Review by: Cat A
There is one question that surfaced the moment Machine Head released news of their last two albums – “can it match up to The Blackening?” Leaked tracks by one retailer and the subsequent release on the official Nuclear Blast site gave us an early insight into what we were likely to expect. Now I feel that I must write a disclaimer here; I am a massive Machine Head fan and was at one of those intimate shows that sold out in about twenty minutes back in August. I have even been known to listen to Supercharger of my own free will, though I don’t say that too loudly. Needless to say, when I got my hands on this eagerly anticipated eighth full length studio album I was more than a little bit eager.
In a nutshell for those who don’t feel like reading to the bottom of the track by track breakdown, Bloodstone and Diamonds is like all of the previous Machine Head albums had their signature elements plucked out and mashed together to try and define the band’s signature sound after the high profile line-up change. Jahred MacEachern does seem to have added a new energy to the mixture on bass, and Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel are tighter than ever with the guitar work and the extra time and money spent on production shows, though some may feel that they are stepping away from their roots and overproducing some of the vocals in particular. It’s not perfect, but there are added dimensions from the addition of strings, pianos and backing vocals of styles not normally seen in Metal.
On to the track by track:
Now We Die – the well chosen opener that has been available for a few weeks soothes you in to the latest offering with some beautifully arranged strings. I close my eyes and I can feel myself at the front of one of their shows, horns in the air as I scream along to the chorus. There are all the elements that one would expect when listening to the Bay Area Metallers; heavy as hell breakdown, Flynn’s yells before a solo that wouldn’t sound out of order on The Blackening, and those guitar harmonies between Flynn and Demmel, who then throw a powerful, goosebump raising section where the strings layer on the emotion before a final power through the chorus.
Killers and Kings picks up the pace further, and it sounds as if it could have come straight from their debut with those guitar squeals (listen to it and you’ll know exactly what I mean) that scream Machine Fuckin’ Head. It’s not my favourite track on the album by far, but it’s solid and could almost be an entry in the textbook of how to write a Metal song. Keep a listen out for how many different tarot cards are named in this one…
Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones follows; Think the introduction to Imperium with less distortion and an almost electronic sound, then add in some of the dirty bass from Through The Ashes of Empires and the haunting vocal style that is heard on The Burning Red and end it with the anger from Days Turn Blue To Gray and you’re approaching what you hear from this. Many people will disagree with me, but this is one of the top three for me on this offering.
Of all the tracks on Bloodstone and Diamonds, Night of the Long Knives is the one that I am unsure about, mostly because the introduction does nothing for me. It’s not a bad song, but I don’t feel like its anything special. There’s always one like that for me. Chop the intro and outtro from it and I’d probably feel differently but it is very easy to sing along with the disturbing lyrics.
Low vocal droning with some stunning melodies are overlaid by a single line before an acoustic guitar and piano pick up the pace of Sail Into The Black. It’s not unusual to get a song that isn’t easily labelled as Metal on a Machine Head album, and at first this appears to be the song that doesn’t fit for three minutes, but then just as you think that the song is over, electric guitar blares from nowhere and takes the intensity to a whole different level, though the first chords do manage to sound an awful lot like a Limp Bizkit song (*shudder* – Ed).
Circle pit. That’s the first thought that comes into my head as Eyes of the Dead kicks in, though it does in places remind me of Pearls Before The Swine, though the chorus is a completely different feel, and I have to say… groovy. Beneath the Silt starts dirty, and the bassline continues beneath the somewhat odd vocals, and the chorus is anything but Metal, but it sure as hell is catchy even if the solo is one of those that feel forced into the song and it ends with some of Flynn’s heavy breathing.
The politics becomes blatant in Here Comes the Flood, which appears to be a direct attack at the banking and economic system in America. There’s an amusing play on words with the line ‘Moneytheistic religion” and direct calls for their country to wake up. It’s a decent song, but despite the usual Machine Head signatures, it feels just a bit too mainstream and poppy. There then follows some more lamentation as Damage Inside lets you take a quick breather.
Did you ever expect to hear any Punk on a Machine Head album? Well, the chorus of Game Over had me wanting to break out the baggy trousers and start skanking, but it doesn’t feel out of place. There’s some very clever riffs that keep it “Metal enough” to fit, even during those slow breakdown sections that force the focus onto the lyrics. The politic vibe continues with the soundbytes over the top of Imaginal Cells, speaking of climate change, social disorder, religion and many more issues, over the top of an instrumental that more than any other song on Bloodstone and Diamonds could have come straight from Unto the Locust, in fact very much like Locust itself. I suspect that this will be the intermission track on the album release tour.
The finale of Take Me Through the Fire is a good send off to an album, and it’s a classic Machine Head song to take us full circle through the more experimental sections of this album. In answer to my question at the top of this review, no Bloodstone and Diamonds is very much not The Blackening, but that isn’t to say that it is not a good Machine Head album. There are going, as ever, to be cries of selling out and going mainstream, but I think the fans will turn out at shows and scream these lyrics with as much fervour as Locust and Old. Technically excellent, I disagree with Flynn’s proclamation that this is their most heavy and brutal offering, but it’s still a solid album and had it come from a band without an album like The Blackening behind them, it would have been far more impressive, but as a Machine Head fan I can’t help but feel that they’re not quite there, or they’re trying a little too hard to be different. Still, it’s one of my albums of 2014, and will be given a lot of play time in my ears.