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After being booted from Megadeth, guitarist extraordinaire Chris Poland hopped around between a number of projects, metal and otherwise. None of these proved particularly fruitful, but his most memorable non-Megadeth stint was certainly Damn the Machine. A progressive metal band lost in the sea of the early 90’s progressive metal boom, their self-titled one-off has been unjustly forgotten for a release of its quality.
For a guy who is best known on separate occasions for playing thrash metal and jazz, Poland’s excursion into progressive metal is surprisingly comfortable. Nothing is overly complex, but there is just enough musicality to keep the listener on their toes. The main focus is on subtle melodic ideas and the seamless juxtaposition of heavy prog and mellow passages. That “Freedom is pain” part from opener “The Mission” is the first of many examples of what I mean. No one’s going to be blown away by Damn the Machine’s technique, but some of their songs are so melodically inspired that it might raise the eyebrows of the snobbiest progressive metal fans.
The overall sound most resembles a much slower Watchtower with an atmospheric flair. This is mostly due to the production (which highlights the involved bass lines), though the odd-time passages are also cut from a similar cloth as that unmatched Texas foursome. But again, Damn the Machine is a much milder enterprise, which is good for those that find Watchtower’s over the top technicality to be a bit too much. I am not one of these, but the benefit of the subtle approach is still crystal clear to me. The biggest advantage is with singer Dave Clemmons, whose middle range perfectly accents the music. He’s nothing special, but he is still the best vocalist to appear on anything associated with Chris Poland. Bassist David Randi is also very good and his tone is reminiscent of Doug Keyser’s (Watchtower again). Mark Poland’s drum performance is probably the least exemplary, but even he more than earns his keep on the album with little beat alterations here and there. As for Chris, this is probably his most restrained performance. Considering how self-indulgent some of his other stuff is, this fact is icing on the cake of an album that is the embodiment of restraint. His riffwork is one of the general highlights of the album, while his solos are quite tactful. And don’t even get me started on his tone; it’s beautiful and quite unique even for this kind of music.
So while Damn the Machine’s singular album wasn’t destined to revolutionize prog metal, it is nonetheless a consistent album with moments of startling beauty. It is also the best thing Chris Poland has been a part of outside of Megadeth, so I strongly recommend his fans start here before seeking out his solo material.