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Confession of a heavy metal elitist. - 19%

hells_unicorn, October 14th, 2008
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Roadrunner Records

Somewhere along the way it became elitist to simply refer to a lousy album by its proper name instead of masking righteous indignation with dishonest euphemisms and careful word choice. Whether it be nothing more than a weak defense of otherwise indefensible music or a statement in favor of taking an egalitarian approach to treating all music with the same respect when conversing on the topic, it’s a common comeback amongst Machine Head fans when they see fans of pre-1992 metal not dancing to the beat of the almighty groove. But when it comes to said band and particularly their alleged return to form “Through The Ashes Of Empires”, if calling this collection of mostly sonic flatulence bad makes me an elitist, then may my unapologetic arrogance be a guide for those wishing to avoid wasting money on something that is subpar even by early Machine Head album standards.

There are some traces of “Burn My Eyes” to be found on here, although very little of it resembles the positive aspects of that album. Mostly this reaches back to the band’s second album “The More Things Change”, although with a little bit more speed at times and an even poorer vocal job out of Flynn. There is plenty of really annoying high end riff fragments that are either repeated far too much or overloaded with effects, uneven lower end groove riffs that often clash with the boring straight rock drum beats, and a huge glaring spotlight right on the vocal tracks that flood the arrangement like a monsoon of nu-metal gayness. The vocals are largely what kill this thing, as even on otherwise decent half-speed metal songs like “Left Unfinished” Flynn basically kisses the microphone when he inhales.

Every now and then the band will get a relatively decent idea and carry it for about maybe half of the song’s duration at best, but usually scattered throughout the listen. The widely hailed opening track “Imperium” has a couple of fairly decent riffs that filter in and out, particularly that all out thrash riff that jumps in at around the 4:40 mark. It’s a little more power/thrash and melodic than what you got with Vio-Lence’s first two albums, but it definitely leaves the groove field completely for greener pastures. If they had streamlined the overlong intro a little and cut out some of those unnecessary, flanger saturated, redundant lead drones this would be an all out solid track. The same story basically applies to “Left Unfinished”, which has a pretty solid start up riff that falls into this stupid verse breakdown with too much vocal presence and a bunch of overdone guitar effects in the background. I guess there’s just some unwritten law in the book of Machine Head that prevents these guys from just rocking out all the time and resorting to these stupid half-ballad sections and half-time breakdowns.

Although this is Phil Demmel’s first studio appearance with the band, not counting their 2003 live album “Hellalive”, you wouldn’t know it by how little lead activity is going on here and how utterly half assed most of the riffs and songwriting is. There is one worthwhile guitar solo on here stuck in the midst of a really redundant quiet interlude on “In The Presence Of My Enemies”, which is otherwise just an overlong Pantera homage with about twice as many feedback passages. Other than that and a fairly decent lead interchange on “Vim”, which is another half-decent speed metal song with just a few too many groove breakdowns interrupting the flow, there’s hardly anything on here that Flynn wasn’t already doing on his own since 1997 in the riff and lead department.

The rest of this album just reeks of blandness and meandering, not to mention a few occasional reversions back to the mallcore nonsense heard on “Supercharger” and its even gayer predecessor. “Bite The Bullet” is loaded with terrible excuses for shouts that are dangerously close to Fred Durst territory; while these really annoying quiet sections just halt whatever flow the song has at random intervals. “Elegy” is definitely stuck in Slipknot land, spending most of its time sitting on an extremely redundant 2 chord groove that occasionally gives way to a nearly as dull sounding Pantera riff or a boring quiet section with Flynn just softly singing nonsense that somehow manages to rhyme, actual lyrical content be damned. If there is one thing that these guys really do well, it’s jamming a lot of different ways to sound non-metal into a 4 to 5 minute time span, while throwing a lot of their good ideas into longer songs that still have plenty of lazy ideas mixed in.

The only respects in which this album really differs from the last 3 before is that there is a little more speed and half-thrash elements at work and Robb Flynn has given up on his career as a rapper rolling with the pale skinned, middle class homies. If you look at the good elements of this by themselves, there is a little bit of a move towards the half-hearted groove/thrash “The Blackening”, which saw some isolated aspects of Flynn and Demmel’s thrash roots return. But the vast majority of this is either stuck in grunge or nu-metal territory. It’s not worth spending money on unless you worship this band and already have their first and their latest album. It might make me a bullshitting elitist, but I expect more in a metal album than this, regardless of it being better than their mallcore albums.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on October 14, 2008.