Reviewed: February 2018
Released: 2018, Nuclear Blast Records
Rating: 1.5 / 5
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Machine Head mainman Robb Flynn spent much of the run-up to the release of the band’s ninth studio album lowering expectations for it. It’s not super-heavy, he warned, nor is it super-thrashy. It’s melodic and groovy, he said, in loosely comparing it to the band’s most divisive album, 1999’s nu-metal romp The Burning Red. He described it as unique, diverse and weird, and noted that some fans would be freaked out by it.
So the prevailing message, basically, was if you were craving something along the lines of Burn My Eyes or The Blackening, or at least reminiscent of 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds, don’t get your hopes up. Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned. Catharsis is pretty much as Flynn describes it – and less. It’s also long, ponderous, disjointed, overwrought and really just not that good.
At 15 songs and 75 minutes, it’s definitely got the “bloated” part of the “dead and bloated” line from the chorus of album opener “Volatile,” which gets the groove going early. Yet even in trimming the fat down to, say, Unto The Locust’s comparatively lean 49 minutes, you’d still be left with a pretty tough, drab slab of meat to chew on.
The title track is a lumbering bore, thought it does boast an inviting, angelic chorus, and “Beyond The Pale” is an apparently accidental knock off of Strapping Young Lad’s far superior “Love.” “California Bleeding” is a tedious rant, the sort of thing we’ve heard from Flynn time and again. Not exactly a promising start, and things just never really get going from there.
“Triple Beam” finds Flynn’ rapping about his days dealing dope way back when. Ugh! “Grind You Down” introduces djent/deathcore hues and is as equally fucking awful.
“Kaleidoscope” at least delivers some hardcore spunk, but it’s followed the Dropkick Murphys-like bluegrass/Celtic punk ditty “Bastards” that, despite its admirable aim and poignant post-election lyrics, is just too out of character to really connect. Same goes for “Behind The Mask,” an honest-to-goodness acoustic ballad. Both might have been better served as B-sides, as would the grim “Eulogy” that closes the album in an alt-rock haze recalling Alice In Chains over its first half and Nine Inch Nails at its back.
Catharsis does have its moments around its midway point. “Hope Begets Hope” offers a decently chuggy groove, as does the menacing “Screaming At The Sun.” Both echo classic Machine Head without sounding like mere retreads. Better yet is the monumental epic “Heavy Lies The Crown” that builds and builds over nearly nine minutes and delivers the album’s most viscerally satisfying hooks. If only there were more.
Instead, Catharsis seems a mish-mash of half-baked ideas, experimental wild hairs and throwaways that got thrown together with no real goal in mind other than pushing the envelope. I suspect many Machine Head fans will come away from this thinking the envelope was just fine where it was.