Machine Head’s latest album, Unto the Locust, released September 27 on Roadrunner Records, reflects well the musical growth and evolution of Machine Head over the course of their long career. It’s an album that is certain to open the door to a whole new generation of Machine Head fans and still appeal to veteran fans as well. It’s also a must-have in the catalogue of every metal musician, whether veteran or new-comer. A perfect paradigm of heavy, fast thrash, Unto the Locust is brutal in its delivery, yet it never jumps the tracks–the playing remains clean, tight and melodic throughout.
One of the most evident achievements of Unto the Locust is that Machine Head hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel. Rather, the band has gone back to its roots, creating an album that is amazing in its power and aggression, harkening back to the music that left an indelible mark on the genre and the world of music as a whole. The album is as fierce in its pile-driving aggression as Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, as addictive and dynamic as Metallica’s Black album, as explosive and complex as Slayer’s Reign in Blood.
“I Am Hell,” the first song on the album, is a wicked reminder of the epic, gothic metal that first dared to reach beyond the limits of chorus/hook song structures. It’s music that creates an atmosphere of its own. Dark, thunderous, and filled with nightmarish allusions, these are songs that wrap themselves around the listener’s imagination and transport them into another realm entirely.
With multiple build-ups and breakdowns, and an acoustic guitar solo bleeding into string orchestration, “I am Hell” is 8 1/2 minutes of the pure, raw power and aggression that thrash metal was born from. No one has produced anything like this since Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” Seriously. Unto the Locust opens with a song that is destined to become a thrash metal classic.
“Be Still and Know” and “Pearls Before the Swine” are totally packed with the kind of strongly anthemic, melodic metal that creates a pile-driving backbone as the album transitions with lightning speed through an amazing labyrinth of complex musical imagery.
However, as dynamic and rich in speed metal musicianship as it might be, Unto the Locust is an album that defies simple labeling by genre. It’s very obvious that Machine Head has evolved within an expanded genre. Not only is it a full-on thrash assault, Unto the Locust clearly shows roots that run deep in the rhythmic hard rock-edged heavy metal of bands like Black Sabbath, Dio, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
That complicated combination of musical roots clearly manifests in the first release from Unto the Locust, “Locust,” a song that I had the pleasure of seeing Machine Head perform live at the Mayhem Festival—definitely one of the stand-out performances of the tour.
The guitar intros and fret agility on “This is the End” and “Darkness Within” are absolutely amazing—two songs that will definitely bear upon the album’s ranking and both of which promise to have an explosive impact across genres. I haven’t heard anything like this since the passing of Randy Rhoads. It’s something that not everyone can accomplish, creating something that is musically beautiful without losing power or aggression.
All of the tracks on Unto the Locust might not suit the tastes of Machine Head purists. I fully expect the same sort of bitching and whining that accompanied the success of Metallica’s …And Justice for All, but as the saying goes, in order to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs—and a breakthrough album is long overdue for Machine Head.
Unto the Locust is an album that weaves an underlying theme throughout, being lyrically thought-provoking, which is actually pretty fucking deep for a thrash metal album. As much as The Blackening may have introduced them to a larger audience, Unto the Locust promises to launch Machine Head into a whole new realm musically. It would be a crime against metal if Unto the Locust doesn’t get a Grammy nod.
In its entirety, Unto the Locust is a masterpiece of fiery chemistry that increasingly juxtapositions Dave McClain’s wicked, explosive drumming and Adam Duce’s brutal bass assaults against the brilliant and aggressive musical tapestry woven by Rob Flynn and Phil Demmel. The battle of dark and light meets head-on in the album’s final number, “Who We Are,” a song that is so far from where the album began that you can’t help but recognize and appreciate that Machine Head has taken you on a unique musical journey.
Unto the Locust is definitely going to rank amongst the most influential metal albums of the decade. The versatility is absolutely breath-taking. It’s a showcase of Dave McClain’s monstrous powerhouse drumming and the fiery, insane guitar riffs that have become signature Machine Head. But, it is the technical complexity of the song structures on Unto the Locust that inspire awe.
No doubt, it’s the result of Machine Head’s long musical history and devotion to finding their own unique voice and maintaining an integrity that has allowed them to grow a devoted fan base without selling out to the vagaries of popular culture. It’s an integrity it has maintained throughout their journey, that is evidenced clearly by the fact that in creating Unto the Locust, Machine Head did not attempt to re-create or ride on the coattails of the success of The Blackening. This is an album that can easily stand on its own, without or without other albums in their catalogue.
Though each song on Unto the Locust can easily stand alone, this is one album that should be treated as an album, not a mixed bag of random mp3s. Personally, I’m going with hard copy CD and hoping that Unto the Locust will eventually come to a vinyl release. Also, I’d be remiss not to advise listening to it in the album’s assigned track order at least once—just for the powerful impression. It’s obvious after one listen that there’s a point to the order—a sort of damnation to reckoning to redemption that resonates beneath a combination of brutal onslaughts and mesmerizing musical dexterity.
Unto the Locust is poised to claim its spot as one of the best metal albums of the decade, and possibly one of the most significant metal albums in more than a decade. There’s only two words for this record: F*cking EPIC.
Unto the Locust track list:
1. “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)”
2. “Be Still And Know”
4. “This Is The End”
5. “Darkness Within”
6. “Pearls Before The Swine”
7. “Who We Are”
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