It was suggested to give this album a couple listens before weighing in with my review. The first song is starting for a second time as I pen this intro because after an hour and a quarter of listening to it the first time, I have a couple points to make before I listen to it again repeatedly and far more thoroughly. The album is full of volatile violent peaks and subdued pensive troughs, it’s an emotional journey where heartfelt sentiment is either spat or crooned with such innocence or venom that you can’t help but be moved by what you hear. They also litter the album with a rather varied palette of styles and combinations which some may find difficult to comprehend, but work extremely well to emphasise changes in mood and content. And with 15 tracks, there are plenty of those changes to deal with.
Opening with a brief drum fill, exploding guitars and the yell of “Aaahhhh…. Fuck the world!” you know what you have on your hands and “Volatile” delivers just what you’d expect, other than the really melodic pre-chorus where Robb Flynn’s crooning needs the second vocal layer to keep the aggression flowing for the chorus itself. Even Phil Demmel’s leads are as eviscerating as the politically charged lyrics.
By now everyone should have seen the video for “Catharsis” and knows that the song slowly builds up until blows, but keeps reigning itself in before it does, making the melody feel all the more pent up and frustrated and requiring the release that the crescendo finally delivers. This song exemplifies the song writing on the album where restraint is used to deliver an even more forceful punch.
While feeling very much like a slow song, “Beyond The Pale” has plenty of guitar layers that you really have to pay attention to if you want to hear all the subtle riffs and changes, along with Jared MacEachern’s driving bass becoming clearly audible when the guitars are clean. The choppy vocal delivery is emphasised by Dave McClain’s intricate drum patterns.
“California Bleeding” is pretty straightforward in comparison, but the bass solo that is joined by the guitar lead is inspired in the way it brings to mind more a jamming session adding to the rather loose feel to the song.
The very choppy rhythm of “Triple Beam” fades out regularly to leave just vocals carrying the song in a very ballad-like manner, as in narrative verse not romantic song, whereas “Kaleidoscope” has a rather frenetic rhythm where it races along dragging you with it but then breaks down to let you catch your breath before dragging you along some more.
The rather poignant “Bastards” moves from beautifully acoustic to slightly more strained guitars as Robb’s very emotionally laced vocals carry all the heaviness the song requires no matter how light the guitars get.
“Hope Begets Hope” has a far more Machine Head vibe in the heavy guitars and angry vocals with a vicious rasp and excellent lead, quickly followed by “Screaming At The Sun” that is littered with triplets as Jared’s harmony vocals work with Robb’s rather distinctive roar.
The simple picking and strumming on the acoustic song “Behind A Mask” allows Robb and Jared’s vocals to meld perfectly as they carry the tune and break your heart.
The rather long “Heavy Lies The Crown” reminds me a lot of Exodus’s “Architect of Pain” in the way there is plenty happening in the song as it winds its way through the story it tells and the truly impeccable lead seems to meander through the entire song as an underlying theme of its own.
Another song where the vocal delivery is more important than the guitars is “Psychotic” as while the droning guitars definitely carry the tune, it’s the cadence that is paramount in conveying the frustration and anguish of the song’s protagonist.
The extremely angry “Grind You Down” has the first death vocals I can remember on a Machine Head song, but with rapid thrash drumming and an intense groove during the chorus that shall have mosh pits heaving as everyone in them sings along.
It’s meant to be a nod to Lemmy, but “Razorblade Smile” is just a tale of mayhem and debauchery at breakneck speed filled with guitar squeals and false harmonics ala Machine Head including a rather over the top lead. Guess it’s exactly what they say it is then.
The album ends on the morosely beautiful “Eulogy” which seems to sum up all the emotions vented in this cathartic release and a fitting reprieve by being gentle and allowing you to unwind now that it’s all over. A great finale.
Do not care what anyone else says. Listen to the album and decide for yourself. I personally can’t wait to see Machine Head and their three-hour show in May.
(9/10 Marco Gaminara)