Machine Head – Unto the Locust

Machine Head – Unto the Locust - 3.5/5
{With an album like this I'd be lucky for a link to last a day}

And so it's time for me to get under way with the second release of late, and another that I'm hesitant to call a guilty pleasure (though I'm aware many would call this band nothing more than that); a band that I've had an odd affiliation for over the years. They've had their highlights, experimental flings with hip-hop (that ended in disaster) and it was only with their last offering that they finally seemed to reach their peak with the progressively inspired 'The Blackening.' Yes, it's still Groove Metal in the vein of Pantera and Sepultura, but their political motivations and progressive leanings added a new element: conviction. As they spat their vocal lines, and the guitars roared it all screamed of an absolute conviction in what they were performing; a raw and visceral energy that elevated them beyond their contemporaries and resulted in one of the best albums the genre had ever seen. And with four long years to contemplate where to strike next they've finally emerged with some of the most bone crushingly heavy music they've yet written.

Opening with the more than impressive 'I am Hell,' it all shows they haven't been twiddling their thumbs all this time; the complexity of their music shows no signs of slowing down, and with riffs galore they perform with an explosive energy that's as much a testament to the band themselves as it is the incredible production work that somehow managing to keep it all coherent and together. Every instrument feels like it's facing off with one another; the drums lay down a firing squad of beats that rarely are limited to merely snare or cymbal abuse, matched only by the guitar work that perhaps only begins to slow down in the final third of the album, feeling all too comfortable slotting in simpler melodies already proven to be beneath his abilities.

I was apprehensive after hearing the track released in promotion, the title track “Locust,” seeming longer than necessary and a little too heavy on the bass, leaving it all feeling a little too much of an exercise in chugging along. The truth is that this is a poor representation of what they really have to offer; whilst it works in context with the rest of the release, it feels all too 'hardcore punk' in its “breakdown -like” chorus and lack of energy. Whilst the same is true for much of the album, so much of the release has begun to stray so far into thrash metal territory that if you removed the bass and gave the lead guitars more presence, a good portion of the album wouldn't be out of place on a bill besides the likes of “Death Angel” or “Onslaught.”

Technically they've upped their game; it's heavier, faster and just as aggressive as ever, and every track begins with a slow chorus, which whilst somewhat predictable can easily be forgiven for how successfully they manage to build up to the chaos that ensues. And showing no reluctance to try new styles, the album's highlight arrives from the most unlikely of sources in “Darkness Within,” a largely acoustic song sung cleanly, taking it's time to build up the energy and emotion; it's unlike anything I would have expected them to come out with and ironically it's this track that demonstrates perfectly my main problem with this release, because it proves that simply increasing the level of aggression doesn't improve a release. They've become so caught up in trying to best themselves that what they've forgotten is that sense of conviction that made their last leave such an impression, and with a theme that I can only identify as a God-born plague, it just feels a little detached from reality and ultimately purposeless. Following up 'The Blackening' was never to be an easy task,' and this admittedly doesn't do a bad job of it, but in trying to outdo their last efforts they've forgotten what made it so good to begin with. Metalcore fans may have found their album of the year, but those craving more creativity and emotion in their metal may want to look elsewhere.

Highlights: I Am Hell, Darkness Within