The Rickety Old Shack

Machine Head — Unto The Locust

album cover

At this point in time, unless you are extremely new to to metal as a whole, it's almost a given that you have at least some idea who Machine Head are. Since hitting the scene in 1994 with Burn My Eyes, the band has gone through a number of ups and downs — releasing some genre-classic material as well as drawing fans' ire for dabbling in nu metal. Now, 17 years later, riding a stretch of two solid thrash metal masterpieces in The Blackening and Through The Ashes Of Empires, Machine Head attempt to make it three in a row with Unto The Locust.

Ever since Through the Ashes of Empires, Machine Head has taken their craft to a whole new level. While I am one of the few fans who will admit to actually liking the majority of both The Burning Red and Supercharger, the group truly hit their stride after returning to the thrash metal roots with a matured outlook. The addition of Phil Demmel, frontman Robb Flynn's former partner in Vio-Lence, on guitar also helped immensely. The follow-up to Through the Ashes of Empires, 2007's The Blackening expanded upon the format of the previous album; longer, more technical and intricate songs, all written with zero consideration paid to producing a radio single.

The lead-up to the release of Unto The Locust had the band doing a lot of press, and my curiosity was piqued when frontman Rob Flynn mentioned that they were using classical guitars, and that he'd taken formal vocal lessons. As it turns out, this wasn't just idle banter; the album opener, "I Am Hell (Sangre Sani)" begins acapella and closes out with classical guitar which is is present throughout the album in small flourishes. The acoustic passages are among the few short breathers the listener is given, as the majority of this album is hard-charging thrash metal.

In what seems to be a trend among bands I like and have followed for years, Machine Head keep writing longer and longer songs. The regular version of Unto The Locust has 8 tracks on it, but they are all well over 5 minutes in length. Personally, I like this; songs that eschew the typical 3-4 minute length of radio fodder are given time to build a mood and tell a story. "Be Still and Know" gets things going after the three part opening track; a more traditional song, featuring a section that reminds me heavily of "Aesthetics of Hate". By song's end, it should be very clear what Unto The Locust is all about; building intros, long crushing passages, and various solos and breakdowns interspersed throughout.

Things don't let up, as we're served up another hit with "Locust"; a catchy homage to the album's title, featuring a sing-a-long quality chorus and pounding main riff. The classical guitars return, providing a haunting segue into a black-metal tinged electric section before a thrash-fueled frenzy breaks out. The height of the band's experimentation comes with "The Darkness Within"; the first quarter of the song is just Flynn singing over an acoustic guitar. This is the closest you'll get to an accessible track from these guys, and it's six-and-a-half minutes long. Among all of the album's songs, this is — of course — the one receiving most of the criticism. I like it; I think it's a good song on its own merits, and also serves to break up the album with a break from the all-out heaviness. I think Flynn has one of the best voices in metal, and songs like "The Darkness Within" use his range very well.

"Pearls Before the Swine" and "This is Who We Are" close out the album in grand fashion, echoing the overall anthemic feel of Unto The Locust as a whole. Where "Pearls Before The Swine" is more standard Machine Head fare; blasting along, with a sporadic few restrained moments. "This is Who We Are" introduces itself with a chorus of children chanting the title before switching gears into something reminiscent of a thrash song with backing vocals from Crowbar. As with many of the choruses on Unto The Locust, ""This is Who We Are" has a certain sing-along quality to it.

The extended editions of Unto The Locust feature two bonus songs. "The Sentinel" sounds like an homage to late 80's / early 90's metal and, while hardly a bad song, definitely does not fit with the rest of the album. "Witchhunt" is a slow, doom-tinged — and very rough sounding — song that is easily the weakest song the band has released, in any capacity, for years. Lastly, there is an acoustic version of "The Darkness Within". Even more so than the original, this version sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the album material. While I think it's a good song, and the stripped down nature does a good job of showcasing Flynn's natural vocal talent, this version is almost too bare and stripped down.

Overall, I would rate Unto The Locust as one of the best albums of the year. Only time will tell how it stacks up against it's predecessors. Flynn and Demmel have really come into their own as a guitar duo; throughout the album, to two trade off riffs and solos in truly epic fashion. Complementing the twin guitar assault is Dave McClain and Adam Deuce, one of metal's most under appreciated rhythm teams. The mixing on Unto The Locust is excellent; despite the chaotic array of sounds, each instrument's contribution is crisp, clean — and thankfully not over compressed. Speaking as a terrible guitarist, I find it truly amazing when bands write songs 6-7 minutes in length that leave the listener feeling like they're still too short.

Summary

Having taken 4 years to write a follow-up to their critically lauded The Blackening album, Machine Head return with another collection of lengthy, crushingly heavy tracks. Unto The Locust sees the band continue to make their sound more varied and dynamic, without straying too far away from their thrash metal roots. Easily one of the best metal records of 2011, Unto The Locust is strong proof that Machine Head still have a lot to offer the metal world.

Album Information

Release date: September 27th, 2011
Record label: Roadrunner Records

Robb Flynn — lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Phil Demmel — lead guitar, backing vocals
Adam Deuce — bass, backing vocals
Dave McClain — drums

Track Listing

  1. I Am Hell (Sonata In C)
  2. Be Still And Know
  3. Locust
  4. This Is The End
  5. The Darkness Within
  6. Pearls Before The Swine
  7. This Is Who We Are
  8. The Sentinel
  9. Witchhunt
  10. The Darkness Within (Acoustic Version)

—by Derek

Published: December 9th, 2011.

Edited: February 20th, 2019.