Machine Head – Of Kingdom and Crown


All was not well in the Machine Head camp in 2018. Rumours surfaced of Robb Flynn acting like a dictator and forbidding the other band members from giving media interviews. Phil Demmel (lead guitar) and Dave McClain (drums) quit soon after the release of the band’s poorly received Catharsis album, calling it a Flynn solo LP. The fans reacted in dismay to the abandonment of the thrash metal sound of their previous three records. Flynn felt left out to dry by the online metal community, who sided with Phil Anselmo in the former’s accusations of racism in metal. He started experimenting with the nu metal of the band’s late 1990s approach and sided with woke culture on some of the songs. It looked like the band had reached its expiry date after a good run. Then Flynn pulled a masterstroke by bringing in Decapitated icon, Vogg, on lead guitar and reuniting the Burn My Eyes line up for a 25th anniversary world tour. Machine Head still had a future.

Robb Flynn has a gift for taking risks that backfire, but he also has a knack for reading the zeitgeist and understanding what the fanbase want at a critical moment in the quartet’s career. Of Kingdom and Crown is the group’s tenth album, and the stakes could not be higher for a band that face stronger scepticism in their native America than they do in their stronghold countries of Britain, Germany and Australia. You might blink twice when you see the running time of opener, ‘Slaughter the Martyr’. Ten minutes and twenty-five seconds is a statement of intent from the fourth incarnation of Machine Head, and they don’t waste a moment of this epic piece of progressive thrash metal. Flynn always pivoted his band somewhere between Slayer and Biohazard when asked to describe the essence of Machine Head, but his extensive vocal training over the last two decades pays off here with a remarkable performance that incorporates many styles. Listen how his differing octave choices in the minimalist intro pine with sorrow and revenge. This is a man with an underrated set of baritone pipes. The transition to the trademark drop-tuned thrash riffing and crunchy groove erupts at the three-minute mark like an overflowing reservoir. You’ll see yourself caught up in a circle pit before you can absorb the technicality of the guitar work. This is how you accentuate a contrast in dynamics and reach for an epic chorus from nowhere. Bassist, Jared MacEachern, shows here that his backing harmonies are as important as his low-end rhythms. See if you can resist the urge to throw your empty hands in the air and kneel on the floor as you look to the heavens. Where did these ten minutes go?

It’s understandable if your fists clench for The Blackening, part two. The monumental technical thrash metal of their 2007 classic rears its head on the longer-form songs here, but you’ll detect the guiding hand of 2011’s epic, Unto the Locust, as the biggest thread of this record. Lead single, ‘Choke on the Ashes of Your Hate’, is vintage Machine Head – fast, hard, and chunky with muscular vocals and chugging basslines pulsating in the background. Flynn and Vogg conjure their wildest heavy metal fantasies in the solos. The breakdown in the middle eight will give you lockjaw. Its follow-up, ‘Become the Firestorm’, is the surest sign yet that Machine Head pay attention to the state of contemporary metal. Blast beats and death metal tremolo riffs are not what you’d expect from the hand of Robb Flynn, yet he does a marvellous job of incorporating them into his customary testosterone fuelled attack.

Of Kingdom and Crown is a dystopian concept album about a bleak future where the sky is a permanent crimson and the two main characters, Ares and Eros, embark on a killing spree to avenge the death of their loved ones. Like all great concept albums, it sounds far-fetched, and that’s part of its charm. Clearly, Flynn had Queensrӱche’s legendary Operation Mindcrime in his head when writing this LP. Interlude tracks appear in between the key moments to advance the story. One minute it’s the sound of a life-support machine bleeping, the next is a demagogue’s sermon about hunting down one’s tormentors. You know this album will stay the course when you marvel at how the crushing prog metal of ‘Unhallowed’ transitions to the awesome down-picking thrash of ‘Kill Thy Enemies’. The former allows Flynn and MacEachern to showcase their melodic vocal harmonies amid a thunderstorm of colossal riff patterns and expressive scales. Vogg receives a co-writing credit here, and you can hear his imprint all over it. ‘Kill Thy Enemies’ reminds you why you love metal. Nobody does the mid-tempo adrenaline crunch like Machine Head. Can you feel your eyes bulging in fervid rage? You could throw a sofa through a window with one hand under the influence of this belter of a track.

Fans will be pleased to learn that all three songs from last year’s Arrows in Words from The Sky EP make it on to Of Kingdom and Crown. The anthemic thrash metal of ‘Rotten’ provides the required acceleration of energy for the last lap. At least six of the songs here could be potential singles. You can already see the gang-vocal thrash of ‘Bloodshot’ bringing the carnage to a live stadium near you over the next six months. It’s clear that Flynn’s lyrical analogies still resonate with political vitriol. “Bloody and belligerent/ Delusions made of their foment/ Agonizing arrogance/ White privilege and the folly of pride/ These are the battles of our time.” Few would dare to wade into the poisonous culture wars of America with such passion. Like him or not, Robb Flynn is one of the few interesting personalities in heavy metal.

We demanded a comeback album and no messing around with hip hop rhymes and bounce riffs. Machine Head deliver here with middle fingers raised. But they also unearth a career highlight to follow in the wake of Burn My Eyes and The Blackening. The excitement does not abate after multiple listens. If only the metal establishment in their own country would put them on the same pedestal they occupy in Europe.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 26/08/2022

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Choke on the Ashes of Your Heart, Unhallowed, Kill Thy Enemies

Suggested Further Listening: Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994), Machine Head – The Blackening (2007), Machine Head – Unto the Locust (2011)