Released: 2014, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Oakland's Machine Head are a perfect example of the “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” philosophy proving itself out – despite the protestations of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” from the title track of their second album. Alas, change - at least musically - has not been especially kind to the band, and sometimes things certainly did not stay the same as a result.
The nu-metal forays of The Burning Red and Supercharger left Machine Head's motives and reputation in question and their career at the brink. When they went back to the anthemic, even overblown, thrash/metal thunder of old for 2003's Through the Ashes of Empire, the “last gasp” not only saved their asses it is now regarded as a genuine classic. As is the even more sprawling, audacious grandiosity of 2007's The Blackening that opened with the 10:37 “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” and rumbled through one epic after another.
But when Machine Head broke stride in 2011 with Unto The Locust, the results again were mixed. The band added orchestration and choirs to make things extra epic, and more of an acoustic presence for drama, but skimped some on the material – with just seven songs, albeit each averaging seven minutes - leaving Locust seeming a bit muddled and incomplete. Granted it was a small step back, certainly nothing as dramatic or divisive as the “Supercharger era.”
With Bloodstones & Diamonds, it's as if Machine Head are atoning for Locust falling a bit short. The album is huge by every sense of the measure. At 12 songs and 71 minutes of music, it is by far the band's longest and most expansive, topping Locust – their shortest release – by 22 minutes. And it takes the elements Locust dabbled in – the orchestration and whatnot – and better fleshes them out, all while delivering what the band have always done best: pure bombast.
Bloodstones opens to the strains of strings introducing "Now We Die" that then deftly weave their way in and out over the lumbering crunch of the song's otherwise quite muscular seven minutes. The band then smack you right in the face with the speed metal/hardcore bluster of "Killers & Kings" with its crashing riffs, bracing tempo and gang-shouted choruses before moving on to the more deliberate and occasionally delicate back and forth of "Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones" with its breathy verses and dancing licks giving way to pounding hooks and a seething midsection.
The Manson family opus "Night of Long Knives" counters its thrashy verses with eerily sing-along choruses - especially given the subject matter - and some nifty harmonized guitar soloing. "Sail Into The Black," the album's longest track at 8:30, by contrast, inches along over its first half with frontman Robb Flynn's moaning vocals backed by a Spartan acoustic guitar/piano accompaniment before booming riffs start raining down for its titanic second half.
And after all that, you're only five songs into Bloodstones & Diamonds. The remaining seven tracks deliver much, much more of the same as the band squeeze every last iota they can out of themselves and the material. And just when things start to get a bit ponderous or excessive, Machine Head will offer a true gem like the elegant brutality and breadth of "In Comes The Flood," the teeth-clenched tumult and all-around heaviness of "Game Over," the quaking drone of "Beneath The Silt" or the doomsday prophesizing of the riveting sound-bite pocked instrumental "Imaginal Cells."
Bloodstones & Diamonds may not be Machine Head's best album, but it is certainly their most ambitious. And where perhaps Unto The Locust was a bit tentative, the band go all in here with abandon and make it all work, for the most part, through sheer force of will. It's a brazen, brash and rather massive album that ultimately triumphs almost in spite of itself.