26 January 2018 – Nuclear Blast
03. Beyond The Pale
04. California Bleeding
05. Triple Beam
08. Hope Begets Hope
09. Screaming at the Sun
10. Behind a Mask
11. Heavy Lies the Crown
13. Grind You Down
14. Razorblade Smile
2001 marked the release of the album Supercharger. It was almost universally derided as one of the weakest albums from a prominent metal band and marked a nadir and a huge turning point in the career of the beloved and respected Machine Head we know today. Indeed, Supercharger came at the end of a streak of middling albums following the explosive debut album Burn My Eyes in 1994, and something desperately needed to change in order for the band to maintain relevancy. That something was a move away from the embarrassing nu-metal pastiche whose corpse Machine Head seemingly could not get away from propping up.
A mere two years later Machine Head showed they had learned their lesson from their misguided efforts in the late 90s and early 00s and rebounded with the fantastic thrashy groovefest of Through The Ashes of Empires. This new foundation served as a prelude of things to come when, after a four-year wait, Machine Head delivered The Blackening. This is an album that many within the metal community would not only consider the strongest album Machine Head had composed to that point, but more importantly one of the absolute finest metal albums ever written. The Blackening cemented Machine Head as modern legends in metal and since 2007 their albums have been consistent in tone and quality with Unto The Locust and Bloodstone & Diamonds only solidifying the band’s credentials and legacy.
While this is assuredly a lengthy preamble, it is necessary in order to contextualize just how big of a disappointment their new album Catharsis really is. Machine Head have somehow managed to exhaust all of the hard-won goodwill they earned from four consecutive stellar albums with one of the most ill-advised records from a major metal band in years.
Catharsis is in a sense deceptive, as the opening trio of “Volatile“, “Catharsis“, and “Beyond The Pale” are solid traditional Machine Head songs. Groovy, reasonably technical, cringe-inducing “middle finger to the world” lyrics peppered in for good measure, and simply classic Machine Head tone. While none would be standout tracks on prior albums, they would not be at all out of place there, and sometimes that’s enough.
Immediately after this hat trick of good metal, though, Machine Head engage in an even bigger throwback to their nu metal roots and the results are disastrous; one could say “the more things change the more they stay the same.” ”California Bleeding” sounds like an early DevilDriver b-side, which may hold appeal for a certain segment of metal listeners, but is a generic step-down for Machine Head, and it’s where the fabric of Catharsis begins to unfurl. Any of the previously mentioned songs are bona fide classics compared to “Triple Beam“, which is potentially the worst song Machine Head have ever written; Robb Flynn rapping a cautionary tale about narcotics over a boring nu-metal chug should sound awful on paper, but it is so much more terrible and embarrassing in practice that words cannot do it justice. There are only a few reactions one could have to “Triple Beam” and they include groaning, laughing, nausea, or a combination of the three.
It is a lowpoint in the career of Machine Head from which Catharsis never recovers. The middle of the record is bogged down similarly by songs with good intentions and poor execution, including singles “Kaleidoscope” and “Bastards“, which have fine messages underneath the 8th grade quality lyrics. However, Catharsis has literally no quality songs following the first three. There are certainly some experimental elements that can only be applauded when they are well executed. No points for offering an 9-minute song that goes nowhere with lyrics about being the king of all spiders (“Heavy Lies The Crown“) or a Slipknot/Motorhead hybrid with weirdly vulgar lyrics about the life of Lemmy Kilmister (“Razorblade Smile“). Fittingly, Catharsis ends with a whimper entitled “Eulogy” which would have been a more accurate name for the album, if a little on the nose.
Machine Head’s finest albums of the last 20 years, Unto the Locust and The Blackening, are 7 and 8 tracks respectively. Catharsis has as many songs as both of those combined with zero justification. There is not enough here for a great EP let alone a great album. That Machine Head have been doing so, so right for so long and then fall so flat on their face as they do on Catharsis is truly a damn shame.
Obviously Machine Head have recovered from grievous errors in the past and there is reason to be hopeful they can recover from this as well, but the fact is that the Machine Head we have in 2018 have put out not a bland album, but an honestly dire one. They have all of the technical talent in the world as evidenced by the quality of the musicianship, but the artistic decisions on Catharsis are truly baffling. If this is what they needed to get out of their system before returning to good music again, then hopefully it was cathartic.