There’s often a stigma associated with metalheads that their preference is an immovable object, and that there’s no unstoppable force that can make their taste shift. “It’s not about selling out and making money, it’s about the music, man”, they say, probably. The truth is, there comes a time when every artist, true CVLT metal or not, has to think about making money and selling albums. This is where we find Machine Head in 2018, seeking what is perhaps more of a mass market appeal. Catharsis is the ninth album by the thrash/groove metal crossover act from California, and it sees ringleader Robb Flynn trying something a little different.
Machine Head have always had their influences shine through, with streaks of Metallica and Slayer smeared all over every grunt and longhaired, windmilling guitar solo. On Catharsis, however, the band have brought in some more punk influences. That’s not to say the old tropes aren’t there, but the album is more a patchwork of different styles.
Arguably, the new found punk/nu-metal blend parts of Catharsis are its strongest assets. Middle track ‘Bastards’ is not dissimilar to a Dropkick Murphys song in its latter stages, and is possibly the strongest on the whole album. It opens with a catchy acoustic intro that crescendos into a chanting, foot-stomping jig that’s as infectious as it is anti-Machine Head. There’s a positive message of acceptance and tolerance there too, which is impossible to argue against.
Title track ‘Catharsis’ features a much more melodic chorus than fans may be used to, while ‘Kaleidoscope’ could easily pass as a gruff punk track from the 90s, and even starts with some rhythmic clapping, a sure sign of “selling out”. It appears Machine Head are making a late stage attempt to entice some new fans, and there’s definitely a high chance it could work with strong cuts like these.
On the flip-side to this, though, there’s the out-of-date, “tough-guy” schtick that so many metal bands have got by on in the past. The album opens with the line “Fuck the world”, and then proceeds upon a four-and-a-half minute rant about sheeple, or millennials, or something of that ilk. Either way, it’s been done a thousand times before and a thousand times better. There’s shredding solos poetically laced with lines about sucking dick, and wince-inducing cleans, all of which make for an embarrassing half of an otherwise good album.
Despite everything, though, it’s near impossible to hate this album, or even this band. Forever outspoken, and not afraid do what they want, Machine Head are a notorious spectacle, and the latest evolution of the band is evidence of this fact. Their willingness to bring in a new style is admirable, but their ability to pull it off is what’s so captivating. There’s tracks Catharsis could do without, but it might just be the balance of well-written heavy punk and balls to the wall, old school metal that make it so enticing. [6/10]
Catharsis is out 26th January 2018 on Nuclear Blast Records.