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Out of every Machine Head's albums, this one is the least talked about. Even its two follow ups get more attention though not always favorably. This album had it rough since its predecessor Burn My Eyes was so loved and breath taking to many, the follow up had a lot of expectations to meet. I think it actually met those expectations.
This album does live up to the change bit in its name but it isn't that drastic of a change. Machine Head slowed the tempo down a bit but still kept the powerful heaviness that existed on the previous album. Robb Flynn also experimented with his vocals more, such as more singing and this is the first album we hear his trademark "YOW!" screams. This album is hardly mallcore. There are more riffs here than what any mallcore guitarist could ever write and more than any mallcore album combined. There are plenty of guitar solos and the song structures are more inspired and worked into. I don't care if a band is "groovy" or what not. Black Sabbath didn't play at a million miles an hour and Tony Iommi played far more power chords than noted riffs. Doom metal is loved a lot by metal heads, even when the tempo is pretty slow and Blind Guardian's Imaginations From the Otherside had songs that weren't all just speedy guitaring and drumming. Even in Metallica's Thrash-era, their songs like "The Thing That Should Not Be" and "Seek and Destroy" had mid-tempo rhythms. Testament's "Souls of Black" on the title track was pretty mid-tempo and so was "The Legacy" on that album. Sepultura wasn't the first to start going a bit groovy and I've heard plenty of Sodom songs that weren't break neck fast. I also care about a good guitar tone instead of worrying how fast or complex I'm playing. But make no mistake, I'm not dissing thrash (nor doom metal and power metal). My favorite band is Testament and they have awesome guitar tones. I just don't think liking groove metal makes you un-metal and that speed should not matter when it comes to metal. Just as long as you have the passion for playing it and your heart is in it, that is all that should matter.
Riffing highlights would be found on "The Frontlines" with that monstrous riff that stomps in after the long screeching wah-wah lines. The opener, "Ten Ton Hammer", has a pounding intro and a great shout along chorus. The following track, "Take my Scars", has a mean groove and a crazy solo. The vocal harmony in the chorus is undeniably good as well. "Down to None" has a unique dark and melodic intro. The best track, "Spine", allows each band member to shine. It begins with Adam Duce playing a creepy and dark bass solo which is followed by Robb and Logan Mader churning out surging and heavy riffs. Dave McClain, who was new at the time, beats the skins like a mad man in that section and during the melodic verses, plays a Sepulturian tribal beat. Robb sings low and emotionally but shouts wildly in the chorus with my favorite lyrics on the album (I see right through your soul! Can't help but feel this cold! But this city made me so!). The bridge is massive and features many chameleon-esque passages that you would never find in any mallcore album. It starts doomy, churns up a bit, and births out an atmospheric and melodic solo above a groovy rhythm. After the solo, it calms down though after a long while, the doomy riffs kick back in and a wicked solo ends it.
The shorter songs on this album make up in punch for what they lack in length. "Struck a Nerve" has fast stop-go riffs with the bass being used a fill in the manner a drum fill would do. "Bay of Pigs" is the most intense in terms of speed. Unrelentless riffs, guitar squals, double bass, and growls come at you non-stop during the verses. The chorus is a bit anthem-ish and the bridge has a great whirling groove. "Blistering" has some awkard lyrics (I don't care because I don't give a fuck!) but the freakin heavy riffing and drumming saves it.
"Violate" is the darkest, most progressive, and personal song on the album. It is Robb reflecting on someone who abused him and how he desires revenge for it.
It goes from a grueling riff to a melodic chorus, repeat, and than flat out chaos for the rest of the song. The final track, "Blood of the Zodiac", shows Machine Head's melodic side very well and ending the album in a different way. It started heavy but ended with the beast finally founding peace.
This album is a treasure for metal heads who don't mind having groove here and there and see that sound is more important than speed.