“Aww, fuck the world!” Those are the first words to opening track “Volatile,” setting the tone on an album that is more certain to polarize Machine Head’s fan base than any slam poetry or Twitter rant could.Catharsis is the band’s ninth studio album, a fifteen song, seventy-five minute roller coaster of societal and political rage.
Machine Head have been leaders of the modern American metal wave, with masterpieces such as The Blackening and debut Burn My Eyes often referred to as benchmark releases. On Catharsis the band tries to write songs covering every style they’ve made use of over their long career, but juvenile lyrics coupled with a palpable lack of chemistry leaves most of these stylistic choices with much to be desired.
The album centers around nu-metal breakdowns and Robb Flynn’s slightly out of control raging vocals, as evidenced in opening cut “Volatile,” a song that has moments of well-honed fury interspersed with riot-inducing lyrics such as “Break it, smash it, burn it to the ground!” Stylistically Catharsis may have the most in common with The Burning Red, due to the aforementioned nu-metal dominance as well as the wince-inducing rap-metal of “Triple Beam.”
There are a number of good songs here, that on a leaner album or accompanied by a few more quality numbers would make for a really solid outing. The title track is excellent, as are parts of “California Bleeding” and “Kaleidoscope,” which is a decent thrash number. “Behind a Mask” and “Razorblade Smile” (a tribute to Lemmy with a killer riff in the middle, but again with ham-fisted lyrics) are the best tracks on the back half of the record, and “Beyond the Pale” works well despite (or because of) the obvious borrowing of Strapping Young Lad’s “Love.”
But that’s as far as the quality really goes here, which leaves another nine songs that just don’t work. “Bastards” starts as a ballad with Flynn passing along advice to his sons, but then turns into a Dropkick Murphys song, and again with lyrics that seem to be written specifically to elicit flame wars on message boards. “Heavy Lies the Crown” would be fitting for a villainous animated movie song, complete with strings and sinister whispering, but there was no need to include it here. And I already mentioned the awful “Triple Beam” above. It might’ve worked in 1994 but it sure doesn’t now.
The remainder of the songs don’t stick out in any good way. Like the rest of the album, they are thinly produced, with the over-processed drums clicking away and the only real bottom end showing up during breakdowns. The only thing that is clear throughout the album’s chaos is how pissed of Flynn is about pretty much everything – not just in his lyrics, but also his vitriolic delivery of them, how he spits and eviscerates nearly every rant throughout. His performance is the best part of Catharsis, but his lyrics don’t do it justice.
There are a handful of good songs on here, but with the majority of songs inducing cringes their effectiveness is neutered. Recording this album may have been a cathartic experience for Flynn, but for the listener;”>Catharsis amounts to a disjointed mishmash of styles and ideas, none of which are executed to the level Machine Head are capable of.
(released January 26, 2018 on Nuclear Blast)
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Watch Machine Head – “Kaleidoscope” Video