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When one listens to the lines "The more things change, the more they stay the same" on the song "Struck a Nerve", a feeling of irony comes to mind. After all, Machine Head kept changing and changing through all of their career while still retaining their identity, and this album in no exception at all.
The More Things Change... is the only album between their glorious masterpiece Burn My Eyes and the highly nü-metallish The Burning Red. As such, opinions are expectantly polarized in two groups: the ones who say that this album was their last album as the enraged groove thrash band that gave us "Davidian" and the ones who say that this was the beginning of their nü-metallish era that would tragically culminate with 2001's full-fledged disaster Supercharger. From my personal point of view, however, nothing like that happens. This album is positively unrelated to the one that preceded it and to the one that succeeded it. Truth is, the material in question sounds like it was made by a band younger than the Machine Head of 1994. While I would never classify it as nü-metal, there's a sense of youth close to many alternative metal and grunge bands of the same era. And yes, this album stands below Burn My Eyes. Fault? The fact that Chris Kontos left the band, replaced by Dave McClain (ex-Sacred Reich). While I admire McClain's talent as a drummer, he is undeniably slower and less technical than Kontos.
As a direct consequence of McClain's entry, much of the technicality that marked Burn My Eyes is lost, replaced by fast hardcore-like moments of speed and angry grooves. While this album is almost as brutal as its predecessor, a major difference can be felt; if 1994's Burn My Eyes is an expression of rage against social disorder, then 1997's The More Things Change... is still an expression of rage, but a different one that's less social and more political. The lyrical themes now center around inner rage and struggle, devoid of any sociopolitical concerns, and the music becomes somehow more accessible...without, however, becoming weaker by any terms.
Musicianship is, as I said before, less technical than in 1994, starting with the drums. The opening track "Ten Ton Hammer" shows such changes from the beginning; the sense of precision is somewhat lost. Even in the über-fast "Struck a Nerve" or in the slow anger of "The Frontlines", the listener gets the feeling that the drums are lower in standard than what Kontos used to do.
The very same feeling continues to an extent in terms of guitar to the point in which the precise grooves of past are replaced by a (successful) attempt at sludge metal ("Blood of the Zodiac"). The good point here is that the less technical style actually works to a great extent because Mader and Flynn did not waste the aggression of old ("The Frontlines" at 0:40), combining it wisely with the new, grunge-inspired sludges. It's a formula that pretty much works, in fact. Here I admit that some link between their older style and their later style can be felt, however I would not call it important enough. Adam Duce's peculiar (and brutal) bass lines continue to be nearly the same as they were in Burn My Eyes, helping to bring up the decibels (e.g. "Take My Scars") when and where they are needed.
Robb Flynn's vocals give the final touch to this album. Ironically, his voice sounds younger in 1997 than it was in 1994, probably because now he uses a more melodic vocal style ("Ten Ton Hammer", "Take My Scars"), which is still combined with his 1994-ish aggressive thrash metallish yelling as well as his more moderate vocals such as in the verses of "Spine". If I had to pick up one of his vocal passages throughout the whole album and elect it as his triumph, I'd definitely pick "Blood of the Zodiac", more specifically his last minute of incredible melodious shouting. It may as well be one of his best performances ever.
A lot of controversy will always surround Machine Head, especially since 1999. The constant evolution of their musical style is the main reason, and many of their fans will argue that their first 2 albums were their finest hour, including me to be honest. Other people will say that this album was the beginning of their failure. I must disagree. All they did was pick their groove thrash style and make it more accessible and not necessarily worse. In fact, it features a lot more variety than Burn My Eyes. Machine Head would only fail after this, especially four years after, under the period in which they had Ahrue Luster on guitar. I highly recommend this album to fans of '90s metal/groove thrash and especially to people who are starting to get into metal. It's no Burn My Eyes, but it is still an excellent album.