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The Honesty of Wailing Guitars

Machine Head's Catharsis shows why Robb Flynn is one of the most polarizing figures in metal.

For the record, I fucking love Machine Head. Ever since The Blackening came screaming into the metal scene with its ten-minute long rage-opuses, I've been head over heels in love. They play groovy thrash primarily taking aim at social issues. "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" is still one of my favorite jams when it comes to saying "fuck you" to the man.

On Unto the Locust, Machine Head proved that they could be introspective with the intensely personal "Darkness Within," a slower song about losing religion and worshiping at the altar of music. It's a haunting and cathartic piece that so lovingly touches on what it means to be compelled by art.

There are many things to commend frontman Robb Flynn for (depending on where one's political beliefs lie): he is outspoken whenever he sees injustice and has turned his finger on the metal community itself, much to the chagrin of many a metal fan. A lot of metalheads haven't forgiven him for his noteworthy video calling out Phil Anselmo of Pantera fame.

This uncompromising honesty is what I love him for. It's also what makes for some of the best moments in Catharsis.

 Mmm, tasty.

Mmm, tasty.

To put it plainly though, this is not Machine Head's best work. It's nowhere near the level of The Blackening - heck, not even close to Unto the Locust - but it's still a far cry from their unarguable low point, The Burning Red.

There are too many songs on Catharsis, many of which aren't bad, but they don't inspire me to listen a second time. They just feel generic, and for a band with such original songs as "We Sail Into the Black" under their belt, it's a crying shame.

One song that felt this way was the titular track, "Catharsis." Or at least, it did when I first listened to it as a single. However, I've found this song to be constantly playing in my head and on my Spotify recently, a song I originally dismissed as by-the-numbers and bland has really captured my imagination. Maybe it's because I am a big believer in catharsis and exorcising the bad juju from oneself, but it could also just be that it has everything I could possibly want in a song. It's got a ripping main riff, some catchy clean vocals in the chorus and an absolute slammer of a breakdown. I can feel the tensions of life ebbing out of me as the guitar thrums and Flynn howls "Can you feel my catharsis?"

I do, Robb. I really, really do.

Another favorite of mine off the album is "California Bleeding." Yes, the rhythmic pounding of this one is very infectious, but it really gets me on a deep level because I've been living and Los Angeles and boy, do I think about the things this song brings up a lot. A very honest and blunt rant on the state of California's many issues.

It's simple what makes me love Machine Head and Flynn - their sincerity. There's not much more to it than that. I suspect their earnestness and lack of irony are part of the reason for their many detractors. I know I've hated bands and artists for the same reasons, and yet I still love the shit out of Machine Head.

Despite the seven-plus minute epics this band is known for, they never feel pretentious to me. Their songs are the perfect encapsulation of an idea, and if something doesn't work, I never get the feeling that it's an act or mere trend following (not on their post-Blackening stuff, at least). Flynn's not an amazing rapper, but it still comes across as truthful when he does it on this album. Hell, another standout, "Bastard," is mostly a folk song and that too feels like the perfect form for the feelings Robb is trying to convey.

A lot of metal has the problem of being very technical and, despite the intensity of the music, that can make it emotionally detaching. Not so with Machine Head - they're here to make you feel something, even if that something is rage because you hate them so goddamn much.

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