Friday 18th May
The Roundhouse, London
Metallers Machine Head have been knocking around for a few years now, originally forming back in 1991. The current line up comprises original frontman Robb Flynn, long time drummer Dave McClain, guitarist Phil Demmel and bassist Jared MacEachern. Hailing from Oakland CA, the frantic foursome epitomise what old school Metallers should look and sound like. All dressed in cut down work shirts over tattoos and ripped jeans, and sporting a hirsute look reminiscent of the barbarian hordes that battered down the establishment that was Rome, our modern day music warlords are just as aggressive as their warrior predecessors. Wielding their Jackson and ESP guitars like the axes they represent, they batter the world, and their adoring audience, in a manner that can be best described as controlled brutality. And even that control can sometimes slip. At two preceding gigs in the UK, the gig had to be stopped due to injury to a moshing maniac. But that is why Machine ‘Fucking’ Head continue to maintain such a cult, and ever growing, following. Machine Head is about brutality. Subtlety is not a much used word with this lot who use the stage as their platform to purge their demons and try to right the wrongs they see in this world. It is their salve, their therapy, their Catharsis.
'Catharsis' is also the 9th and latest album release in a career of a band who wears their collective hearts on their studded sleeves. Never shy to put into words subjects many an artist will shy away from, Machine Head do so with such vitriol and passion, with every expletive emphasised to the max. Not for sensationalism, only for the correct effect. When they scream ‘ "Fuck the world", as the opening line to their new album opener 'Volatile', you can be sure that we all sing it with them with as much anger and angst as they do. Because this is catharsis for all. A packed auditorium of alcohol induced Metal heads scream along to the lyrics whilst battling each other in an effort to release their demons and come out the other side purified of their cares, for just a night at least. To quote Rob Flynn, posting on social media after one recent injury to a member of the MFH faithful:
"Machine Head shows are rough, we know it. Part of the fun of being at our shows is the rowdy, drunken, nature of it all, circle pits, jumping, releasing negative energy in a positive way. Hell, surviving a Machine Head pit is part of the danger and fun of our concert experience. I myself can't tell you how many "war wounds" I walked out the pit with when I was young, and I'm proud of every one of 'em. Busted nose, chipped teeth, broken rib at a Slayer show in 1991... they were all lived-to-tell-about-it-moments... some bizarre rite-of-passage young men put themselves through."
The stage, at the somewhat inappropriately sophisticated venue that is the Roundhouse, is suitably spartan compared to some of the overblown set ups that some of the larger bands hide in front of. There is no hiding from these fellas though. With clever use of lighting and smoke, the required level of atmosphere is achieved with minimal fuss, because Machine ‘Fucking’ Head is a band that really is a machine. Eschewing a support act, this machine of full on power Metal take to the stage for 3 hours of non-stop, in your face, torque. And I do mean torque in its literal sense of ‘a force acting on an object which causes that object to rotate’. Because that’s what MFH do to the crowd. It’s a night for the moshers in the whirling vortex of the mosh pit.
Ordinarily I would wholeheartedly approve of bands like MFH championing the cause of up and coming bands by introducing them as support artists. But the selfish part of me revels in the chance to see the main act play for three hours with a set that not only includes an ample helping of the new tracks from their brilliant new album, but also gives us loads of the classic tracks that brought us here tonight in the first place.
Entering the stage to the sounds of Ozzy’s 'Diary Of A Madman', the opening track 'Imperium' is one such classic followed by said 'Catharsis' opener 'Volatile', complete with its opening battle cry. And it’s a cracker too. All MFH albums have that formula that includes guttural screaming vocals with brutal chugging riffs and emotive lyrics. Chuck in some high octane guitar work, machine gun drumming and epic songs and you have the formula that is the success that is Machine Head. And it’s a formula that doesn’t get stale. Because they are the vital components that go to make up great Metal. But also included within that maelstrom of power is a melodic edge that lifts the tracks from aggressive noise to become memorable tracks that get the blood pumping and the head smashing. This is Metal but it is also music.
The mosh pit is always the place to be as Flynn exhorts the masses to form the biggest circle possible within the confines of the circular venue and lets them fly with warlike abandon as he launches into another power classic like the warrior kings of old unleashing their barbarian hordes on the world. This is war. There is blood spilled and casualties are taken, but there are honours earned and the thrill of victory as you survive to fight another day. Flynn is a modern day Vercingetorix uniting his worldwide tribes into a cohesive unit that is the Metal family. "Machine Fucking Head, Machine Fucking Head" is the battle cry of the fist pumping barbarians.
The stamina of all is put to the test as classic tracks like 'Ten Ton Hammer', 'Davidian' and 'The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears' are intermingled with new tracks like 'Kaleidoscope' and 'Beyond The Pale'. Even so called ‘slower songs’ like 'Descend the Shades of Night' are as full fat as any, hardly allowing the pack to gather breath. The three hours are as intense as you can get but sadly fly by far too quickly. It’s also a night good enough for two encores, ending with the anthemic 'Halo' from 'The Blackening' album. Flynn, a consummate front man, constantly marshals his troops and instils that feeling of family that is so common amongst Metal fans everywhere. It is a night of triumph and good feeling despite the anger and frustration voiced and the blood that has been drawn.
Thankfully there are few casualties tonight as the battered and bruised, walking wounded faithful exit the plush auditorium past the bemused ushers who are more used to witnessing Vivaldi than Vercingetorix. Don’t worry though, it all happens again here tomorrow. Just mop up the spilt blood and restock the bar before we get here please. The machine that is MFH drives ever onwards regardless of what this world tries to do to stop it. And I’m firmly on board. You can keep your sanitised radio friendly music. You can keep your lovey-dovey lyrics. I’m on this caravan of catharsis and no-one is getting in its way. All aboard. It’s a rock and roller coaster of a ride where you perch precariously between sanity and madness. As Flynn sings "Cause that's what happens when you balance life on a triple beam."
Machine Head Setlist
Now We Die
The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears
Clenching the Fists of Dissent
From This Day
Ten Ton Hammer
Is There Anybody Out There?
Beyond the Pale
Killers & Kings
Descend the Shades of Night
Exhale the Vile
Aesthetics of Hate
Mother (photos courtesy of Rob Cook)