Oakland thrashers return with mesmerising and precise seventh LP.
Ian Winwood 2011-10-13
On Burn My Eyes, Machine Head’s 1994 debut album, there featured a song with the not entirely user-friendly title of Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies. Essentially a two-and-three-quarter-minute guitar riff, the track was rendered intriguing by the fact that its lyrics comprised soundbites recorded from the darker thoroughfares of America’s meanest streets: voices of the poor bemoaning police brutality, police radios alerting squad cars to explosions of gang violence, and gangbangers telling reporters why it was they hated other gangbangers who were, for all intents and purposes, identical to themselves. At the time, the song was startling: metal but not as it was known; urban rather than suburban; street and actually rather cool. Who knew?
Without mellowing one single beat-per-minute, a generation on and Machine Head’s once-fringe thrash has moved to the centre ground to such a degree that in December the quartet will headline a show at London’s Wembley Arena. And while the years between their first album and Unto the Locust haven’t linked together entirely seamlessly – the group endured a particularly unconvincing middle-period – the ferocity and precision displayed throughout this release’s seven tracks offers proof that, since their inception, Machine Head and others like them have dragged metal’s mainstream to them rather than them having made concessions to it. That fare as mean and ugly and unsparing as this can bask in the sunlight is heartening indeed.
Unto the Locust is a quite terrific release, and one which shows that while its creators can thrash as well as any – the forensic This Is the End offers ample evidence of this – this is set is more than a one-dimensional dog and pony show. Tracks such as the subtle (you read that correctly) Darkness Within, and the climactic and contagious, even life-affirming, Who We Are display a band that have learned much about tonality; that, and the plain fact that power is nothing without control. Even so, Unto the Locust isn’t likely to be confused with Metallica – it has no crossover appeal. But for metalheads who like their music sharp and executed without recourse to compromise, then this is a contender for genre album of the year.