no word, nothing. Finally David Draiman did what was, I’m sure a difficult thing to do, and called me back and said, “they (Warner Bros.) are gonna pass on the record.” I was pissed, but looking back, he was the only guy who manned-up and called me back. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, and he deserves respect for doing it the right way.
In the music biz when people don’t want to sign you, they just ignore you, it’s like you don’t exist. It silently says, “the door is closed,” “you don’t belong anymore.” At the end of the day, Machine Head, with 4 albums, a consistent sales record, a large die-hard fan base would be passed on by 35 different American record labels.
No one wanted to sign Machine Head.
Sure there were smaller independent labels as well as bigger independent labels, but at the time labels like Century Media and Earache, while damn respectable labels, would have been a step down, and to us if it wasn’t a step up, or even sideways…
Roadrunner UK told us we needed put the record out in October. We needed to hit the studio in July.
Which was great news, but we were still three piece. From time to time I’d run intoPhil at shows or parties, he stumble up all hammered, put on that big ol’ “aw-schucks” smile of his and be like, “so when are gonna jam again?” I’d be like, “Uh, I don’t know Mr. “I-retired-from-the-music-business-and-aren’t-making-music-anymore.”
We’d laugh, and then it’d happen again, and we’d laugh. Then one day he said “hey, I really want to do this, that tour was one of the best moments of my life, and well… look… my wife and I… we’re getting divorced… it’s not working out… I want to make music for a living… what do you think?”
It seemed inevitable. Sure, the previous 9 months had been some long drawn out tease, a bizarre courtship playing out. Of course I wanted him in the band. I had reservations about him re-adjusting to band life after being out of the game for so long, quite a few reservations about him now joining MY band where I’m the boss, as opposed me joining HIS band (ala Vio-Lence) but in the end, it was the right choice. We made a goddamned formidable guitar team, and had gotten along in the most grueling conditions on van tours in Vio-Lence, so we said “let’s do it!”
We made Phil a full band member and announced him joining publicly in April 2003 on Nikki Black’s Metal Zone show on (local station) 107.7 The Bone. Around the same time we signed with Roadrunner Europe and focused on writing the rest of the album. During those sessions several US labels threatened to sign us but for various reasons didn’t work out When Phil joined a lot of the record was written already but he brought the main verse riff and intro for “In The Presence Of My Enemies” (aka- “Davidian Jr”), “Days Turn Blue To Grey” (aka-”Natural Science II”, since we stole the middle section from the Rush song) and I think parts of “Vim.”
At this point “Imperium” and “Descend” were largely unfinished, only the verses and chorus of “Imperium” were written musically, with no intro and no second half explosion, it was was largely forgettable. “Descend” in particular was a horrible 4 minute Deftones rip-off, but it had “that” chorus and “that” middle section and I knew it was something special.
But dammit, I was an island, shit I was a fucking sandbar in the middle of the ocean! As we got two weeks away from the recording date we were at practice that Philwasn’t at, Dave and Adam said they wanted to drop “Descend” from the album. I was like, “WHAT??!! guys this song is amazing, c’mon!?”
They were united, “Nope it sucks.” we argued for a bit and I said, “gimme 24 hours, I’ll bring in a version of this that blows it away!” They said “uh, ooooo-k, pffft!” I had been listening to the first two Coldplay records a lot and had since written a bunch of acoustic stuff that I’d demoed but never showed the band cause I thought it was “too gay.” But I dug into it, and the next day I brought in, essentially the version you hear on the album Everyone went “fuck, that’s way better.”
A few days later I got the flu, and not just any flu, but I’m talking some goddamn S.A.R.S Bird flu shit or something, I mean this thing took me down and I ended up being the sickest I’ve been in years! Alone while my wife was at work, feeling like dog shit, I picked up my acoustic guitar and started playing.
I soon hit on the intro chords to “Imperium“, I just wanted something simple before I added the next bit. Then I thought “maybe I can make a heavy version of that quiet part?” Hmmm… it works, what if this goes into that song that Dave wrote (the verses/ chorus of Imperium)? I sat there jamming it thinking, “fuck, this is pretty cool, hopefully it’s not because I feel so shitty.”
I have no idea where the fast section at the end came from, I was inspired by “11th Hour” for sure, all I know is that somewhere at 418 42nd St. in Richmond, CA. some dude, who was sick as a fuckin’ dog, finished what he thought, “might be a pretty cool song.”
I walked into practice a couple days later and said, “I think I got the album opener.” As soon as we were done playing it we all looked at each and went “FUCK YEAH!! Let’s play that again!!”
In a bizarre twist, not soon after, Roadrunner US came back into the picture and our longtime A&R man Monte Conner reached out and said they “might want to resign the band.” “Huh?” I asked, “Ok what’s the deal?” he said “We want to hear some new stuff, can you whip out a demo?”
I explained we were going into record the record NEXT WEEK, so not really. Montesaid “Well, see what you can do.” So, I’ll admit the idea having a simultaneous release with Europe on our old label in the States the excitement levels ran high.
We entered Sharkbite Studios in July 2003 with mark Keaton engineering, me producing for the first time and the first thing we did was track drums and I decided to do a quick pass of guitars and bass on tape for the Monte demo. Now even though “Imperium,” “Days Turn Blue To Grey” and to some degree “Descend…” had been “finished”, musically only a week prior to this, I had never really even sang these songs.
I busted ass and wrote as many lyrics as possible, sang some lyrics I had about Genevra’s heroin addict father over the verses to “Days,” wrote the quiet middle section of “Days” after hearing the Gregorian chant at the beginning to Justin Timberlake‘s “Cry Me A River,” and somehow, barely pulled off some acceptable, but corny lyrics in “Imperium” but the end of the demo is pretty much just me jumbling sounds together to sound like words.
We sent it to Roadrunner US, and hoped for the best.
I’ll stop here and leave you with that 3 song demo. For the record, this has never been released publicly, it is the first time anyone outside of Roadrunner US has heard these versions.
Enjoy Head Cases.
P.S. I will be putting up the incredibly horrible version on “Pins and Needles” in Part 3 of the story of “Through The Ashes Of Empires” on Friday.
[via The PRP]