MACHINE HEAD’s Catharsis too much filler, not enough killer

Machine Head have long since earned their right to be included among the greats of Thrash Metal despite having a few tragic missteps over their 25 years plus career. It brings me no pleasure in writing that this is among one of those missteps but is by no means one of the worst albums of all time, like some have proclaimed but it is definitely a mess that needed cutting down significantly.

The album starts out fairly well with ‘Volatile’, a Slipknot-esque rager that delivers what you would expect from Ashes era Machine Head, complete with Robb Flynn’s iconic balance of rough and clean vocals accentuated by the enviable duelling guitar skills of Robb and Phil Demmel. This tradition is continued with the titular track, ‘Catharsis’, which would fit in well on The Blackening.

Machine Head - Catharsis
Catharsis Album Cover

‘Beyond the Pale’ is a somewhat average song that sounds suspiciously similar to ‘Love’ by Strapping Young Lad. But if you can get past that fact then the song is perfectly serviceable and would make a good addition to their live show, unfortunately, it is at this point the album takes a dramatic nosedive that takes almost half of the record to pull itself out of.

‘Triple Beam’ is a prime example of why Machine Head should have abandoned Nu-Metal, the riff is simplistic and far from interesting and Robb’s vocals sound awful at times. The rap verses are so dated and poorly done but all of that could have been forgiven if it wasn’t for the spoken word passage about gang violence which is cringe-inducing at times.

The song has noble intentions but it’s so awkward and cliche that it actually manages to become ironically entertaining but probably still should have been cut from the album.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is barely worth addressing, Robb’s vocals are terrible, the lyrics read like a Machine Head parody and it feels like a rehash of ‘Darkness Within’ from Unto the Locust, which is superior in almost every way, this is another song that should probably have been used as a bonus track but even that is pushing it.

‘Bastards’ has been polarising since it was first released as a single and while the band can be commended for trying something different. I can only hope that the band write this song off as a failed experiment, it feels more like a Dropkick Murphys B Side than a Machine Head track and the less said about the lyrics of this song the better.

By this point the album starts to improve, ‘Hope Begets Hope’ isn’t a memorable song but at least it’s better than the previous few tracks. The same can be said of ‘Screaming at the Sun’ but by this point in Machine Head’s career people have come to expect more from them than just “it could have been worse”.

Thankfully, ‘Behind a Mask’ works despite being almost entirely acoustic, it gives us Robb’s best vocal performance on the album and showcases the phenomenal lyrical prowess that we have become accustomed to from Flynn. 

Clocking in at almost 9 minutes, ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’ is easily the best song on the album. It builds tension well with a soft intro complete with strings and an ominous vocal performance from Robb and leads into a devastating riff that would sound at home on The Blackening. It is at times is somewhat unpredictable which is uncommon in this album.

Sadly, the rest of the album offers very little with the exception of ‘Razor Blade Smile’ a tribute to Lemmy that features some of the worst lyrics that Machine Head have ever written but features some fantastic guitar work and drumming before the albums fades out on a dull remix of ‘Bastards’ which was really unnecessary.

Overall, the album has massive problems but there are still moments where classic Machine Head shines through. There are just too many filler tracks on an album that is already far too long, with some trimming this could be a fairly solid album.

Definitely reserved for die-hard Headcases only.

Dale Unsworth
Self-proclaimed journalist, Progressive rock enthusiast and the most American sounding person you're ever likely to meet in the North of England

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