by Mark Allen
Staff Writer —
Make no mistake, the new Machine Head album, Unto the Locust is not only as good as the band’s previous, Grammy-nominated release The Blackening, it’s better. So much better, in fact, that the fans who once hailed The Blackening as Machine Head’s magnum opus will now wonder if they were a tad bit hasty in their anointing.
Stripping The Blackening of its title like a heavyweight champ knocked out of the ring by an upstart newcomer is more than merited, as Unto the Locust retains everything that was right with its predecessor but corrects most of the errors. The result is a superior listening experience that is not only Machine Head’s penultimate project, but arguably the premier heavy metal album of 2011. Forget the so-called big boys that came out earlier this year; this monstrous metal release will have Exodus beating a hasty exit out the door, In Flames spontaneously combusting with jealousy, and Trivium curled up in the corner like a beaten trollop.
As is their modus operandi, Machine Head continue to refuse to follow a particular formula. In fact, were you to ask the members of Machine Head about their formula, they would probably respond with a growled, “Fuck the formula.” While clearly influenced by Bay Area thrash, the band has created a metal sound-scape steeped in complexity and interwoven with intricate melodies that embrace the big hook approach while studiously avoiding anything resembling overt commercialism or mainstream pandering, with the sole exception of “The Darkness Within,” which, with its clean singing and more melodic delivery, could probably appeal to the Disturbed/Metallica crowd.
But even aside from that rather blatant hit single-seeking song, the accessibility quotient of this album is significantly higher than anything the band has released before. Repeat listens are not required to appreciate what this album has to offer, you pretty much know right off the bat that these are good tunes. And while most of the songs still run a little on the long side, there is a refreshing absence of the gratuitous ten-plus minute epics the band indulged in on past efforts, making Unto the Locust more palatable to ADD-afflicted metal heads.
Thankfully, the inclusion of accessibility did not require a sacrifice of intensity. The insane, seemingly inhuman drumming synchronizes sweetly with the supersonic speed of the guitars. Headbanging is not only permitted, it is impossible to resist as this gigantic juggernaut of metal pours in a crushing avalanche from the speakers. And while Machine Head is never afraid of unleashing growls, screams, and snarls, the vocals almost always remain intelligible, which make this all the more appealing, unless you’re one of those metal mavericks who believe decipherable lyrics to be akin to blasphemy.
The songs range from the Iron Maiden-esque “Be Still and Know” to the Trivium-styled (but heavier) title track, to the neck-snapping aggression of “Pearls Before Swine” to the anthemic, clenched fist attitude of “Who We Are.” The bonus tracks on the extended edition–covers of Judas Priest and Rush songs—make that the version worth grabbing, as they make an already cool album that much cooler.
With raging riffs as big as elephant balls and axe-work that blisters like first degree burns, Unto the Locust is a modern heavy metal thrash machine engineered to tear your damn head off, slam your ears, pummel your skull, and leave your senses splattered like a bug on a windshield. Prepare to be impressed.
Genre: Modern Heavy / Thrash Metal
Robb Flynn (lead vocals, rhythm guitar)
Adam Duce (bass guitar, backing vocals)
Phil Demmel (lead guitar)
Dave McClain (drums)
1. I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)
2. Be Still and Know
4. This is the End
5. Darkness Within
6. Pearls Before the Swine
7. Who We Are
8. The Sentinel (Judas Priest cover/bonus track)
9. Witch Hunt (Rush cover/bonus track)
Label: Roadrunner Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 8.6/10