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Album Reviews : Machine Head – Catharsis

By on January 21, 2018

Give any new album at least three or four listens before you truly judge it. That’s a lesson I have learned over the years, and I always stick to it. Especially when reviewing.

I am an unabashed fan of the mighty Machine Head. I still rate Burn My Eyes as among my favourite records of all time, and its follow-up The More Things Change… is also a classic. 2007’s The Blackening is magnificent, and most of the rest of their output is generally at least solid, consistent and enjoyable.

Which brings us to their ninth album, Catharsis. I have seen some extremely negative reactions to this record, and I have to wonder if people have reviewed and reacted to it on first or second listens. My first impressions were that this is indeed a sub-standard Machine Head record, but on fourth or fifth listen, it really started to click.

There is some really strong material here. Triple Beam and Kaleidescope are both classic Machine Head, the former’s groove being as fat as can be imagined and its anti-violence message is compelling, and the latter opens almost like a sea shanty before erupting into a full-throttle thrash onslaught. Kaleidescope’s chorus is one of the best Flynn has come up with, and its subtle use of strings during the dynamic break down section is sweet as honey. Razorblade shows off drummer Dave McClain’s thunderous skin-work to earth-shattering effect.

Elsewhere, whilst Beyond the Pale does indeed bear a degree of resemblance to Strapping Young Lad’s Love (who’s chorus in turn bears a strong resemblance to Yes’s City of Love), it is not enough to warrant the outcry that it did, and it’s a great track. Again, the groove is enormous and the chorus is, yes, cathartic. Heavy Lies the Crown is a dark, brooding, bristling epic that takes the ear on a storied and dynamic sonic journey across the course of its almost nine-minute length. And Eulogy is like no other album-closer the ‘Head have ever done before. It veritably sends shivers down the spine.

I think the main issue here is the fact that there is actually 15 tracks and 75 minutes of music, which on the surface seems like excellent value for money. And it is, no question. It’s just that it makes for a fairly inconsistent ride. There are a few flat spots across the course of the album’s length: for example, Bastards opens promisingly, and its great to hear an acoustic guitar breaking up the blazing onslaught of electric mayhem, but the song itself is kinda sappy. Flynn possibly could have left a few tracks off and had a streamlined 11 or 12 tunes of pure quality, and this album probably would have approached classic Machine Head status.

As it stands, Catharsis is not their best work, but in no way, shape or form is it deserved of the irrational and uninformed hate it is receiving from a few quarters. It’s a solid piece, and if you’re a fan and you give it time to breath and wend its way into your psyche, you’ll find that a majority of the material on offer here is highly enjoyable Machine Head fare.

Band: Machine Head
Album: Catharsis
Year: 2018
Genre: Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Origin: USA


Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine,, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.