Machine Head – Unto The Locust (Roadrunner Records)
Release date: September 27, 2011
“Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.” – Ex. 10:1–2
Machine Head. Just hearing the name pumps mercury through your veins. Chances are that if you’re not into Machine Head all that much, you’ve at least heard their fist-raising fans chanting “Machine-fucking-Head” at a gig somewhere. There are no other words to describe Machine Head than “holy shit, that’s heavy”, and I’m not talking Marty McFly heavy, I mean brain-melting metal heavy. They have risen from California and taken the whole World hostage in a manner which fits in perfectly with their newest album Unto The Locust. Like the infamous plague of locusts, Machine Head‘s legacy has spread across the World, consuming everything in its path and leaving a withering wasteland in its wake. It’s only fitting that the band’s latest release features a track with the lyrics “Young and old suffer unto the Locust” spat viciously out of frontman Robb Flynn’s venomous mouth.
Machine Head‘s latest offering is their seventh studio album, and probably the most anticipated of them all. The Blackening, released in 2007, is the band’s biggest success to date, spouting the instant anthems that are “Halo” and “Wolves”, so it’s not difficult to understand the pressure that lies within the follow-up. Take a look back at Metallica‘s attempt at Load after their Black Album release and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The only difference here is that Machine Head can remain proud of the fact that they have taken all those expectations, shredded them together with some balls and some diversity, loaded them into the barrel of a T-90 and fired it right back. Unto The Locust goes hand in hand with its predecessor The Blackening. It is an absolutely astonishing album that fires on every cylinder with crushing heaviness and explores areas that have until now remained untouched. Machine Head are in a league of their own. When you play Machine Head, you check everything else at the door and take your punishment like a man.
The album is as solid as it can get. From start to finish you are blasted away by Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel’s trademark riffing and Dave McClain’s astounding work behind the drum kit. Adam Duce’s bass is intensely thick and slots in perfectly with the mass of guitar and percussion that’s thundering out of the speakers. You can immedeately identify the near perfect production quality, headed up by Robb Flynn himself. The vocal work is better than ever as we are treated to a rather impressive performance, even for Flynn’s standards. His vocal outbursts have always been a unique joy to behold and Flynn pushes himself even harder with the opening track “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)”. Everything here is pure excellence, and you can even feel those twinges of The Blackening seeping through into the production. The riffs are everything you expect from the Bay Area metallers, and the solo guitar pieces fit neatly into place without standing out too much.
Machine Head deliver a little bit of everything on top of the traditional aggression we’re used to seeing from these metal giants. “Be Still And Know” features an impressive melodic intro, while “Locust” appears darker with a sinister and atmospheric clean tone. Both tracks are so unbelievably heavy, there are no words in the thesaurus that can justify a description. At this point, you’ll more than likely fall deeply in love with the impeccable drumming, especially if you enjoy your music through a set of headphones with the volume crunched up as loud as it can go. Each bass kick is like being punched in the head, but nicely. If you’re after wall-to-wall, no bullshit metal, “Pearls Before Swine” is the track for you. You’ll no doubt be destroying nearby furniture during the closing breakdown. A more upbeat clean attitude accompanies the introduction to “This Is The End”, but is soon shattered by a brilliant burst of drums and more finger-breaking riffage.
“Darkness Within” cracks in as the album’s fifth track with a progression of thin acoustic chords and an emotional vocal account by Flynn, seemingly about a man and his struggle with faith, only to eventually find solace within music:
This is an anthem that is sure to grace Machine Head‘s live set-lists, so if you’re planning to go, you’ll do well to learn the words. It’s hard to say that this is a favourite because every track here is sheer brilliance, with only the closing track “Who We Are” being slightly awkward for its addition of a chorus of school children. “Darkness Within” feels almost like the friendlist track on the album, but there is still plenty of storming metal to keep you hooked. If you still weren’t satisfied, however, the special edition package of the album includes great cover versions of Judas Priest‘s “The Sentinel” and Rush‘s “Witch Hunt”, as well as an acoustic rendition of “Darkness Within”.
The word “masterpiece” is thrown around an awful lot in recent years, but in the true, classic sense of the word, Unto The Locust is a masterpiece. Writing this review was a huge task itself because it has been such a long time since I have heard an album and been blown away to that point where I’m stuck for words. I spent a lot of time listening to this in front of a blank screen, battling the urge to paste “holy fuck” continuously in order to fill the page. This is truly a case of “you need to buy this, and buy it now” because my words just don’t cut the cake here.
Machine Head have given us a remarkable selection of records in their time, but it was The Blackening that propelled the Bay Area quartet to legendary status. Four years worth of touring later, they have returned with an album that annihilates its predecessor, at the same time as embracing it. Unto The Locust is the best metal album you’ll have heard in a very long time.
Check out our recent interview with Phil Demmel from Mayhem Festival 2011