Thursday, November 13, 2014

Machine Head - Bloodstone and Diamonds review

Before I saw Machine Head live, at Soundwave Festival in Sydney back in 2012, I liked them a lot. I'd heard most of their stuff, and their recent resurgence on the back of The Blackening (unquestionably very good, but a challenging listen) and Unto the Locust (outstanding and a big personal favourite) had me excited.

That set was enough - more than enough - to make me a huge fan.  The combination of melody and crushing heaviness and intensity, delivered with pure, unadulterated energy to a crowd that was completely and totally up for it, was unforgettable, and ranks in the top 5 sets I've seen at ANY music festival.  Yep, that good.

I'd see this band live again in a heartbeat, and probably even faster than that given just how good I think some of the songs off this new album, Bloodstone and Diamonds, would sound live.  If they can capture this level of vitality - and in many cases, sincerity - on record, then some of these songs would be nothing short of phenomenal at a live gig.

If you had to sum it up in one word? Visceral.  

Lyrically, there's always been a genuine sense of rawness in Robb Flynn's vocals, but this time around - and particularly on tracks like Sail Into the Black and Game Over - the emotion is palpable and will make your hair stand on end.  

Musically, it hits just as hard.  The band sound tighter than ever, particular on tracks like Killers and Kings and Eyes of the Dead where there is a helluva lot of complexity.  There's a particular way of locking the drums, bass and rhythm guitar together on a riff to make it hit that much harder - it's an art Sevendust are the masters of - and it's evident throughout this record - whether that be on up-tempo tracks like Killers and Kings, or the insanely (and appropriately) sludgy Beneath the Silt.

Although it's just as consistent as its two immediate predecessors, the dynamic range of Bloodstone and Diamonds is a lot more broad - there's the usual heavy-as-hell Machine Head (even heavier, in places), but there's also some genuinely reflective moments - like Damage Inside and the first half of Sail into the Black.  

It's pretty lengthy, with the 12 tracks clocking in at 71 minutes, but in my opinion it subdivides into three main sections.

The first four tracks are all pretty instantly catchy (Now We Die, Killers and Kings, Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones, and Night of Long Knives). Considering all but one of those tracks clock in at over 6 minutes, that's no mean feat, but none of the tracks feel overly long - put that down to some tight songwriting and big hooks.

After that, we get into much more divergent territory - Sail Into the Black is a genuine epic, a real slow-builder that crescendoes to a very ominous chorus, and conjures a real sense of pirates (possibly undead) on the dread seas, and both Here Comes the Flood and the outstanding Eyes of the Dead are similarly huge in scale (the latter also features a brilliant extended lyrical metaphor).  Beneath the Silt is tighter and more concise - though sludgy as hell - and breaks up the other three tracks nicely.

The album's final movement starts with the brooding Damage Inside, before launching into Game Over - possibly the album's highest point - which is essentially Machine Head turned to 11 in every aspect.  The acrimonious split with former bassist Adam Duce - the subject of the track - clearly had the emotions running high and the result is a stunning track which hits hard on every level.  After that there's a slightly pointless instrumental(ish), Imaginal Cells, before closing track Take Me Through the Fire wraps things up in an almost (but not quite) upbeat manner.

The album's only real flaw is arguably its length - it doesn't make for an accessible end-to-end listen in the same way Locust did - and possibly ditching a couple of tracks might have made for a tighter record.  Which sounds like a nice idea, in theory, but in reality I don't actually know what you'd cut (other than Imaginal Cells).

Overall, Bloodstone and Diamonds is a worthy continuation of Machine Head's excellent form over the past decade or so.  There's a huge amount to enjoy on this album - and I live in hope that they'll tour it in New Zealand.

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