Posts Tagged ‘Machine Head’

I went to see An Evening With Machine Head last night in Cardiff, Monday 14th May 2018. There were no support bands and wasn’t much waiting around, just about three hours of Machine-Fucking-Head (as they like to be called).

After playing some Slipknot, Metallica and Killswitch Engage songs over the PA, and coming on to ‘Diary Of A Madman’ by Ozzy, the band took the stage. It was all decked out in cool mats and banners with the band’s iconography on it, there were no visible amps as it was all covered in screens which were white and blood stained, the drum kit was even white. I think at other shows the band might’ve been dressed white as well but they were dressed normal tonight.

The audience reaction was really great. I’ve seen Machine Head twice before and in the UK they are utterly beloved, so you can imagine how good the energy in the room was.

The night held a mixture of old and new, fast and slow, heavy and quiet. They played a decent chunk of their controversial (but excellent) new album Catharsis, which I appreciated as although I thought it was good on first impressions, it has been my car album ever since and in work that is the soundtrack to driving and I’ve really come to love it over the months. They played 6 whole songs of it, which is a pretty good showing for a new album. The audience reacted really well to the new material and the sing-alongs to songs like ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘Catharsis’ and even the controversial ‘Triple Beam’ were all just as good as fan favourites like ‘Bulldozer,’ ‘Take My Scars’ or ‘The Blood The Sweat The Tears.’ There was one typical meathead guy just shouting ‘Davidian!’ all night, but he was a small minority, the new stuff went over really well. Take that internet trolls.

The audience lapped up stuff of the classic albums like Burn My Eyes and The Blackening, reacted very well to material off my favourite album Unto The Locust and went mental for even stuff off the controversial albums like The Burning Red and Supercharger (yes even the much bemoaned rapping in From This Day, their late ’90s single which is often complained about by the bullet belt crowd. Hey, I love it and I showed up in a patch jacket full of Forbidden, Exodus and Testament patches). The only point in the evening was when it dipped was for the new ballad ‘Behind A Mask’ (which I loved and happily sang along to) but which seemed to die on its ass. One mosh-pit enthusiast turned to me and yelled, ‘this is why we have support bands!’ – meaning he didn’t like it. But to be fair the crowd might have just been tired from banging around for two and a half hours and just having heard ‘Davidian’ 19 songs into the otherwise crushing and energetic set.

There were all the songs I can’t live without nowadays like ‘Locust’ ‘Game Over’ ‘Killers And Kings’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ and ‘Imperium’ (I think I’d cry if I saw Machine Head and they didn’t play all of those) as well as the old reliable tracks like ‘Old’ & ‘Ten Ton Hammer.’ They even threw in ‘None But My Own’ off the debut which they didn’t play either time I saw them before which was a nice change.

The way the lighting works, with green for Locust era songs, Orange for Burn My Eyes era songs and Red for Burning Red songs is really cool, and with occasional towers of smoke and a very enthusiastic band interacting constantly with each other and the crowd, it is a joy to watch. You catch little bits like Phil and Dave making faces at eachother or Phil tuning Robb’s tuning peg in the middle of a part for laughs and you can tell they’re having fun. Although not new anymore, the new-ish bassist Jared MacEachern has such a great stage presence and is a perfect fit for the band, just like how Phil was when he joined and now you can’t imagine the band without him.

As for the performances; pure flipping magic! Watching Dave McClain drum is like watching a science experiment on a voodoo ritual. The man comes up with some bonkers patterns and just the best fills, and its hard not to spend the majority of the concert air drumming. The guy is a beast.

The vocals from all three stringed players were great, and Rob really holds up live. He is a brilliant frontman, you get peaks of it on the old live at brixton DVD and the live CDs but in person its a whole other level, he is the perfect mixture of grateful and humble but also commanding and dominating. Its awesome.

Apart from one or two very minor technical issues, the music was amazing. (I think Phil either broke a guitar string or had faulty equipment once as he dissapeared off stage briefly once). The jaw dropping guitar solos are such fun and people were singing along to parts like you do for Megadeth. I was in such a good spot – second row from the front, just left of centre – so could see everyone perfectly and see every little detail of the fretboards and drum kit. The venue has the stage quite close and low to the crowd so you really get to see everything and it was visually the best concert I’ve seen for a band of this size. You could practically make out their nose hair it was that good a view.

Considering Machine Head don’t have that many short songs, and played long tracks like ‘Clenching The Fist Of Dissent’ and ‘Halo,’ having 26 songs live was incredible value for money. Considering how ridiculously good the band are live it was anyway, but the sheer quantity as well as the spectacular quality make this one of the finest live concerts I’ve ever seen… Sometimes I’ve seen bands I love and been underwhelmed by sound, setlist choice or performance (see Monster Magnet for all the that one time when I was in Uni, or Slipknot when they supported Metallica that one time back in Dublin where the soundguy fucked them over and they only had a very short set) but with Machine Head everything has been amazing. Like Saxon, I’ve never seen them anything less than amazing and been totally satisfied.

If you get the chance, see this band live!

Ps. Shout out to the Cardiff audience members in the That’s Not Metal merch, I love that show!

Machine-Head-Catharsis-Artwork.jpgTo say this album is controversial is an understatement. To understand it, you really have to look at the psychology and recent history of the band and it’s frontman, Rob Flynn. When Machine Head first arrived on the scene in the early ’90s with their almost universally loved debut album and its follow up they were the hot new thing. By taking Thrash Metal, slowing it down, adding in lots of groove and Hardcore they ended up creating something unique that genre pedants still can’t agree on (Groove Metal or Post Thrash or just a weird version of Thrash, the arguments are endless). After that, when Nu Metal was popular and still new and exciting, the band who had always been talking about Hip Hop and Rap since their early days introduced Rap and Hip Hop elements into their music and changed the production and guitar styles, in so doing they made something altogether different that garnered both huge success and then huge backlash for their next two albums. After the backlash and all the constant criticism, the band almost broke up and their popularity plummeted drastically, but instead of throwing in the towel, they changed paths again and then released what can only be described as four of the best albums in the entire history of Heavy Metal… their stellar run from their return-to-glory Through The Ashes Of Empires to Bloodstone And Diamonds are four straight up faultless masterpieces, crowned by their beyond-popular The Blackening which is hailed as a classic by more people than there is time to list.

For the two albums after The Blackening though, even though they were incredible, it did not get the band the Festival Headliner status they justly deserved. Furthermore, after touring the material from those four albums, most of which is so lengthy and diverse that it absolutely ate up all the time they would get on festival slots thereby letting them only really play 4 or 5 songs… the band decided to start doing ‘An Evening With Machine Head’ shows where they could play multiple hour sets (often without a support act, although I’ve seen them twice, once with support bands and once without).

When doing those ‘evening-with’ shows and now having room to play more than just 4 or 5 of the newer era songs, they were able to drop in material from all over their career. Even tracks from the Nu Metal period that many people claimed to hate, but which the band are now getting nostalgic for and people seemed to be loving live.

So here we are in 2018; after four albums of absolute perfection, melding progressive flair, blistering thrash, flashy technicality, beautiful dual guitar melodies, and diverse mixtures of fast, slow, sludgy and groovy… the band needed to try something else to make a play for their absolutely-earned but frustratingly elusive festival headliner status. Full of nostalgia for the Nu Metal era and feeling no reason to be tied to a formula that isn’t giving them the success they deserve, Machine Head entered the studio and came out with Catharsis. The name has been explained as describing the writing process. Instead of having to hide away new ideas like incorporating poppy keyboard sounds that Rob is listening to on the radio, or delving back into the in their eyes unfairly overlooked Nu Metal stuff was cathartic for the band. Even though it is superb, they don’t want to just repeat The Blackening fifty times. It wouldn’t be fun as musicians. So back come the bouncy riffs and street-level lyrics, and newly incoming are the Jordan Fish sounding keyboard sections. That gets mixed in with the successful formula from the previous four albums, and the resultant mixture is what we have here on Catharsis.

Now; there’s two things that can make a certain time of metal fan do a spit-take. One of them is a Heavy band going Nu Metal. Another is anything that sounds like Bring Me The Horizon. So naturally; there has been a hell of a lot of negative reaction to this album. Not helping that is the world being so much more right wing now, people are complaining constantly about the socially conscious lyrics of this as if its a new thing. As if they weren’t singing about this all the way back on Burn My Eyes. As if the universally praised The Blackening didn’t have ‘Slanderous’ on it. As if Metal fans haven’t been praising bands like Anthrax and Nuclear Assault for being socially aware all the way back in the ’80s. As if music fans haven’t been praising bands like Dead Kennedys and Rage Against The Machine and the hundreds of other bands (I mean, there are so many more left wing or liberal rock and metal bands than its even worth counting, why is this even a topic of discussion?). I mean, its not as if Rob Flynn has ever guest starred on an Earth Crisis album or something is it? Oh wait…

Ok. So that’s the broad strokes out of the way. On to the specifics. It is almost an album of two halves (its almost two albums its that long, over 70 minutes… how does that compare to Unto The Locust getting pettily criticized for being too short?). The first half shows off the more experimental stuff. Songs like ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘California Bleeding,’ ‘Triple Beam’ and the album’s centerpiece ‘Bastards’ is where the real diversity and controversy lies. If you haven’t heard it or about it yet, ‘Bastards’ has been described as a folk song; four chords that have been around hundreds of years etc, and it climaxes with a shuffly drum beat that could be Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphies. It is a very surprising move from the band and sounds like nothing they’ve done before. ‘California Bleeding’ has that same style of lyrics that the much criticized ‘American High’ off of Supercharger had. ‘Kaleidoscope’ and the Title Track have touches of keyboards that have that Jordan Fish BMTH sound. There is a slight Slipknot influence on opener ‘Volatile.’ ‘Triple Beam’ despite having an absolutely brutal sledgehammer riff in it, is much-hated by people for being a very clear Nu Metal nostalgia moment. I think bands like Cain Hill and King 810 coming out, and bands like Coal Chamber reuniting, as well as fans at ‘Evening-With‘ shows enjoying the Burning Red material so much can explain this. This type of music was important to the band at one point and it must feel fun to write like this again and not have to feel ashamed of it. (Well, until now when the inevitable backlash came).

The rest of the album however is a bit more traditional. Its nothing you’ve heard before but if you really think about it, it is within expected limits of Machine Head. I mean, this whole album’s titular catharsis was them rejecting and pushing against those limits and that’s why the first half is the way it is. So of course, sure there is a bit of diversity in the second half too, with ‘Hope Begets Hope’ having a slight System Of A Down influence in the quiet guitar parts, and the odd melodic pre-chorus on the Motorhead tribute ‘Razorblade Sigh’ are a new addition but its all within the limits of a between-albums jump in their last four albums run.  They were never four exactly identical albums and there was a reasonable jump between each, but the second half here is very much suitable for anyone who has loved the band’s renasiance period. Don’t let people who don’t like all the change in the first half let you miss out on the quality stuff at the end. There are riffs as crushing as anything on ‘Locust or ‘Diamonds, there are guitar solos as good as the stuff on The Blackening and there are vocals as good as anything on ‘Empires. I mean ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ opens up with violins, but so did ‘Now We Die.’

Even though the heavier moments are what we all come to Machine Head for, one of the highlights is ‘Behind A Mask;’ a semi-ballad that sounds like a superb mixture of ‘Darkness Within’ and ‘Descend The Shades Of Night’ but with an almost Bon Iver backing vocal, some tasteful electronic snare sounds, and absolutely and a stunningly simple but beautiful guitar solo.

Now; I don’t think this album is anywhere near as deserving of criticism as it is getting. (Really?! Your review was so impartial thus far, how shocking!). That being said, I do have some personal-preference issues. I for one am not a fan of the lyrics. Not the political stuff, I actually like that. Its the poor-taste vulgar stuff that feels out of place. I don’t want to hear ‘sucking dick’ or ‘getting head’ or ‘eating pussy’ or ‘a boner for miles’ from the same band who wrote the excellent lyrics to ‘Locust’ and ‘Clenching The Fist Of Descent’ …that is not to my personal taste. I also am not a fan of the weird effects on the drums at times. Sometimes, the music will cut out and Dave will be about to drop a really powerful drum fill but the production job will put an effect on it and make it sound strange and toy-like and detract from the impact. I also don’t like the decision to use less rhythm guitar and do the dual leads over only bass. It sounds a bit empty compared to previous albums some how. Lacking a certain power. Not album ruining but a little niggle worth pointing out.

Is it going to topple Unto The Locust as my own personal favourite Machine Head album? No. Is it going to topple The Blackening or Burn My Eyes as the band’s most known and loved classic album in the public opinion? No. That being said; It is the travesty people have been hyperbole-gushing about? Hell no. Is it a return to Nu Metal? Not really no, there are tiny amounts only. Is it a betrayal? No, don’t overdo it now guys. Is it even a bad album? No.

There are a few aspects that aren’t to my taste, there are a few aspects that will have more militant bullet belt wearing fans crying foul. The majority of the album however is still the same thing Machine Head always do: Unique drums. Heavy riffing. Interesting solos. Rob Flynn’s voice. There is an absolute load of good moments on the album, and the lesser moments have been greatly blown out of proportion.

PS. Another really great reason to check this album out? The bonus disc! If you get the right version you get a full length ‘An Evening With’ show live in San Francisco in 2015. It has 21 entire songs performed superbly and well captured. It has all the MH livery and banners and the good light show. The band are firing on all cylinders. The crowd seem pretty into it. The camera work and editing aren’t annoying or distracting like some concert DVDs. Heck; The DVD is good enough to be a full price release on its own merit. I highly recommend you check it out. Even if you’ve heard ‘Kaleidoscope’ or ‘Bastards’ or something and are skeptical about the new album, how can you argue with live renditions of tracks like ‘Game Over,’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate,’ ‘Imperium’ and the like?

Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds

In 2014, Nuclear Blast records released the eight full-length studio album by the now-legendary Bay Area based Heavy Metal band Machine Head, entitled Bloodstone & Diamonds.

It was their first without longtime bassist Adam Duce (a huge part of the band’s sound) and the first with new bassist Jared MacEachern. This line-up shift leaves frontman Robb Flynn as the sole original member. Luckily long-time drummer Dave McClain is still on board as he has been for everything except the debut, and Phil Demmel is still there as he has been for the last three exceptionally good albums, leaving a feeling of consistency and cushioning the blow of such a big loss.

Produced by bandleader Robb Flynn & Juan Urteaga, mixed by Colin Richardson (with additional work from Andy Sneap and Steve Lagudi); sonically, this is an exemplary record. The instruments are crystal clear, the mix is crushing and well balanced, and this only serves to highlight the superb, passionate performances and some of the best vocals in the band’s history. Its a real treat for the ears, as violins swirl warmly around and the gorgeously-recorded drum kit hammers proudly across the spectrum.

When I first got into the band, public opinion had turned on them, every magazine and website claimed they were on the way out, people spoke of them either with contempt or with rose tinted nostalgia and an “only Burn My Eyes was any good” historic revisionism. It nice to see how much the band’s star is on the rise now. Every album keeps getting better. They keep getting the recognition they deserve from critics. Live shows are full of adoring fans. This even ended up being, to date, the band’s highest charting record ever.

It deserves it. This is one stone-cold gem of an album. Almost flawless. There’s no filler, no weak songs, nothing out-of-place. The choruses are memorable. The solos are scorching. The fills are impressive and satisfying. The album is chocked full of riffs that sound like all eras of the band’s history and still move things forward to the future. There’s a bouncy scrappy Hardcore-influenced sound to “Game Over,” a haunting epic feeling to “Sail Into The Black,” a melancholy melodic feel to “Damage Inside” a big dirty sludgy sound to “Beneath The Silt” and more rampant Blackening-esque Thrashy aggression to the likes of “Killers & Kings” and “Eyes Of The Dead.” The titanic 71-minute record is full to the brim with all different sorts of ideas and directions but still feels like one cohesive whole.

The quality of the songwriting tips everything over the edge. Its not just immaculately produced, furiously performed and stylistically satisfying… but its also just plain brilliant in and of itself. It stands up remarkably well to repeat listens. All the little clever structuring decisions, neat flourishes and all the orchestral extras reveal themselves more and more with repeat listens. There’s an immense depth to this one. I’ve seen over half of it live in concert and it absolutely crushed and felt “right” beside stuff from all positions in the band’s discography. It felt incredible even without the lush production and the extra orchestral instruments. These are just brilliant songs, plain and simple.

It must have been difficult to live up to the impossibly high standards the band have been setting themselves for the last twelve-or-so years, but somehow Machine Head managed it, once again. This is an incredible record that will stand up well against any Machine Head record you care to name. Get yourself a copy if you haven’t already!

Howdy; welcome once again to yet another edition of my blog series, Get (Into) What You Paid For; a series in which I blog about the music and media I own, to distract myself from the fact that I am sworn off buying anything new for a month (or in this case, two months).

Its day 27, so that means I’ve made it 27 days without buying any cds, dvds, comic books or videogames. The man who started this blog four years ago could never have gone this long without consumerism. I’m pretty sure back when I worked my old job in 2010, I probably bought on average about two cds a week for the entire year at a minimum.

I haven’t actually posted much this time around because for the first 75% of the month, I’ve been super busy working crazy hours and having to fit in lots of academic work at home too for my final year. The other 25% of the month has been spent with loved ones and crazily poor internet signal. So, didn’t want to be rude and spend family time blogging, and didn’t have a good enough signal to do it much anyway, or at least do it easily.

Normally, going a month without buying anything would be quite difficult, but with the whole Christmas thing, I get to buy other people gifts and that sates the itch, so its been much easier. Also, you don’t know what you may receive as a gift and then buy nothing incase you’re gifted with it.

I’ve been really tempted a couple of times though, because, hey… I’m me. I saw Stratovarius and Accept albums in HMV this month and they never had them when I went looking for them. I saw Manowar albums on Amazon for between £1 and £3 that I’ve wanted for a while but are always more expensive. A lot of bands I like put out new albums and I’ve not gotten around to getting them (this year I’ve been so bad with buying new releases I can’t even put together an AOTY list!) even after seeing some of those bands live.

There’s also been numerous temptations within the world of comics. Just before starting this new fifth round of the GITWYPF challenge, I discovered Comixology. I mean I’d heard of it for the last two years, but Digital Comics seemed like a bad idea… I like reading physical books and laptops hurt my eyes and are the wrong shape for stories designed to be read in the shape of actual physical comics (unless you put a laptop on its side). So, for the two years I’ve been reading comics I avoided it, but the fact that so much is unavailable or only available on eBay for crazy prices, but available digitally for about £1 an issue (with no P&P because its digital) kind of won me over, and I can fill in gaps using this. Its not even poor to read due to the “guided view” feature, which zooms and readjusts the panels in order and blanks out the other panels, allowing you to watch the comic like a powerpoint or a slow cartoon. As a service, it’s a bit addictive though, and so a huge source of temptation. You the read two issues you want and then it makes you want to buy the ones before and after, or older ones of historical importance. Its too easy, too tempting, damn hard to stay away from.

Also, being in bookshops for getting others gifts makes me walk past lots of comic books and that makes you very close to just slipping one in there with the rest of the less-selfish purchases.

Videogames haven’t been a temptation at all, because I don’t have the time. It takes time to start up, time to shut them down or find savepoints, and your brain is abuzz afterwards so you can’t play them right before its time to sleep if you have to go to work in the morning. Compared to a book or comic book that you can just pick up and set down at a moments notice, its harder to fit them in. I got God Of War Ascension for my Birthday in the Summer and only managed to play it when Uni broke up about a week or so ago, and even then only for two days, and I still haven’t opened up Darksiders 2 which I got last Christmas. Theoretically I could now, but I don’t have a console with me at the moment, and by the time I get back to my term time address I’ll be hard at work again.

On the subject of God Of War Ascension, it was pretty good. I love that series, it is one of the most consistant and dependable series going. The combat is absolutely perfect, and its fun to see what vast-scale ideas they come up with next. It felt maybe like GOW 3 backed them into a corner and this prequel wasn’t just as impressive, but it was damn good regardless. I only got time to play one run-through of single player and no multiplayer, bonuses or second attempts, but on first impression it was very entertaining.

Anyway, the reason I right these things is to stop myself slipping up in the challenge. I may not have written many entries this time around, but I haven’t slipped up. I’ve stayed true, stayed the course (and whatever other “stay” phrases apply) and haven’t bought anything for myself since starting the challenge. Its been helped immensely by the Christmas presents.

I got the new Mushroomhead, Slipknot, Machine Head and Corrosion Of Conformity albums, as well as Helstar’s Nosferatu. I also got Spawn, Batman, X-Men and Spiderman comics. All delightfully nerdy gifts that stave off the “buy new stuff” urge very well. (Until I finish the comics and want the next in the series, at least).

Over the month, I’ve been really heavily listening to stuff I got for my Birthday, like the Tirivium, Judas Priest, Soundgarden, Helloween, Manowar and Savatage records I’ve already discussed on this blog ad naseum, in addition to Rishloo’s superb new album (of fucking course!) – because this year is going so ridiculously quickly that those still feel brand new despite being several months old – and in the last two days I’ve been blitzing those Christmas gift albums.

Did you know the Mushroomhead one has a cover of Adele’s “Rumour Has It” ? I had no idea until the chorus came in on my first listen through. Quite the surprise! Usually, I hate when Metal bands cover pop songs, especially if they aren’t particularly old. Covering a current pop song is a bit cheesy. But this works. Also, I’m way less snobby these days – Five Finger Death Punch covering “Moma Said Knock You Out” and nailing it will do that to ya.

The new Slipknot and Machine Head albums are good, by the way. Really good. The Machine Head one in particualt seems like a bit of a min-masterpiece in fact. If I heard enough new albums to do an AOTY list, it’d be damn tough choosing the top spot between it and Accept’s Blind Rage. Slipknot’s new album is interesting, beforehand I could not have been more cynical about or suspicious of. I was convinced it would be rubbish. It really isn’t though. Its strong. Damn strong. Stronger than the last one for sure. It seems to be a grower. Even all the lyrics about Paul’s death aren’t as cheap and cheesy as I imagined. I’d streamed “Skeptic” a few times because I’d heard that it was about Paul and I really cringed at the lyric “the world will never see another crazy muthafucker like you” – it just felt so dishonest and cheap, as if it was purely written to get sang along with and to make headlines, but the more I listen to it, in context, with the rest of the lyrics… I think its actually honest. Especially given how Corey and Shaun actually talk in real life.

The rest of that album is really good too. Its heavy, there aren’t any real ballads, the songs with poppier choruses never have as poppy verses as anything like “Dead Memories” or “Before I Forget.”

Not that heaviness in itself is good enough on its own. The thing is that the songs themselves are actually good. Memorable, catchy, the solos that feel more natural and less “look, I’m soloing.” There are some real fun, satisfying riffs on there and the new drummer actually keeps up Joey’s unique flappy, skittery style of drumming so it doesn’t sound like a huge departure.

I’ve also been listening to Machine Head’s older albums too. Inspired by the recent concert, and the new album, its always good to break out the ones I already own. Through The Ashes Of Empires has some of my absolute favourite Machine Head songs on it. “Vim,” “All Halls Down” and “Wipe Away The Tears” are the perennial favourites, and the concert made me reevaluate “Descend The Shades Of Night” and “Bite The Bullet” which I’ve overlooked in the past.

Then there’s Blind Guardian’s Nightfall In Middle Earth. Its like a mixture between Testament, Gamma Ray and oddly, Gentle Giant. I highly recommend checking that one out.

Being back with my family for the holidays I’ve also been exposed to my brother’s music. I’ve gotten to check out the new Animals As Leaders and Skyharbour albums. That is some seriously good stuff right there!

Check out the Animals As Leaders song “Physical Education” – such a fun tune!

I’ve also got access to my CDs again, because in my own place – half a country away – I don’t have the space to keep my CDs. My iTunes copies of a few Porcupine Tree and W.A.S.P. albums had glitches and faults in them, so being back here I was able to re-rip them. Its great listening to the songs properly without it skipping and cutting off short.

The rest of the time has been spent on romantic trips with my beautiful girlfriend, huge amounts of scrabble with the family, and watching all three seasons of That Mitchel And Webb Look and a series of Peep Show. I can’t go anywhere now without hearing Sir Digby Chicken Ceaser’s singing in the back of my head.

Its been an excellent break. The final one of this life as I’ll be qualified by the next one and go from someone who works to someone with a career – I forsee this will be my last Chirstmas day off for a while. I’ve been lucky in that my current job and my last job didn’t have me work on Christmas day (although I’ve done it before in previous jobs to that). Its been nice getting homework done and weights lifted in the same building as family instead of hundreds of miles away, its been nice having the time off work and its been nice having the free time to read so much. The crushingly slow internet was a tiny bit inconvenient but there’s only so many blogs about heavy music or Batman that a person can read in a month anyway.

Plus all this time in the middle of nowhere with no shops and too poor internet to access iTunes Store or Comixology well enough is pretty darn good for sticking to the challenge.

You can look forward to new album reviews and Amature Batfan articles too, as a result of all these lovely gifts. Merry Christmas, blogosphere!

I went to go see Machine Head live tonight at the 02 Apollo in Manchester, England on the 16/12/2014.

I’ve never been to the Apollo before, I had tickets to see Motorhead with Saxon here but it got cancelled when Lemmy was diagnosed with Diabetes. It was a nice big venue with a good atmosphere and excellent sound quality. I wouldn’t mind going back there again.

The support acts where Heart Of A Coward and Darkest Hour.

Heart Of A Coward were a Parkway Drive or Killswitch Engage sounding Melodic Metalcore band with a bodybuilder singer. Their drummer seemed to play really lightly and politely and never “rocked out” much at all. The music was ok, and would’ve been alright if you knew the songs, but it was a bit “stare with blank expression” from me I’m afraid.

Next up were Darkest Hour who’s first two songs made them sound like a groove-focused modern Metal band like Lamb Of God but then they ended up being more normal Metalcore. They were way better than the first band, and their drummer (also a bodybuilder) had a lot of force, power and style. He even had a kind’ve unique setup with no rack toms and only floor toms. Their singer came out in a legbrace like he’d broken his knee (said it was from partying with Machine Head). He told a joke: “I heard you Brits like dry humour, so this song goes out to the Queen’s vagina” …Darkest Frankie Boyle more like it! They were interesting enough, especially at the start, but my attention waned after a while… again it’s a case of if you knew the songs it would’ve been good.

Then the main event, Machine Head took to the stage. Man… I’ve been to enough concerts to know this wasn’t normal… I’ve never been in such a crush before. I felt like I was in a trash compactor… the crowd just absolutely squished the crap out’ve the front few rows (naturally, as is the case in 99% of concerts I ever go to, I end up front row centre, barr one. So, I’m the second person from front row centre, and also almost always there is a tiny girl or skinny 15 year old dude in front of me who would get squashed if I didn’t have the good sense to spend the entire concert, muscles engaged to maximum effort, trying to push the crowd back).

Well, this crowd was waaaaaay too selfish and eager and they absolutely squashed the crap out of us and I got it from both sides and backwards and I’m not joking, my muscles hurt more than doing two hours of really focused weightlifting, on a day when I’m adding more weights to the bars (so as to advance). It was crazy. I felt like I was in an animal enclosure and not a rock concert. Lamb Of God fans weren’t this crushing, Hatebreed fans weren’t this crushing. Bring Me The Horizon and their attitude-problem hardcore dancing selfish-jerk audience weren’t this crushing. I, and basically everyone towards the middle of the first four rows just got absolutely crushed and pounded. It was exhausting, and out of the ordinary. Joke – All the lyrics about smashing an crushing probably didn’t help either.

…So it was more like a workout than a gig, and you’d think that would spoil it… think spending so much mental energy just not being bulldozed and trampled would’ve distracted me from the music – but no! What a concert! Machine Head were absolutely amazing. It was such a brilliant performance, such good vibes, such energy. The power and belief and showmanship was absolutely top shelf. I can’t recommend this band live enough. Its one of the best concerts I’ve been to in recent years. In fact, one of the best gigs I’ve been to period. And I’m not exactly a gig dodger.

The setlist was awesome too. They’ve been doing a revolving setlist thing on this tour; some nights you get “Supercharger” or “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears” whereas some nights you get extra tracks off the new album, there’s different songs from The Blackening on different nights, sometimes “Block” is there from Burn My Eyes and sometimes not. On the Dimebag death anniversary there was a load of Pantera covers.

On this particular night, the night I went to see them, they played “Imperium,” “Descend The Shades Of Night” and “Bit The Bullet” off of ‘Ashes Of Empires, “Beautiful Mourning,” “Now I Lay Thee Down,” “Aesthetics Of Hate” and “Halo” off of The Blackening, “Locust” and “Darkness Within” off of Unto The Locust, “Killers & Kings,” “Now We Die,” “Game Over,” “Beneath The Silt” and “In Comes The Flood” off the new album Bloodstone & Diamonds, as well as rap-featuring “From This Day” off of The Burning Read, “Bulldozer” off of Supercharger, “Ten Ton Hammer” off of The More Things Change, and of course “Old” and “Davidian” off of Burn My Eyes. What a setlist!

I am so, so pleased to have gotten to see the two Locust era tracks with my own eyes. Anyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely adore Unto The Locust. I still have the keyring on my keys, the poster on my wall, and the album never comes off my limited-space phone no matter the new stuff I buy. I dig the crap out of that record and to get to see “Locust” and “Darkness Within” live was amazing. Rob did a little speech about the bay area thrash scene beforehand, which was interesting. Those were my favourite moments of the night, with “Bulldozer,” “Davidian” and surprise awesome new track “Game Over” as the next best. But really, it was all golden!

Rob was a very good frontman all evening; being very entertaining, encouraging participation, getting everyone’s energy up, shouting out all the band members including multiple shout-outs for new bassist Jared MacEachern (man, replacing the amazing Adam Duce cant’ve been easy, but this guy nailed every part and “felt right” in the same way Pat Brudders does for Down). The only thing I didn’t like was that he made fun of a kid in the front row for not going mental enough and sitting there still all night with a Dr. Evil from Austin Powers pinky-finger to mouth gesture the whole evening… and fair enough it probably looked funny, but the kid was likely being crushed half to death if I was anything to go by, and he was little and skinny so in that position I wouldn’t have gone that crazy either. Rob did save it though by singing “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” so it felt less like bullying and more like a good frontman entertaining the crowd. Oh and the rest of the band had all got Santa Hats on towards the end. Fitting for this time of year, it was nice and amusing. Merry Christmas.

It was good that all the material went over well. People lost their shit for the Supercharger and Burning Red stuff equally to the classic Burn/Change stuff. Everything from ‘Ashes onwards got an extra special reaction. Anything to do with Phil Demmel is just beloved by the fanbase (and rightly so – what a great musician!). I’ve been at some concerts where people only react to the new stuff (Mastodon, Riverside, BMTH) or only the old stuff (Hatebreed, Megadeth, Slayer) but everyone reacted well to everything here.

It was such a great performance, and the band’s high quality, well-designed lightshow really added to things. It went green during “Locust” and red during “From This Day” off of The Burning Red to echo those album’s artwork and it would black out the stage but spotlight one person to highlighted members during key parts like interesting drum fills or separate guitarists on riffs that switch between separate earphones on the record (aka panning). Their stage show had big backdrop banners, Roman Empire looking plinths with the MH logo, smoke cannons, all sorts of lights, banners with lions on them off to the side. It looked expensive and impressive. To top it all off the sound was superb… during that super dirty riff at the end of “Davidian” (y’know that really slow, brutally ugly riff) it was the best sounding moment I’ve heard live in the last two years (and Rob even called out “so fucking heavy!”).

Also… I can’t describe how cool it was to see Dave McClain. He’s just such a unique, bespoke Drummer and no one else plays like him. His style is so singular it sometimes sounds like he’s playing “wrong” because no one else plays like that. Watching some of those badass fills with my own eyes was like a religious experience.

Overall; great concert… but don’t be surprised if you read in the news that someone died from crush injuries.

What I’m Enjoying These Days

Posted: September 25, 2014 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,






Hello and welcome to my “Get (Into) What You Paid For” challenge, in which I attempt to not buy anything for a month, and reevaluate my opinion of records I bought previously but never really became a true fan of, taking this purchase-abstinence as a chance to finally “get my money’s worth” out’ve the more undervalued albums in my collection. That; and present thoughts and musings that don’t fit elsewhere on the blog.

Ok. Its now Day 18. Apart from the mistake with the excitement of the Machine Head tickets, there have been no purchases. I damn near bought the comic book Crisis On Infinite Earths but fought it off at the last minute. I also nearly bought a few Megadeth b-sides as single mp3s but shook that off too.

Other than that, I’m pretty temptation free. I’ve spent most of my time watching documentaries on Netflix about health and food and vegetarianism (I’m not a vegetarian myself, but it was still good entertainment), lifting weights and eating more fruit and veg than I did in the entire last two months, maybe three months (I let my healthy eating slide about a year ago and am getting back to normal again now). If you watch the documentaries it really reminds you to get your vitamins and minerals. If I was in charge, I’d make kids watch them once every year to just remind them. At least they’d probably eat veg for a month every year. Even that small thing would add years to their lives and oodles to their quality of life later on.

But enough health propaganda. What about music?

I am also happy that my copy of Accept’s Blind Rage has dispatched. I should hopefully receive it tomorrow. Just in time for my free holiday to mainland Europe. It would be nice to have Blind Rage for the bus ride to the airport.

What else? I finally finished Dave Mustaine’s autobiography. It was really interesting, it goes from his childhood right up until the writing of Endgame, and although the period from United Abominations to Endgame is really, really short compared to everything else (every other album and tour cycle gets a detailed story), this is a remarkably consistent, honest, interesting and deep book.

He discusses his flaws, his embarrassments and his mistakes in a way that makes you understand how he thinks and how much of this can be attributed to drugs, and how much is just his personality. You can see where the different parts of his problems come from. You can see why the Metallica-firing hurt so much and really understand him. You can also see what a jerk he was to people. He points out his hypocrisies and bad decisions. On a human level, its just a really interesting and brutally honest book. (A warning though, it is a tad too homophobic at times.)

In addition to finishing that book I’ve also finished the DC Comic Book Crossover story Final Crisis. This is a story in which the stories from a bunch of different superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern etc.) all crash into one larger story. It’s an apocalypse sort of story. Mind control, dark gods, the end of the universe. Big name characters die or are injured. The consequences of this story affected things for a while afterwards. Apparently it was a huge deal at the time.

It’s a remarkably intelligent work that works on several levels as a commentary on comic books, stories, authors, and the responsibilities and rights associated with those things. The first time I read it, roughly one year ago, I was beyond baffled. Impenetrable would be a fair description. This time around, armed with documentaries about its author, Wikipedia breakdowns of the plot and characters, a years worth of Batman experience, a detailed series of fan analysis online and more patience than last time… I went in prepared and was rewarded. I enjoyed it a lot. I was entertained, I was impressed, I was educated. Good job. I’d happily read it again now that I’ve “got it.” I’d recommend it too, so long as you already like Grant Morison’s style.

I’ve also been watching The Metal Voice. I had watched things like this before at times such as Dom’s Iron Sandwhich and Cover Killer Nation. Youtube shows that are basically a podcast about heavy metal, often in the form of a man looking at a webcam and reviewing a Metal album. The Metal Voice is slightly better than most others in that they put some effort into it and its more like a public access TV show sometimes. Plus its Canadian. I thought they were really unfair with Slipknot… but oh well, can’t have everything.

So… time to appreciate some albums I bought but never felt like I got my money’s worth out of:

Serj

I’m going to re-listen to Serj Tankian’s debut studio album, 2007’s Elect The Dead. This solo record, recorded shortly after the dissolution of the at-the-time absolute superstar band System Of A Down (an acrimonious demise that left you unsympathetic to the guys in the band), this album kind of passed me by as a bit throwaway.

Sure, here’s a new album, but who really cares?

It opens up with “Empty Walls” which is pretty much System Of A Down. Its also surprisingly awesome. I remember not liking it at the time because a) I had kind of got bored of SOAD and b) It seemed repetitive. Furthermore, it was 2007, so I was probably listening to nothing but Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Camel, Rush, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and ELP… Serj doesn’t really fit in with that sort of palate.

Listening back now, this song is a real “hit single” or “classic song.” Regardless of its actual financial success, artistically, this is as good as any SOAD hit. Its as good to me as “Sugar” or “Chop Suey” or “B.Y.O.B.”

The next song, “Unthinking Majority” is pretty much the same… a brilliant catchy single that is as good as any SOAD banger. It has a bit more of an Eastern-tinge, and an awkward time-change dynamic with keyboards that is similar to stuff on his next album Imperfect Harmonies. This song is pretty great too.

Next comes “Money.” It starts off as a soulful, piano-led sort of ballad. Then there is an explosive BYOB-style racket of energetic metal/punk noise. Then it goes back to the keyboard stuff. This is also a pretty great song, and the softer side provides contrast to the previous tracks, but the chorus keeps it from feeling like a slowing-down. The pre-chorus is excellent. Nice song.

This is followed by “Feed Us.” Oh, what’s the point? You know what? This WHOLE ALBUM can be summed up by my feelings for “Empty Walls.” I wasn’t in the mood when the album came out, but this is way better than it is given credit for. A forgotten gem.

Every song is a short 2-4 banger that could be a lead single on any other album. Well, except the somber album closer… but apart from that moody number, every song could be a bouncy first-single.

Apart from the lack of Daron’s backing vocals you can barely tell it isn’t a SOAD album. The highlights for me are “Lie Lie Lie,” “Saving Us” and “Sky Is Over.” Even the track “Baby” which I used to hate for being a bit too wacky (in a cheesy way, rather than in a Protest The Hero tasteful-but-hectic way) with its silly pronunciation of the word “Baby” is actually a fabulous song. This is a rock solid album. Way, way better than it is given credit for. More consistent than most SOAD records. Better than the majority of solo albums from anyone in the Alternative Metal/Nu Metal spectrum.

Serj 2

Wow. This is good. Its lead me to listen to Imperfect Harmonies too. Its good. Not just as good (and if you are in the mood for a Rock Band playing Rock Songs its not right for you because its more like a Nine Inch Nails album, in that one artist with a laptop and a keyboard has written an electronics and vocals based record.) If it wasn’t for the big style-shift, this would be a lot better received. If you’re in the mood for it, this is a real strong album. In and of itself, for what it is, this is really strong.

Following that, I’ve just given his most recent effort, Harakiri, again. Its good. It sounds trite, but it is the halfway point between both of those records and his discography would make more sense if this was released between the first and second albums. I liked it at the time, I like it now. Its highlights, including “Figure It Out,” “Occupied Tears,” “Uneducated Democracy” and “Weave On” are all strong and worth your time. It mightn’t be the most strong and consistent record ever, but its highlights are all pretty sweet.

MSG

What else is it time to get my money’s worth? How about my boxset of Michael Schenker Group albums? I listened to all four studio albums in preparation for this article. They are a pretty decent band. They are sort of like a mixture between Thin Lizzy without the Thin-Lizzy unique touch, with 70s Judas Priest without their heaviness, with Coverdale era Deep Purple without their funk. Also some real pop radio choruses that can feel out of place. Awesome guitar solos as you would expect. Its really a guitar album (or albums). Its such a weird point between Rock and Metal that I can’t compare it to anything else I know (apart from UFO, obviously). I would love to hear Children Of Bodom or someone like that cover their songs. “Attack Of The Mad Axeman” is the prize find of the collection, an absolutely wonderful rock song. Such a fun riff! – The rest of it is a mixed bag of mostly good but rarely memorable. Every time I’ve ever listened to them, I’ve liked them more, but I’ve never gotten to the boy-oh-boy-I-love-this-band stage. Still, I don’t regret buying the nice cheap boxset of five albums (there’s a live album in it too), but I think it’ll take a few more listens before I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

FF

On the subject of getting your money’s worth. I also spent last night listening to Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture. What can I say, I liked these two albums a lot anyway, and I already feel I got my money’s worth out of them, but I had some sort of real revelation last night and I really, really “got them” in a new way.

Its like, every other time I listened to them, there was a cloud of static in my brain. Like when you see a difficult math equation and you can’t even try to solve it because there is a cloud of static in your brain. Its that same exact feeling, and it has just cleared. I heard what a truly wonderful album Demanufactue is last night in a way I never knew before, in the entire decade (and more) since I bought it.

Sometimes its hearing another album, or seeing a documentary, or using new speakers, or a new EQ setting, or simply aging, but sometimes my brain just totally changes shape and new things come in. On first listen, Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory was a cheesy mess of stolen ELP parts and no Metal, and now it is a masterpiece and surprisingly heavy.

Now, Burn My Eyes and Demanufacture just got some “golden ticket” invitation to the awesome centre of my brain. Interesting how this stuff happens. I’d like to see some neurological data about it, but…. Failing that, I’ll just blog about it here and see what you guys think is going on?

What is the cloud of static in my brain, and why has it shifted away from these two records?