I was luckily exposed to Machine Head early and was quickly a fan. Picking up an issue of Metal Maniacs in 1994, there was a new band from Oakland California that was being featured with a short paragraph next to an article on Obituary. I was intrigued by the writer's impression of Machine Head playing fast metal but also understanding the value and impact of slowing down certain riffs or, for example, ending a song in slowing tempo. The writer wrote, "slower is still usually heavier".
You see metal, in the early to mid 1990s, was a much different animal. As there are today, there were many types of metal but thrash had really dug into fans who craved more. Even then, I loved my Sepultura, Pantera and Biohazard (which all certainly had their unique sound) as well. However, death metal bands such as Sepultura and Napalm Death weren't really that rhythmic when it came to hooks standing out. Much like the late-great Dimebag Darrell said in 1992, many thrash bands were in a period where they were merging the heavy and powerful with more traditional structures. Metal songs had more choruses, versus, song structure transitions, and so forth.
Machine Head, who among others were influenced by Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax; even stamped their debut album (1994's Burn My Eyes) with certainly something new in metal regarding more traditional song structures. In particular, "I'm Your God Now" (written about a friend they had lost to drugs) highlights this. It starts with a dark Adam Duce bassline and drops into electric but soft electric guitar. Verse 1 takes the perspective of the junkie, drug addiction victim, or whatever you feel labeling. The chorus is quite heavy, which contrasts the despair, but which much slower riffs. Verse 2, very interestingly, takes the perspective of the drug itself and its mission to sadly overtake the user. This is followed by a chorus of course, however, it slides into a transition before going through a very angry/mad at life grieving gradual build up for the songs climax. Much of the song is likely around 110bpm (beats per minute) but as the climax builds and the crescendo sinks it teeth in, it likely ends around 150bpm. Songs like this from metal bands then was very different from the, some might even call it gone-stale, structures of metal songs that were more typical.
Finally getting to "The Burning Red", which closed out a controversial but solid album from them, is yet another whole different animal entirely. I won't go into either story, however like vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn, I have a very particular attachment to the topic of suicide. Verse one, to me, is "problem" declaration...the introduction. The choruses are a lyrical arm reaching out,..a last attempt. The second verse, and until the end of the song, is acceptance and of course very sad but attempting to be at peace. In fact the line, "colder and colder, just hold onto me" to me, is very peaceful. How they chose to decay and end the song, however, is the genius in this song. As it climaxes, the song and vocals begin to fade,....but not regarding the volume level. The interesting element and genus in it for me is it begins to slow, then grows slower, then grows slower yet, and this continues until it finally (metaphorically) exhales for the last time. Even in 1999, this sequence gave me chills up my spine as I can't help but picture the breathing slowing and the bass drum mimicking the slowing of a heartbeat...until it stops inevitably. Consistent guitar feedback, I believe from former MH guitarist Ahrue Luster, helps convey the chaos that is left behind. After all, even though I completely understand the desperation and misery that pushes one to such a horrible and dangerous contemplation, I would never suggest suicide.
Rather than the metal community judging and giving MH a great deal of heat on such a "non-metal" song, it seemed to be quite the opposite. I can admit that the album The Burning Red, obviously speaking of the title track, is far from my favorite Machine Head album. However, it had it's reason and purpose I'm sure and really pushed things forward after guitarist Logan Mader left the band. After Ahrue Luster was replaced on guitar, by Robb Flynn's former bandmate from Oakland hardcore band Vio-lence: Phil Demmel, they followed up another album titled Supercharger with an album that really pulled in Machine Head's trademark sounds from the first to album. In 2004, the quite heavy Through the Ashes of Empires was release and finding a home at the tail end of this album is another very, very dark song titled "Descend The Shades of Night". Shortly put, it's a 7.5 minute song about death. Opening with acoustic guitars, it slithers and breathes with deep, melodic verses and heavy, powerful choruses.
I could continue to go on. However, when non-metal fans adapt the perspective that all metal bands sound the same, I urge a closer listen. Honestly, since about 2005, metal bands have again really advanced beyond that dreaded nu-metal era (though some great bands started there, no doubt). For example, one of Machine Head's trademarks is very extensive use of guitar harmonics (which creates a high ring and is fairly hard to do especially while playing fast riffs). Other heavy bands such as Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine have also forged their own directions, among others of course.
Way too late, the following are the lyrics for "The Burning Red" which, once again, is close to me and constantly playing in my head.
I see the sun begin to rise and I'm blinded too I've seen the world through jaded eyes That I'm crying through I watch the darkness hypnotize and can't fight it Hold on I'm falling, can't breathe anymore As an ocean has opened, these scars need to heal over Caress the needle prick in my skin The tears fell like rain I've rode the phoenix as she glides And I've gone insane I've seen the light of suicide and I'm dying Hold on I'm falling, can't breathe anymore As an ocean has opened, these scars need to heal over Hold on I'm falling, I can't breathe... breathe... Colder and colder, just hold onto me Ohh.....
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