TRULY iconic metal bands come along only once or twice in each generation, and if Metallica and Slayer are the groups who stand tallest from the 1980s, then surely Slipknot and Machine Head are their 1990s equivalents. All four came out of the blocks with planet-levelling intensity, endured periods off the creative boil and finally attained ‘classic’ status – but of the four, only Machine Head can honestly claim to still be making the best music of their lives. And make no mistake, that’s what ‘Unto The Locust’ is: the most accomplished album that Robb Flynn, Phil Demmel, Adam Duce and Dave McClain have ever recorded, alongside their two career-framing records, ‘Burn My Eyes’ and ‘The Blackening’. Like the former, ‘Unto The Locust’ boasts a sonic palette overflowing with box-fresh ideas; like the latter, the album is a storm of complex arrangements and riffs, compiled by musicians who have gained absolute command of their vision. It’s a breathtaking work.
Right from the off it’s obvious that Machine Head are out to take chances, and consequences be damned. The three-song ‘I Am Hell’ suite begins with a minute of choral vocals before breaking into one of the huge, fully leaded groove riffs the band have made their trademark. Predictable, you say? Well, less than three minutes later your jaw will have hit the floor, because Machine Head are now playing murderously fast thrash metal. Your favourite metal band, no matter who they are, would find it a challenge to match this immense song, not least because it devolves into harmonised acoustic guitars and strings.
‘Be Still And Know’ follows up this epic opener with an amazing, Joe Satriani-style guitar loop loaded with delay. It’s a beast: the only track under six minutes long on this vast album, and even then, only just. Shredders extraordinaire Robb and Phil are on fire, layering multiple guitar solos just like they did on ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ last time out.
You’ve heard ‘Locust’ by now, and doesn’t that central riff remind you of ‘The Black Album’-era Metallica? But there are way too many ideas flying about for that reference to stick for long, with the song going in multiple directions. There’s that huge, audience-levelling groove at 3:16 and 6:40, which you’ll play again and again until your ears bleed – and then there’s Robb’s sweet, choirboy tenor. Told you they had a lot of ideas. This applies to ‘This Is The End’, too, a meaty thrash tune for the pit jockeys which features a classical guitar intro.
The core of this fully evolved album is ‘The Darkness Within’, which the Machine Head bandmembers have been reluctant to define in interviews – and with good reason. The first couple of minutes are Robb as Bob Dylan, with lines such as “I’m just a broken man” ripped from him while the song builds with agonising slowness. This is emotion at its rawest, and utterly different from anything we’ve heard from Machine Head to date. After that, the upbeat ‘Pearls Before The Swine’ keeps things going at a ferocious pace. ‘Unto The Locust’ winds up with ‘Who We Are’, an experimental blend of children’s choral vocals, strings and an infectious chord sequence. At 4:13 there’s a maddeningly intense high-speed riff – but it only lasts 10 seconds, the swines…
Cherish ‘Unto The Locust’: you’ll be living with it for a long time. There appears to be no end to Machine Head’s inspiration at this point: God only knows what they’ll come up with next.