REVIEW: MACHINE HEAD’S UNTO THE LOCUST
Not that art is a competition or anything, but just you so know where I stand as a Machine Head fan and how your own tastes may or may not match up with my own, here are my three favorite pre-Unto the Locust MH releases, in descending order of preference:
- The Blackening
- Burn My Eyes
- Through the Ashes of Empires
Machine Head’s The Blackening was some kind of goddamn masterpiece, an album that rightfully met with near-universal acclaim. And that acclaim wasn’t just hype, or critics and fans being swept up in the moment; the four-and-a-half years since its release haven’t diminished The Blackening‘s power any. There are few, if any, bands on earth that could make something that friggin’ good, and then follow it up with a record of equal, or even greater, quality.
And the bad news is, that Machine Head have not achieved this near-impossible task. Unto the Locust is not as good as The Blackening. But it is as good as Through the Ashes of Empires, and totally worth the nearly half-decade fans have had to wait for it — and that ain’t nuthin’ to sneeze at.
Aside from one kinda alt rockish semi-ballad, “Darkness Within,” the band hasn’t made many adjustments to their sound, and the chorus to one track, “Be Still and Know,” even sounds kinda like it could be the cousin of The Blackening‘s “Halo.” But it’s all good , ’cause said sound is awesome, and Machine Head continue to excel at classic-Metallica-style epic deathrash. Album opener (and my personal favorite track on the record) “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)” moves from a choir of Robb Flynns to an absolutely massive elephants marching riff that will stay stuck in your head for days on end to the scorchingly fast ripper that composes the bulk of the tune, and each movement absolutely slays; the transitions between the sections of “Pearls of the Swine” are a little less obvious, but those sections pack no less of a punch, and the guitar tone that Flynn and co-guitarist Phil Demmel have opted for is damn near perfect — chunky but never muddy. These songs may technically have running times that are double that of the choice cuts from most neo-thrash and deathcore releases, but they actually feel half as long because they never fail to, y’know, ROCK. They rock so hard, in fact, that the high-pitched clean vocals on “This is the End,” which should irritate the crap outta me, absolutely do not bother me one bit. Even my least favorite song on the release, the finale “This is Who We Are,” is better than 90% of the stuff you’ll hear from other bands this year.
So what did The Blackening have that Locust does not? I’ve been struggling with that question for awhile now, and I can’t seem to articulate a definitive answer, so shame on me, I guess. Call it a gut feeling; for whatever reason, Locust just doesn’t seem as furious as its predecessor, and as good as the songs are, they don’t quite achieve that same level of “Honey I’ll be right back I’m off to slaughter the neighbor and his family with an axe” rage that the best material on Blackening did. It’s entirely possible that The Blackening simply arrived with fewer expectations; Through the Ashes of Empires was a great album to be sure, but it came on the heels of three records that a lot of MH fans, myself included, were not very keen on, and I don’t think we knew quite what to expect from the band moving forward. But Locust, as I said, has the unfortunate task of following what may be the album that defines Machine Head’s legacy. Maybe with age, those expectations will dissolve away, and Locust will seem even cooler than it does now.
But even if it ends up being the South of Heaven to Machine Head’s Reign in Blood, that’s really not something about which to complain. Your standards would have to be inhumanly high not to enjoy the album at all at all. This Locust can plague me anytime.
(4 outta 5 horns)