Machine Head: Unto The Locust

Warning: Machine Head's latest may cause involuntary headbanging.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson



Machine Head

Unto The Locust

Roadrunner Records

Machine Head are a riff fest, a constant flowing heavy metal river of guitar parts that would throw the most mellow headbanger into fits of uncontrolled bobbing. Hailing from San Francisco, it’s obvious that the band has inherited, and fly with great pride, the Bay Area Thrash Flag made famous by bands like Exodus and Metallica. Along with their thrash, Machine Head have no trouble incorporating a touch of industrial and even some pop sensibilities in their song structures. Unto The Locust, the follow up to 2007’s Grammy Nominated The Blackening, is Machine Head’s latest heavy metal opus. A riff orgy aligned on each side by brutal drums and the ripping vocals of Robb Flynn.

What I dig about Unto The Locust is how in the vein of traditional thrash it is without falling into parody. Take the opening track “I Am Hell”, which begins with a chorus more akin to something the Beatles would do, then oozes into a slow moving and chunky riff that pummels your bones into dust. Then we get the classic tap-tap of the hi-hat and suddenly we’re in full on thrash mode. So many bands that try to pull this off lose any hope of their own sound but Machine Head, who’ve been kicking it for years, are always on point with who they are and what they do. To be honest I would’ve preferred “I Am Hell” to stay that rhythmic, pounding, slow tempo but the way the band handles the switch is so classic I can’t be mad at it.

Unto The Locustoperates in the middle ground between standard thrash and more extreme levels of metal. Machine Head never choose a side, they really just write what comes bleeding out of their skulls. “Be Still And Know” opens with a soloing riff that comes across like Tubular Bells being played by Kirk Hammett circa 1985. The main crux of the song is heavier than standard thrash, but never varies over too far away to lose the riff. When it opens up it becomes an ode to the old hardcore/metal blend that was the staple of bands like Nuclear Assault or Whiplash. Machine Head often sound how I imagine Metallica would if Cliff Burton hadn’t died and they got a real drummer. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t ripping Metallica off, but Machine Head have the same propensity for bringing good song writing into metal that Metallica did.

“This Is The End” is probably the purest example of a thrash metal song I’ve heard in many years. I love any tune that builds tension with a nice acoustic intro, then adds the harmonic guitars behind it before bursting into the main song. When it does come together, “This Is The End” continues pummeling like a busted jackhammer made of diamonds. With such speed it’s hard to keep the groove going but Machine Head never lose it, especially when the chorus kicks in, that’s when fists go up and you say “oh shit that’s the jam”.

Even when Unto The Locust doesn’t work, you have to be impressed with Machine Head’s desire to push what they do farther and farther. “Darkness Within” is a real stumbling point on the album. It sounds like Foo Fighters had a baby with Manowar, then slides into the sticky mess of metalcore. It’s completely outside of Machine Head’s comfort zone, which is admirable, but it never comes together. Flynn’s melodramatic vocals, the overly epic guitar lines and solos, it’s all a bit much and feels really forced.

Redemption comes with “Pearls Before Swine”, an arena rock opus. I doubt seriously a single head won’t be banging when this opening riff starts playing. The final song, “Who We Are” has elements of The Wall era Pink Floyd in it’s military opening before sliding into a gallop riff that will have the moshers moshing and the headbangers banging.  There’s even a sing along chorus, which is always a thing of beauty and creepy singing children, always a plus. The one-two punch of “Pearls Before Swine” and “Who We Are” leaves the foul taste of “Darkness Within” almost out-of-mind, almost.

For the guitar heroes out there, the finger flinging axe-men with an ear for the action, Unto The Locust will be a soloist’s wet dream. Phil Demmel’s guitar work on this record is pretty awesome, and I don’t even play guitar. I usually go for slow, plodding, thick and crusty riffs, I’m not big on solos, but Demmel’s work is so tasty that I found my inner air guitar by the second tune. As a drummer I was heavily impressed with Dave McClain’s work, though I do wish the guy would lay into the groove at least once or twice. It’s not all Gene Hoglan dude, there’s room for some Phil Rudd as well.

My issues with Unto The Locust are few. I don’t enjoy Flynn’s straight singing voice, I wish the drums weren’t hyper-busy on every song, and I wish I’d never heard “Darkness Within”. Outside of that I really dug what Machine Head were putting out there and I found myself head banging, something I rarely do anymore. Unto The Locust will keep fans of Machine Head singing their praises and might make believers out of the unconverted.