Thursday, 4 December 2014

Machine Head's 'Bloodstone & Diamonds' - Album Review

Although Machine Head have been one of the biggest metal bands of the past decade or so, it was only recently that I started to listen to them properly. The band were on music channels quite a bit while I was growing up, but it was always songs from their nu-metal mid-period, and this really put me off Machine Head as I despise that type of music. It was only when I saw that they were going to be playing a show close to home that I thought it was time to give them a proper listen. I have since listened to both 2007's The Blackening and 2011's Unto the Locust and enjoyed both albums quite a bit. These albums seem to mix thrash and groove metal together successfully and are quite different from those nu-metal songs I remember from back in the day. Although I enjoyed those albums, Bloodstone & Diamonds is the band's first album that I have really sat down to and listened to a lot. It is a long, heavy and dark album that goes through many different styles throughout the 70 plus minute run time. Although long albums usually annoy me, I do not find that this one drags that much. It is a well-paced album that feels heavy, but also quite emotional with frontman Robb Flynn injecting lots of passion into his vocal delivery. It is also an album that sees a couple of big changes for the band. Firstly, founding bassist Adam Duce was fired from the band last year and has been replaced by Jared MacEachern (Sanctity). This makes Bloodstone & Diamonds the first Machine Head album without Duce which is sure to have an overall impact on the sound of the album. Secondly, this is the band's first album not to be released via Roadrunner Records, instead opting this time to work with Nuclear Blast. While they are more known for their Euro-metal releases, they have been branching out more recently and are becoming one of the biggest metal record labels in the world. Nuclear Blast seems to be the best place to be these days if you are a big metal band, and it seems like Machine Head made the right decision to switch labels. While Flynn produced the album, both Colin Richardson and Andy Sneap were also involved in the recording and mixing process, which ensures the album sounds huge and heavy. I am not really sure how this album compares to the band's previous work, as I am no expert in their discography, but to me this is an enjoyable album that really takes no prisoners.

Now We Die is the first song on the album and, after opening up with some strings, the metal comes in with some shouts from Flynn and some tight riffing from him and Phil Demmel. The strings are quite prominent throughout the song actually, especially during the chorus where they really compliment Flynn's howl. The verses are much simpler, with some big riffing and fast drumming from Dave McClain. It is not a particularly fast song, instead sticking mostly in the mid-pace range with some big grooves and tight instrumental breaks - including a great guitar solo. Killers & Kings is a much simpler song that is catchy and anthemic. The riffing is tight and fast, and McClain's ride-heavy drumming gives it a slight Lamb of God feel in places. This is a heavy piece but it has a killer chorus that is sure to be excellent live with the gang vocals. Ghosts Will Haunt my Bones mixes the more progressive elements of their sound with heavy, grinding riffs. Tight guitar leads flow into doomy, thrash riffs throughout the song, and the overall vibe is constantly changing. Flynn's verse vocals are almost melodic but the choruses are much rougher, although MacEachern's high backing vocals help to maintain the melody. Night of Long Knives is another heavier piece. There are some really dirty thrash elements here with blast beat drumming and machine gun riffing. The chorus still manages to be fairly melodic though, as Flynn's vocal lines are very singable and a contrast from the harsher verses. Certain sections of the song also have a rather punky feel to them, with some fast-paced vocal shouts and furious riffs. Next up is Sail Into the Black which is really cool song as far as I am concerned. It is long and atmospheric, and is a big change from what has come so far on this album. Haunting piano cuts through the mournful clean guitars and Flynn's voice have a Trent Reznor-esque whisper to them that adds to the overall uneasiness. About half way through, the song does pick up and become heavier, but never really looses the atmospheric nature of the first part. There are lots of tremolo guitar lines that add a pinch of black metal to the mix, and Flynn spits out the vocals with real venom. After that, anything sounds melodic and accessible, but I have a feeling that Eyes of the Dead would be anyway. This is a much simpler song that gets back to powerful riffs and flashy guitar leads. Demmel excels himself here with some really speedy runs between the vocals and helps to make the song feel fast. The chorus is seriously infectious and there are some seriously heavy breakdowns that see Flynn sounding truely evil.

Beneath the Silt is another really grinding piece that has a real sludge metal vibe. The song's main riff is as dirty as they come and has something of Mastodon about it, which is made greater with Flynn's high-pitched vocal style here. I have not heard Machine Head sound like this before, but it really works for them. It is a pretty short song compared to many of the others on this album but it really packs a punch and is likely to divide the band's fanbase. I love it! In Comes the Flood opens with a delicate choir but it soon explodes into another metal anthem. The laborious chorus is not as interesting as some of the others here, but it still works well to be memorable. The rest of the song is angry with Flynn's dark vocals and plenty of jarring changes in music. It somehow all fits together and still manages to sound good. Damage Inside almost feels like a coda to Sail Into the Black as the atmospherics and gentle vocals are back. It has a very similar vibe to the first part of that song, and acts as a ballad and a nice change to pace before Game Over - which is a really heavy, angry song. Sometimes Flynn's vocals are barely backed up by anything, which lets his emotion really take the stage, but as soon as MacEachern's pounding bassline comes in the song really takes off and becomes a fast, thrashy piece. Some of the guitar work in this piece is really breathtaking, but it is Flynn that really steals the show with his varied vocal performance. The penultimate track is an odd instrumental with some snippets of spoken word. It comes at a strange time during the album, it would have been better closer to the middle to help break up the heaviness. I do not think that this is a bad piece of music, as the guitar work is nice and the spoken word extracts are interesting, I just feel it comes too late during the album so therefore lacks any real impact. The album's final song is classic modern Machine Head. Take Me Through the Fire is a heavy and visceral piece with a strident chorus and some excellent pinch-harmonic guitar riffs that give the song a contemporary feel. It is simpler than some of the songs on the album but it works well as a pummelling closer. Overall, this is really enjoyable album. It is heavy as hell in places, but still manages to be creative and even melodic elsewhere. While it is slightly too long, I struggle to think what songs I would cut from the album, as they are all songs I enjoy on some level. This is an album that proves why Machine Head are one of the best loves mainstream metal bands out there.

The album was released on 10th November 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Now We Die.

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