Before starting this review, I’ll say this. I’ve been a Machine Head fan for a long time. I was at the show at Brixton Academy that became their “Elegies” DVD. As a listener, I joined up at “The Burning Red” and went back from there. I think there is a decent amount of good material on “Supercharger” even if it is as a whole hit and miss with experimentation. My favourite Machine Head albums are probably “Through The Ashes of Empires”, followed by “Burn My Eyes”, “The Blackening” and then “Unto The Locust” in that order.
By the time the album appeared, the facts were already laid out. “Beyond The Pale”, the first pre-released single features at it’s heart the riff that Devlin Townsend wrote for Strapping Young Lad’s “Love?”. The second pre-release single and album title track “Catharsis” had a very nu-metal lyrical approach. Pre-release single number three was “Bastards” and it came in three versions, album, poetry slam and rehersal. Final pre-release single and lyric video was for album opener “Volatile” that came out of the gate sounding like an early Slipknot demo. The album clocking in at 74 minutes. Frontman Robb Flynn has told us that the album is in three acts, like a film or a play. So what is this new album “Catharsis” from Machine Head all about?
The album opens up with the aforementioned “Volatile” which has a 1999 Slipknot era vibe with frontman Robb Flynn screaming “fuck the World” in true Corey Taylor style. There is a familarity to it, Joey Jordison drum patterns and Jim Root esq guitars. It’s a Machine Head song but it wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve. Next up is the album title track, which starts of with an air of familarity about it as well. That’s because the intro drum work is almost the same drum pattern as the intro to Trivium‘s “Capsizing The Sea”, the openning track and instrumental introduction to their album “In Waves”. Once you get past the 60 odd second intro and intro the song, it’s a polished affair that blends nu-metal lyrics and keys with the more traditional Machine Head guitar work alongside clean and controlled lyrics. I would actually say the intro would make the song better suited to being an openner or closer for the album. Whereas openner “Volatile” is straight and to the point, “Catharsis” takes a lot longer to get there. Third up is “Beyond The Pale” and again we’re talking about Machine Head’s influnces being apparent. The use of the distinctive main riff from Strapping Young Lad‘s “Love?” from their “Alien” album is there for everyone to hear and caused a storm at the time. It’s a song that has that bounce, energy and verve that you expect from a Machine Head song and has a lot of little nuances, as well as classy solo from Phil Demmel. It’s clearly set for sing-a-longs at Machine Head shows in the future. Next is “California Bleeding” and here is the first left field moment from Robb Flynn’s band. Musically, it’s a heavier version of something I would have expected from a hard rock band like Motley Crue perhaps. That’s also true of the vocal delivery. The song is fast paced and it rocks along but there is nothing special about it. The backing vocals are quiet and while they become kind of catchy after several runs they are also kind of annoying and completely unncessary. Lyrically its a song about the debauchery of Californian living. Drugs, Sex & Rock’n’Roll. We then come to probably the song that has attracted the most controvercy in “Triple Beam”. It’s a nu-metal style song that sounds like it’s off “The Burning Red” with a rap-style vocal delivery and some hallmark Robb Flynn-isms. It’s also a song that tells a story, the story of gang violence ending in someone getting stabbed. It’s definately the memory of something that happened and changed Robb Flynn’s life forever. The music and atmosphere of the track suits the story itself and makes it an easier one to deliver. The riff is big and heavy in a clunky kind of way, none of the more recent albums guitar wizardary is apparent, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve heard and watched reviews where Robb Flynn has been critised as sounding like a 50 year old wanting to be 25 again but that’s just not what I heard.
“Kaleidoscope” is a song that sounds like it belongs on “The More Things Change”. It has a freedom and pace while also including all the traditional Machine Head influences that you’d expect. There is the inclusion of a violin around the 3 minute mark that helps the song to build to it’s conclusion that adds a new twist. Alongside “Triple Beam”, the next song to come in for a high level of criticism is “Bastards”. Now, given that a rehersal video of it was released over a year ago and two versions of the song were released in the build up to the album launch, it was an easy target. It’s essentially a polictical song that nails Robb Flynn’s colours to the mast while diving into Flogging Molly esq punk rock territory on the music side. It’s a bit cringeworthy and very out of place in terms of the flow of the album overall, but it’s far from the worst song I’ve ever heard. “Hope Begets Hope” takes a slow build into another solid Machine Head song. It’s not the heaviest but it is distinctly Machine Head with a decent 40 second long solo around the 3 minute mark. “Screaming at the Sun” is another decent Machine Head song and by that I mean it has the hallmark sounds, you can tell from the off and it builds nicely through some decent riffing and solid chorus. “Behind a Mask” is an acoustic atomospheric affair with almost flamenco guitars at points. Lyrically it tells of people hiding from plain sight in their everyday lives while in delivery, the vocals are kept melodic and tastefully restrained in keeping with the music.
“Heavy Lies the Crown” is the longest song on the album at nearly 9 minutes, though an epic 2 minutes 40 seconds of that is intro and atomsphere. Violins and whispered lyrics building a darkness before some drum work creeps in and the guitars come down. It’s a song that musically would fit on “Unto The Locust”, the production value is great and the guitars actually sound like Trivium in their finer moments. Despite the length and huge build up, the song has variety and never gets boring, repetative or old. It’s probably a good contender for the strongest song on the album. “Psychotic” then takes us back down a nu-metal road lyrically, though not vocally or musically. It’s a song about drug abuse and the negativity that Robb Flynn felt while addicted, trapped in a vicious cycle. Again, it’s a song that would fit well onto “The Burning Red”. “Grind You Down” is another one of these, a powerful chugging riff with a solid vocal delivery in the verses and melodic approach in the choruses. Just when you think you’ve heard all that it has to offer at 2 minutes 10 seconds, it leaps into a faster delivery with better guitar work. Very much the tale of two halves before it’s ending. “Razorblade Smile” has a fast and free approach, the title a reference to chopping a line or two. The vocals are as fast as the guitar work and lyrically it’s full of debautry and drug usage in a Rock’n’Roll way. It’s fun and energetic without being meaningful or deep. Closer “Eulogy” is a slow burn and frankly hard slog through dark atmospheres. It’s not one that ever really gets going or changes up or down, unlike so many of the better crafted songs on the album. At 6 minutes and 34 seconds it’s just an unnecessary indulgence from the band that doesn’t fit anywhere except the end of the record.
Summer 2016’s single “Is There Anybody Out There?” isn’t on “Catharsis” but actually would fit well alongside the songs on the album. It’s definately a forerunner that contains all the elements that make up the subsequent album. Overall, my issue with the album is that it’s over-long and there is some wheat that could have been separated from the chaff. There is good, bad and ugly scattered throughout the album and plenty of experimentation. Some works and some doesn’t and it should have been down to the producer to get that cleaned up. As a listener, you get the impression that litterally everything the band recorded in the sessions for the album is on the album. There are a couple of songs that are out of place stylistically, there are a couple that are over long, there are some uncessary intros and there are a few elements that don’t quite fit. There is a lot of influence on show, especially in the opening trio of songs. I’ve read that the album is in three parts but I didn’t get that myself at all. What I got was an album where the shortcomings are obvious in that by taking a less is more approach, getting rid of 3 songs and changing the running order, the album would be far better. While I don’t think this is Machine Head’s best offering, it’s not their worst and it most definately is not “one of the biggest miss-steps in Metal” as one critic described it. It’s a solid album with plenty of experimentation that has some flat points. We should consider ourselves lucky that Machine Head have maintained high standards and progressed throughout their career. While this album sonically is a bit of a throwback record and would sit better in the past than it does now, that doesn’t take away from the qualities that it does have. [7/10]