Neither Its Best Nor its Worst Album, Machine Head’s New Album ‘Catharsis’ Deserves At Least One Listen

Courtesy: Nuclear Blast Records

The day is finally here and the long wait is finally over. Machine Head’s new album Catharsis is finally here. The band’s ninth new album, it has faced a lot of scrutiny from audiences leading up to its release, with many comparing it to the band’s 1999 album The Burning Red and its follow-up, 2001’s Supercharger, and others even calling it worse than those efforts. Given, this may not be another master work from Machine Head — unlike The Blackening and Bloodstone & Diamonds — but it still deserves at least more of a chance than so many have given it. That is due in part to the very musical arrangements that have come under fire from audiences and critics alike. They will be discussed shortly. The album’s lyrical themes, which in many cases are not so dissimilar from those of the band’s past albums, will be discussed later, as they are just as important to discuss in examining this album. Last but definitely not least of note is the bonus concert recording included in the album’s deluxe expanded edition. It could be argued to be the album’s crown jewel. When it is set alongside (or in this case atop) the album’s musical arrangements and its relatively familiar lyrical themes, the end result is an album that while again not the band’s best work is still deserving of more respect than it has received.

Catharsis is one of the most interesting and important albums that Machine Head has put out in the course of its now 20-year life span. Not since the days of The Burning Red and Supercharger has the veteran San Francisco, California-based heavy metal band come under so much scrutiny from audiences and critics alike, splitting them almost down the middle. Many have even compared this record to those albums, unjustifiably no less. That is due in part to the album’s musical arrangements. As has been noted by so many critics — both professional and independent — the album’s musical arrangements run the gamut over the course of the album’s 15-song, 74-minute run time. The album’s opener, ‘Volatile,’ which was also the album’s most recent single, boasts an arrangement that can easily be compared to that of ‘Game Over,’ which was included in the band’s most recent album, 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds. The album’s title track, which was one of its earliest singles, boasts an equally solid arrangement that harkens back to the band’s earliest days while also hinting a little at its more recent albums, too. ‘Beyond the Pale’ meanwhile takes listeners back to the chugging sound that the band crafted on Supercharger, again presenting yet another piece of the band’s body of work. One could even argue that there’s a hint of Pantera in this arrangement. ‘California Bleeding’ goes back to the days of The Burning Red with its up-tempo arrangement. To an end, it could even fit in Supercharger’s body as could that of ‘Triple Beam,’ the clearly anti-drug anthem, and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ The much softer socio-politically-charged ‘Bastards’ could easily fit into any of the band’s albums stylistically speaking, despite what people would like to believe of the song. ‘Hope Begets Hope’ meanwhile reaches all the way back to Burn My Eyes (one of the band’s masterpieces)with its arrangement while ‘Screaming at the Sun’ sounds like it could just as easily fit into the body of The More Things Change. Considering how soft and contemplative ‘Descend The Shades of Night’ (from From The Ashes of Empires) was, ‘Behind A Mask’ could just as easily be argued to be a work that would fit alongside that song with its semi-acoustic arrangement. is it as good as ‘Descend the Shades of Night’ in regards to its arrangement? No, but it is still an interesting work nonetheless. The album’s final handful of songs also reaches back to the band’s early days. All in all, what audiences get in this album’s collective arrangements is in reality a tapestry of the band’s body of work up until now. Given, much of that body is the band’s earlier work, but it is still an interesting picture that is painted. It makes the album worth at least one listen if no more.

Staying on the note of the arrangements’ importance here, the album’s lyrical themes are just as important to discuss in examining this record as are its musical arrangements. The album’s lyrical themes are even more diverse than its musical arrangements. ‘Volatile’ is a statement addressing the events of last year’s events in Charlottesville, VA that resulted in one person’s death. ‘California Bleeding’ takes on the elitist cultures that exist in that state, even going so far as to use the band’s 2007 row with Disney over the company’s refusal to let the band perform at the House of Blues in Anaheim (since apparently it was property at the time owned by Disney) as part of its argument. ‘Triple Beam’ meanwhile is clearly a statement about the dangers of drug use and the illegal drug trade. ‘Hope Begets Hope’ changes things up with a strong message of…well…hope in dark times as is the album’s closer. There’s even a musing about the person that so many of us have just below the surface in ‘Behind A Mask’ as well as plenty of other themes throughout the record’s other songs. All in all, the themes that this record tackles in its lyrical content adds even more reason to listen at least once. Are the lyrics themselves that deep? Sadly, no. To that end, the critics are right. There is a lot of simplicity in the album’s lyrical content for lack of better wording, but despite this, it does at least leave little room for interpretation. In other words, that simplicity makes understanding the songs’ themes that much easier. The band can’t be faulted for that. As a matter of fact, when one compares the lyrics in this album’s songs to those of the band’s previous works, one could argue that those previous works are simple in their own right. Flynn screaming “I hope you burn in hell” to a journalist who wrote about Dimebag Darrell’s death in ‘Aesthetics of Hate’ is simple. That cannot be ignored. Nor can Flynn yelling “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast’ in the band’s timeless classic ‘Davidian.’ Keeping that in mind, though the lyrics in this album are simple, they are not the first time the band has presented something simple, and that simplicity does prove important at least in part to this record’s presentation, believe it or not. When the songs’ lyrical themes and general content are joined with the album’s musical arrangements, the whole of those elements gives plenty of reason for audiences to give this record at least one chance. They are not its only important elements. The record’s deluxe edition boasts an expansive 21-song live recording from the band’s 2015 tour that anchors the whole thing.

The bonus live recording that comes with Catharsis‘ deluxe edition gives more reason than anything else for Machine Head fans to give this record a chance. Originally recorded Feb. 21, 2015 at the Regency Center’s Grand Ballroom, the concert presents a set list that lifts from what was at the time every one of the band’s albums to date. The band’s more recent albums — Bloodstone & Diamonds, The Blackening, Unto The Locusts and Through The Ashes of Empires — are the most heavily represented of the band’s albums. Bloodstone & Diamonds and The Blackening each got four nods while the other two records each got three. Burn My Eyes, The More Things Change and The Burning Red were each represented with two songs while Supercharger got just one nod. That aside, the fact that the band pulled from every one of its albums up to that date gives the concert plenty of depth. The concert’s audio and video editing are deserving of their own credit as is the concert’s cinematography. That is especially the case considering that the fact that the Grand Ballroom was clearly not the largest venue. That seemingly relatively tight space had to have posed its own challenges in recording the concert, and those efforts paid off in the end. They paid off because they give home audiences the best seat in the house regardless of whether or not they were there at the concert’s taping. Keeping in mind the work put in by everyone behind the scenes to make this recording a reality, and of course the work put in by the band itself, this recording proves to be one that every Machine Head fan will appreciate. That being the case, it proves to be the anchor for the deluxe edition of Machine Head’s new album. If for no other reason than this recording, true Machine Head fans will give this record a chance. In doing so, hopefully those fans will also agree that the album’s musical arrangements and its lyrical themes make it worth at least one chance.

Machine Head’s brand new ninth full-length studio recording Catharsis is one of the most controversial records that the veteran metal outfit has released to date. The sad reality is that in going through this record, much of that controversy that has split audiences so clearly is unjustified. True, the album’s musical arrangements don’t fully live up to muster. That is only because they take audiences back through the band’s catalog, stylistically speaking. The album’s lyrical themes and general content are simple, yes. However, this album is not the first time that the band has crafted such simple lyrical material. That is not to talk down about the band, either. It is meant, instead to point out to the haters that their criticism of this album’s lyrical material is unjustified. Considering that much of the band’s previous work presents its own lyrical simplicity (including even some of its more recent albums), this album is just a little more simple. That being the case the album, again, still deserves at least one chance if no more. the bonus live DVD that accompanies the album’s deluxe edition gives more reason than anything for audiences to give this record a chance. The concert’s expansive 21-song set, joins with its equally laudable audio and video editing, the band’s own performance and the concert’s cinematography to make the experience one that every Machine Head fan will agree is enjoyable. Keeping this in mind, when this recording is joined with the album’s new studio material, Catharsis proves to be an effort that deserves more credit than it has gotten. That is the case even despite it clearly not being one of the band’s best albums. It still does not deserve as much hate as it has gotten and is getting. Catharsis is available now in stores and online in both standard and deluxe edition. More information on Catharsis is available online now along with the band’s tour in support of the album and more at:

Website: http://www.machinehead1.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MachineHead

Twitter: http://twitter.com/MfnH

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