Artist: Machine Head
Label: Roadrunner Records
Release Date: 10/2/01
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Every release since their impressive debut, Burn My Eyes, has resulted in disappointment, so my expectations for this album were pretty low. Despite these low expectations, I’m still not very excited about this record. Besides the fact that it’s got one of the lamest titles I’ve ever heard (I think Blue Oyster Cult’s, Club Ninja, is a better title. Didn’t they vote on this or something?), musically it’s just telltale Machine Head, a talented band that continues to stray further and further from their strengths.
"A talented band that continues to stray further and further from their strengths."
If you were disappointed in the nu-metal, rap injected The Burning Red, you better turn tail and run. While I don’t claim to like that album, I find it much better than this current effort. At least the last album had an infectious hook that was as identifiable as it was distasteful. This album, while trying for the same effect, falls horrifically short. It actually starts off relatively well, but before long Mr. Flynn begins rapping in earnest and trying for a soulful whisper/constipated growl that tries to emulate Jonathan Davis from Korn. Let’s just say he doesn’t pull it off well. But where this album really falls short is that it’s not nearly accessible enough to expand their fan base significantly, but it’s nu-metal enough to disenfranchise many in the underground.
"It’s not nearly accessible enough to expand their fan base significantly, but it’s nu-metal enough to disenfranchise many in the underground."
The album starts off with some pretty good (but not great) songs like “White Knuckle Blackout” and “Crashing Around You”, but by the time you get to track seven (“All In Your Head”) you’re well aware you’re listening to a mixture of Korn and Pantera. Lyrically there are some poignant moments, but they're mixed in with drivel (“American High”), and for some reason, on a few songs, Mr. Flynn has decided he likes the lyrics, “Chick-a Chick-a”, which keeps reminding me of the song that closes out the movie Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (I keep waiting for a deep bass voice to say, “OOOOH YEAHHHHH”)
To their credit every song has something cool about it, but precious few seem complete and well thought out. As I said before, these guys are talented, but they are systematically leaving their strengths behind. One word review: eh.
Machine Head are a band in a somewhat unique situation. The band played a significant evolutionary role in the development of what is now know as nu-metal, and their contribution to the sound and the import of their stylistic innovation on the subsequent careers of bands like Korn and Slipknot is totally underrated. If you're looking for someone to blame for the development of nu-metal, Machine Head may just be that "missing link" between Pantera and Korn. Downtuned groove with screaming vocals and some commercial melody, along with lots clean picking flange guitar alternated with heavy riffing dynamics, and peppered with guitar noise, scrapes and scratches: all of this appeared or was at least hinted at on Burn My Eyes, but has come much more to the forefront of the band's sound with each successive release.
"I'm embarrassed to tell you I like them. But c'mon, there is some good shit on Supercharger."
After Burn My Eyes, Machine Head has progressively evolved into something more commercial and more mainstream. But rather than taking their rightful place as the godfathers of nu-metal, Machine Head has instead been caught in a middle ground, too much of a sellout for the fans of the first record (as well as for fans of Rob Flynn's pre-Machine Head San Francisco thrash outfit, Vio-lence), yet never quite catching on in a big-time commercial way. Countless nu-metal acts are selling records, and yet here we are in 2001, and Machine Head's new record, Supercharger has been released to relatively little fanfare. It really is too bad, 'cause as nu- metal records go (a camp that Machine Head now squarely belongs in and has for some time), this is some good shit.
I like Supercharger, but I'm not sure what that tells you, 'cause I liked The Burning Red, an affinity for which Abyss was giving me some friendly hell between acts at the recent Six Feet Under show. At this point, Machine Head is--for me--definitely a guilty pleasure. I'm embarrassed to tell you I like them. But c'mon, there is some good shit on Supercharger. The first real track, "Bulldozer," fucking kills in many ways, with a classic, downtuned groove riff that kicks things off and a Burn My Eyes -style breakdown, crushing slow riff to finish things up. "White Knuckle Blackout" also shreds in many ways, with the main riff being one of the coolest I've heard this year. The production is excellent (the album was mixed by Colin Richardson). The musicianship is excellent, and the songwriting does exhibit creativity. Still, each track is completely awash in nu-metalness, and for those who aren't "down," as they say, these elements will kill the record for you, no matter how much you agree with me about some of the riffs.
"As nu- metal records go, this is some good shit."
Lyrically, while some of the concepts may come across as cliched, they still seem heartfelt, and they do fit the music well, mostly covering topics like thinking for yourself and having confidence and standing tall. "Somebody told me I should do what they told me, but there's a hole in that plan and I'm tearing it down." You get the picture. I really like the song "American High," actually, which I know others might mock. Killer fun topic and lyrics though, even if they are presented in rap style (think "Ballroom Blitz"):
"I was that kid sittin' over in the corner smiling with a shit-eating grin. And I was that kid smilin' in the back of the class 'cause I'm fryin' on mescaline."
"A heartfelt effort by accomplished musicians."
"Me and my friends reading the Satanic bible thinking we should start a band. Cutting class to jam, cutting class to jam. In my dad's garage we learned to act a fool."
"Asteroids beat out homework. Slayer beat out Zeppelin. Not the sharpest noggin', that's why I'm in this band."
In the final analysis, Supercharger is a heartfelt effort by accomplished musicians. Still, the particular pimp-rock sound that Flynn and Co. continue to cultivate is so played and watered- down at this point, and "yo-yo-yo" style is so offensive to the metalheads that were once Machine Head's core fans, that you cannot credit the album as a killer release by metal standards. I'm afraid that this one is going to end up slipping between the cracks. Will Machine Head ever go back to a Burn My Eyes type of sound? My fear is they never will. And an even bigger fear? That perhaps they thought they had gone back to the roots with this release. They didn't.
Does Rob Flynn even remember being in Vio-lence? Wild rumors abounded prior to Thrash of the Titans, including one that Flynn would appear with his former band. At the time, I laughed at that particular rumor and said it would never happen. It didn't. The new Machine Head album holds no resemblance whatsoever to Vio-lence, which (for the clueless), is arguably one of the greatest thrash metal bands of all time. Supercharger, on the other hand, is a tour de force of nu-metal crappiness.
Much like Metallica before them, Machine Head's songwriting complexity has decreased exponentially with the increase in their popularity. Additionally, it would seem that Rob Flynn has assumed the role of the John Hughes of nu-metal. For those who don't get the analogy - Hughes was one responsible for silly 80s movies such as, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and the like - we're talking teen angst-central. Machine Head is clearly gunning for the tween/teen set, with lyrics full of rhyming "no one gets me" sentiment and other themes relating (somehow) to the emotions of adolescence (generally anger).
"Supercharger is a tour de force of nu-metal crappiness."
Relinquish the notion that Machine Head is going to return to the days of Burn My Eyes - that ship has so sailed. Many a nu-metal vocalist has taken their cue from Flynn, and this record will no doubt prove ample fodder for future aspiring Ugh, I can't even finish the thought. For those of us in the "anti-nu-metal" camp - and our number are continually diminishing for some unfathomable reason - this release encompasses all that is annoying in nu-metal.
I can't take anymore! Sure, for what it is it may have merit, but not any I appreciate. I lash out at this release partially because I firmly believe it both sucks and blows, but also for what it represents. Machine Head have not sold out, they helped to pioneer this form of music and have taken it to its logical conclusion, as have too many others. However, at the same time they have utterly surrendered their dignity in the eyes of those of us who do not approve of the questionable path the band has taken. Therefore, Machine Head: consider yourselves burned in effigy.
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