Reviewed: October 2022
Released: 2022, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Simon Wiedemann
Machine Head are a heavy metal band from Oakland, California who released their tenth full length album, ‘Of Kingdom and Crown’, through Nuclear Blast on 26th August, 2022. They were formed in 1991 by lead vocalist and one of two guitarists, Robb Flynn, is now the only original band member. The group’s earlier style experimented with groove metal and nu metal, but sixth album ‘The Blackening’ saw them switch to a more thrash and epic style. That release attracted critical acclaim and was even chosen as album of the decade by Metal Hammer in 2010. 2018’s ‘Catharsis’ saw the group explore nu metal for another period, but their latest effort has gone back to classic thrash once again. It’s also their first concept album.
The intro song’s first three minutes feature spacey and lonely clean guitars with plenty of echo and when the eerie yet soft vocals join them, you get a rich and full sound making you wonder where it will go. Will it get creepier? Will it lighten up? No flipping clue, but either would be more than welcome so you literally can’t lose! Soon enough the vocals have a more triumphant tone, but the guitars stay the same, creating an interesting combination. How can you be lonely and triumphant? Well, turns out you can. The song’s start is kind of reminiscent of Slipknot’s more peaceful yet creepy moments, such as their ‘Vermillion Pt. 2.’ When the first metal riff kicks in, the listener is reminded of the intro metal riff of The Blackening’s ‘Clenching the Fists of Dissent’. It’s not an exact ripoff, but it’s similar enough for it to perhaps give a negative impression. It’s interesting how the two albums start similarly. Maybe the band were paying tribute to themselves, maybe they were being lazy. Who knows for sure? What I do know is the band clearly love the riff as it gets played over and over again, and it has further variations.
Unfortunately, the metal section’s vocals aren’t as interesting as the ones you get at the start. The shouts are nothing new, and the metal-clean singing that follows has melodies that are a little dull. Again, similarly to prior albums, you get flashy solos from the lead guitarist, the difference being the band has a relatively new second axeman. However, for better or for worse, he sounds more or less the same as the previous ones. For such an epic ten and a half minute song, the ending is surprisingly anticlimactic. There’s being surprised and then there’s being disappointed, and I was the latter. The second track ‘Choke On The Ashes Of Your Hate’ is less than half of the intro track’s length, but it is perhaps more effective in that is crammed full of ideas that are quicker to develop. The riffs there don’t push the boundaries too much either, but hey… they are sometimes rampant, sometimes crushing and always satisfying.
‘Become The Firestorm’ takes things a little further and has black metal drumming mixed with the expected tremolo picking and other times more typical (of the band) thrash/groove metal guitars. Ok, you’ve proved how fast you are, now please play something less irritating. No, only joking. Again, the vocals never really impress too much, but interestingly the song develops into a softer prog section that even brings to mind Dream Theater’s ‘Metropolis Part 1’ at times. Then it goes fully mental with more wild tempos and crazed shredding. Don’t worry though, there are some notes that get held longer than a second, so don’t expect wigouts that are too OTT. ‘My Hands Are Empty’ continues with the spooky vocals and softer instrumentation before switching back to the metal in a little over a minute. Dammit, I was getting into that! Not to worry though, the same vocals get developed just with a harder backing.
‘Unhallowed’ perhaps has a more interesting and more ‘typical metal’ vocal melody when compared to much of the prior material, joined with a more laid back tempo. I’m reminded of bands such as Stone Sour, until it speeds up and goes mental of course. Things go insane in a different way with ‘Kill Thy Enemies’, which has a huge riff in a similar style to Fear Factory’s ‘Body Hammer,’ before developing into the more melodic style Machine Head are often known for. ‘No Gods No Masters’ has a kind of System Of A Down feel at times with its catchy lighter sections that are contrasted with that typical heaviness, but the song is still their own. There are even some huge Iron Maiden style chants, the Rock In Rio concert springs to mind. In a way. The chromatic riffs in ‘Rotten’ are brutal and OTT (in a good way) making a nice change from those many riffs that have a mixture of speedy picking, pull offs, and harmonics. Those kind of ideas do sound cool, but it seems the band are milking their ideas a little too much. Final track ‘Arrows In Words From The Side’ has perhaps some of the strongest vocals on the album with its more melodic alternative metal feel.
In conclusion, is this one of Machine Head’s best albums? Nope, but it’s not miles off. The band have kept the natural style of their classic albums and all musicians perform beautifully. The riffs as expected as they are, have a mix of low and high pitches and everything in between, the drums aren’t fake and – let’s face it – dumb sounding, and the whilst the bass doesn’t have particularly complex parts, it’s great at supporting the guitars and making them even heavier/more stylish. Which is exactly what it should do in this genre. Perhaps the most interesting and daring moments were when the clean guitars were mixed with similar vocals. There’s no shame in it, sometimes when people get older they like writing cleaner parts. Rather than trying to be really brutal all the time, I’d say go for it. Fortunately you get a fair amount of them, but enough? Not sure. Really this album is just more of the same, BUT, more of the same is totally fine! Recommended!