Album Review: Machine Head’s “Catharsis”


by Quentin Singer

You may have heard of Machine Head in the past few years, and either it’s because you’re an avid metal head or  just consider yourself a general rock fan. The past 3 years have arguably been some of the most prominent moments in the band’s history. Probably the biggest event for the band was in early 2016: lead vocalist Robb Flynn called out racism in the metal community. After attending Dimbash 2016, a metal festival honoring legendary guitarist Dimebag Darrell, Robb Flynn posted a video about some ignorant and blatantly racist behavior at the event. Needless to say, after posting his video commenting on the manner, Robb received an appalling amount of hate mail, and people went as far as sending him death threats. Just from the backlash Robb received, it was easy to tell there was an issue of racism in the metal community, and situations like this can open doorways for some very thoughtful songwriting.

Machine Head released a single in the midst of all this controversy entitled “Is There Anybody out There?” The song quickly jumped up on metal radio stations, and has even gone as far as becoming the band’s 2nd most streamed song to date with nearly 13,000,000 streams. The song’s main theme is about the racism controversy, and more specifically, the backlash Robb received. Ultimately, it made a powerful statement for the band, and acted as a teaser for what was to come on the next Machine Head album Catharsis. Sure enough, the band delivers with their new album, but not necessarily in all the right ways.

Catharsis is the band’s 9th studio album, and the problems Catharsis face are, in part, due to the band not sticking with their core metal roots. While it’s honorable of the band to try and branch out, it doesn’t work for me. Songs like “Bastards” give a folky/Dropkick Murphy’s vibe, which came across as a poor fit for a band known for their particularly thrash and progressive sounding style. Even though the instrumentation wasn’t my favorite, I do respect Robb’s lyrical content with this song. I can’t say the same for probably 90% of the other songs on Catharsis. Using several metal/rock lyrical cliches such as “middle fingers up,” “I walk a long and lonely road,” and gratuitous use of the f-bomb, the album really struggled to please me on what I hoped would be an intensely written album, broaching controversial topics. Instead, it feels as though the themes are present (with nods to the Charlottesville white power march, and other related events), but the lyrical content disappoints in driving these themes home. There’s a song called “Triple Beam,” which depicts a graphic and disturbing period in Robb’s life, when he was dealing with hookers and amphetamines. The song could have been a powerful reflection, but is so poorly written lyrically that the entire song falls apart. This tune also features rapping, which Machine Head has done before back in the early 2000’s, but similarly to “Bastards” it didn’t fit the sonic aesthetic Machine Head is known for delivering.

I might be being overly critical of this album because I’m a die-hard Machine Head fan. They were the first metal band I saw  at 12 years old, and I watched them open for Metallica. I stand behind my critiques, and there are a few tracks that I really enjoy: “Volatile,” “Catharsis,” and “Screaming At the Sun.” Unfortunately, these might be the only ones on an album that I feel is much too long, sitting uncomfortably at an hour and 14 minutes! If the band had released an EP with five of these songs on it I would have been much more pleased with the product, especially if it included the 3 songs I listed.

Photo: Quentin Singer

While I can’t say many positive comments about Catharsis, I did catch Machine Head on their recent tour cycle for the album, and without a doubt, they are still one of my favorite live metal bands in the scene right now. They played a two and half hour sold out show at Paradise Rock Club, with a set featuring songs from practically all of their discography. Not a single fan left unpleased that night, even when the band played songs off Catharsis, which happened to sound even better live! Needless to say, if you’re Machine Head fan and you feel like their most recent album has diverged your interest in them, fear not and go see them live! If you’re into metal or rock and haven’t checked out Machine Head, definitely do…but maybe not this album (give The Blackening a listen), and if you like what hear, check them out on their current tour. Trust me, they’ll melt your face.

Did you check out Catharsis? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments!