MACHINE HEAD: ‘Unto The Locust’ Third Studio Webisode Released

The third in a series of webisodes featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the making of “Unto The Locust”, the new album from San Francisco Bay Area metallers MACHINE HEAD, can be seen below. Due on September 27 via longtime label Roadrunner Records, the CD was recorded at JingleTown Studios in Oakland, with frontman Robb Flynn producing. The mixing duties were handled by Flynn and Juan Urteaga (EXODUS, SADUS, TESTAMENT, NIGHT RANGER, VICIOUS RUMORS, HEATHEN, VILE, CATTLE DECAPITATION). (Note: Due the recent passing of his ex-wife and manager, Colin Richardson [BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, SLIPKNOT, FEAR FACTORY, TRIVIUM] was unable to complete the mix.)
And so it begins… 18 tracks of a capella vocals sung by guitarist and lead vocalist Robb Flynnto a haunting, somber melody sung completely in Latin. The words he’s singing? “Sangre Sani” (Blood Saint), “Bellator Inferni” (Warrior of Fire), “Caede” (Murder), “Edemarde” (Suicide) and ending with the whispered “death,” accentuating part one of a three-movement Sonata in C# entitled “I Am Hell.”

The narrative within the language is goosebump-worthy subject matter: the tale of a female arsonist is played out in three movements after fellow shredder-in-arms, lead guitarist Phil Demmel suggested writing a song about an arsonist to Flynn. As Flynn would discover in his research, “female arsonists are considered the monsters of the psychological field, because where man commits horrible acts out of anger or for control or domination, when a woman does so, the only explanation for this incomprehensible behavior… is love.”

As the eight-minute-plus opener fades out to the sounds of dual-classical guitar and cello one thing is very clear: MACHINE HEAD have every intention of carving their own path, marching forward with little concern for what other bands within their genre might be doing. With their seventh album “Unto The Locust”, MACHINE HEAD have fans and critics from around the globe swarming around them to witness the game-changing aural destruction that they are set to unleash.

“It’s a natural progression from 2007’s ‘The Blackening’, but make no mistake, we did not want to write ‘The Blackening II’,” explained lead singer and guitarist Robb Flynn. At face value, that’s not a bold statement, but given the high praise heaped upon the aforementioned album, with many critics proclaiming it the “Metal Album Of The Year,” and some going so far as to crown it “Album Of The Decade,” or to single out the” Riff Of The Decade,” why change what’s already a proven commodity?

“We wanted to challenge ourselves. All we heard was ‘How are you going to top ‘The Blackening’?” explains Flynn of “Unto The Locust”‘s Grammy-nominated predecessor. “I just started writing on classical guitar, and when I had something I called Dave [McClain, drummer] in and we just jammed it. ‘This Is The End’ is one of the most technically brutal and fast songs we’ve ever done. It was a massive challenge that we weren’t good enough to even play yet. That just set the whole thing at a really high bar and we went from there.” Yet for all of the changes on ‘Unto The Locust’, the more things have also managed to stay the same. Flynn jokes, “We still can’t seem to write a damn song under six minutes.”

Regardless of their length however, the songs that comprise “Unto The Locust” are tight and expertly-crafted, honed with the deft touch of a rapier, yet replete with the thundering pummel of a ten ton hammer. MACHINE HEAD‘s patented harmonics are on display, but now they are offset by nimbly-plucked classical guitar and a string quartet, providing an extraordinary sonic interplay that produces a sort of simultaneous intellectual and guttural reaction. In other words, when you hear a blistering thrash track like “This Is The End’, it is undeniably MACHINE HEAD, but even further refined and improved upon. “We wanted to keep the core MACHINE HEAD sound — thrashing, down-tuned guitars, psychedelic tones, and sad melodies,” Flynn offers. “But we wanted to make it bigger, more epic. Our rule was, if we got goosebumps from it, we kept it.”

The band sought to capture said goosebumps at GREEN DAY‘s Oakland, California’s JingleTown Recording compound, with Flynn handling production duties for the third consecutive time, and mixing done at JingleTown by engineer Juan Urteaga and Flynn (who flew back to Oakland from the road on every day off during the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival), along with Colin Richardson and his U.K.-based team of Carl Bown and Martyn Ford. “Unto The Locust” would be recorded and mixed over the course of four months and would even see the band bring in a string quartet by the name of Quartet Rouge, who would end up on no less than three of the album’s seven songs.

“Only seven songs?!” screamed AR Svengali Monte Conner. Flynn laughs as he fondly recalls his longtime AR man’s reaction to the good news. As it turns out, this seven-song album is 50 minutes long, and while it boasts no ten-minute tracks a la “The Blackening”, “a few seven- and eight-minuters are on hand” laughs drummer Dave McClain. “Most importantly it feels like an album.” The tracks within veer from the introspective to the downright belligerent. “Be Still and Know”, while taking its name from Psalm 46 of the New Testament, is an unholy rollercoaster ride of a song, at times bludgeoning, at times beautiful, but ultimately hopeful. “It’s about struggle, and overcoming struggle, and knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is only there if that light shines inside of you”, explains guitarist Phil Demmel. “Darkness Within” is as much of a ballad as MACHINE HEAD have ever composed and shows the band spreading its wings both sonically and lyrically. A song about the redemptive power of music, it’s an open wound, at once dripping with emotion and keeping you at arm’s length. Closing with the anthemic “Who We Are”, it features some of Flynn‘s most unapologetic lyrics to date and begins with a choir of children that features his own two sons, Phil’s son, and engineer Juan Urteaga‘s two daughters singing the intro over a lonely acoustic guitar, marching snares and strings.

Unlike the titular insect which is prone to flying directionless, unable to control its flight, MACHINE HEAD has been on a steady and well-earned ascent for the better part of a decade. From their recent Grammy nomination to being hand-picked to open for METALLICA in both the U.S. and Europe for a six month stretch, MACHINE HEAD‘s record sales and tour numbers continue to grow even in the face of a crumbling music business. It’s hard to nail down exactly why this is. As is so often the case, it is a culmination of a number of intangibles, the most prevalent of which is their unswerving integrity to stay true to themselves. MACHINE HEAD doesn’t compromise. They write the music they love and love to play and deliver it live on an unparalleled level. Flynn chalks it up to the band’s willingness to take risks. “People have respected all of the musical risks we have taken, maybe a little confusing at first, but each allowed us to expand our horizons. It’s not something every band does. People respect when you make courageous moves like that.”

“Unto The Locust” standard CD track listing:

01. I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)
I) Sangre Sani
II) I Am Hell
III) Ashes To The Sky
02. Be Still And Know
03. Locust
04. This Is The End
05. Darkness Within
06. Pearls Before The Swine
07. Who We Are

“Unto The Locust” special-edition CD track listing:

01. I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)
I) Sangre Sani
II) I Am Hell
III) Ashes To The Sky
02. Be Still And Know
03. Locust
04. This Is The End
05. Darkness Within
06. Pearls Before The Swine
07. Who We Are
08. The Sentinel (JUDAS PRIEST cover) *
09. Witch Hunt (RUSH cover) *
10. Darkness Within (Acoustic) *

* Bonus tracks

DVD:

* “The Making Of Unto The Locust” Documentary

MACHINE HEAD guitarist Phil Demmel‘s track-by-track breakdown of “Unto The Locust” (courtesy of Sonic Excess):

01. I Am Hell (Sonata In C#) consisting of three parts I) Sangre Sani II) I Am Hell and III) Ashes To The Sky

Demmel: “I Am Hell”, the opener, is actually a sonata. It’s a song in three parts, and it’s the pyromaniac song that I was talking about. You know, it’s the most brutal song MACHINE HEAD has ever written. It’s got to at least be eight minutes long. So, it starts off with, you know, I’m not going to break down the music too much. I mean it’s still pretty early before the record comes out but it’s a three-part tune.

02. Be Still And Know

Demmel: “Be Still And Know”, which is, uh, kind of a few riffs that I threw together that kind of got shelved for a minute, got put away, and got brought back from the dead when I came in one day and those guys were kind of jamming on it. It kind of got some chest compressions, and it got brought back to life. Epic jam. It’s about struggle, and overcoming struggle, and knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is only there if that light shines inside of you. The title was… Like, my grandmother handed down all of her grandchildren bible verses in all their Easter cards and Christmas cards. She used to sign one to each, and mine was Psalm 46, which is, “Be still, and know that I’m the Lord”. Basically, be steadfast. Know that you will get through, and this shall pass. It kind of fit into the tune and kind of fit into the chorus. I mean, I got it tattooed on my arm around eight years ago. So, it’s been kind of my mantra through my life. So, I’m really stoked that Robb chose to title the song that.

03. Locust

Demmel: “Locust”, is a concept I came up with, based on a few people I have encountered in my life, just like everybody has. The type of person that just comes into your life under a different guise, under false pretenses, to befriend you, be your buddy, be your man, be on your team, or, you know, to be your lover or whatever. Their goal is just to soak up all your resources and just to drain you of all you’ve got, whatever you have to offer. Once they’re discovered, they fly off into the next crop and drain that of everything. Yeah, it just feels like hell.

04. This Is The End

Demmel: “This Is The End”, a burner, one of the faster MACHINE HEAD songs ever. (laughs) Robb and David [McClain, drums] got together, and we took a break from everything after touring for three years. We took about a six-month break, got back together, and wrote this song. It’s really fast. Kind of a death metal song, but it’s got the classical sound like a death metal tune. The whole record has kind of neo-classical feel to it. The song, Robb‘s going to have to describe the lyrics. It’s basically about people kind of living and not being able to accept present times and moving on to things.

05. Darkness Within

Demmel: “Darkness Within”, this song is probably the biggest departure of our record, in terms of when we did “Descend The Shades Of Night” on “Through The Ashes”. It’s kind of a ballad, with acoustic guitars. This one I’m going to leave up to something of a surprise. All of my friends that aren’t kind of into metal say, “Damn, is that you guys?” It’s a beautiful, beautiful song. Still heavy, but us growing as musicians. It has my favorite, the best solo I’ve ever done for this band, so far, dripping with emotion. I’ll leave it at that.

06. Pearls Before The Swine

Demmel: “Pearls Before The Swine”, which was a song about addiction. It was a song without lyrics really for a while, without a concept. We kind of came up with an idea to write about addicts and addiction, when talking to each other and watching “Breaking Bad” episodes to kind of catch up and start again to see it. (laughs) It’s not a song about hope. It’s just a song about being in the throes of addiction, in its claws, and a lot of my lyrics are in there. So, there’s a lot of descriptive thoughts of addiction. It’s not a song of hope for sure. It’s not “Stairway To Heaven”. It’s not a song of hope for sure.

07. Who We Are

Demmel: And the last song is a song called “Who We Are”, which another song that Robb wrote. He and Dave kind of had it before I started writing for the record. I took some time off last year to deal with some personal stuff. This one and the other one I talked about earlier are the two that Robb had already written and brought. You know, he had all this music pouring out of him, and he had to get it out…so. Yeah, I don’t know really how to describe those two, so I’m going to refrain from doing that.

Episode 3:

 

Episode 2:

 

Episode 1:

 

 

 

 

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