>a.r.t.i.c.l.e.s. &. i.n.t.e.r.v.i.e.w.s.<
Empires rise and empires fall. All things must change, and all things must come to an end. But as they say, for every ending, there is also a beginning. And that is where Machine Head sits right now, one era coming to a close for the band, another just opening up, with the new one spearheaded by the band’s fifth studio album, Through The Ashes Of Empires.
“This album does feel like a new beginning,” agrees drummer Dave McClain. “Supercharger (the band’s fourth album) now feels like an end to some evolution that was going on musically.”
Supercharger was a turning point for Machine Head more than musically. It marked the unofficial close of the band’s tenure with the American branch of Roadrunner Records (which was officially completed with the Hellalive disc), but was also an effort besieged with difficulties, least of which was that it was issued on October 2nd, 2001, scant weeks after the nightmarish events of September 11th.
The reverberations of that horrific day were felt in every facet of life, even down to the release and marketing of a heavy metal album. The economy slumped, record sales dropped, people were uninterested in music and entertainment, and radio stations across the U.S. were suddenly scrutinizing their playlists for the slightest hint of insensitivity.
It didn’t help that the first single from the album was called “Crashing Around You.” The track, which had landed at radio on September 10th and was in the Top 5 Most Added, was yanked almost immediately. Things spiraled downward from there, and at least in the States, it seemed clear that Supercharger would not get an opportunity to make its mark.
Europe was a different story entirely, with the band headlining 25,000-strong festivals like East Germany’s With Full Force. But back in the US, all concerned – the band and the label – felt that a reexamination of their relationship was in order.
“It was a very humbling – to say the least – experience,” recalls McClain. “We really became just another band that got eaten up by the music industry machine -- no single, video wouldn't get played, a lack of tour support. Our hands were kinda tied behind our back in a way. The thing that really hit hard was being without a label for a little while, but looking back on it, that may have been a big reason why we started writing the way we did for Through The Ashes Of Empires.”
With the Supercharger situation behind them, a number of recording options ahead, and a newfound freedom to do whatever they wanted, Machine Head found themselves feeling, in many ways, like a new band. “There was a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality that brought us back to the point where we were a band that's just starting out,” says McClain. “So we better have a debut record that's gonna blow people away!”
McClain says the band’s mission when they began writing Through The Ashes Of Empires was clear: “To write an album that would really satisfy us musically,” he says. “Longer songs, off-time parts, leads. We didn’t worry whether this song or that song could be played on the radio or not.” The resourceful Mr. Flynn undertook the production alone for the first time, while living legend Colin Richardson, who knows a thing or two about capturing Machine Head on tape (he did, after all, produce the band’s first two slabs, Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change…, along with mixing Supercharger), handled the mixing duties.
“We knew exactly what we wanted and who we wanted,” adds McClain. “We wanted to bring back that ‘wall of guitars’ and ‘that’ drum sound only Colin can get. We knew that this album was in league with Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change… and we wanted the production to equal that.”
By all measures, they seem to have succeeded. Not only is Through The Ashes Of Empires huge sonically, but the music possesses a fierceness and power that rivals those seminal early albums. But we’re not talking rehash here, not by a long shot. Machine Head is a band that always strives to move forward, and it’s clear that everything they’ve learned about themselves and making music over the previous four studio efforts has been poured into this one.
And once again, leave it to the pen of Robert Flynn to scrawl some of the most emotionally intense lyrics in all of metal. While songs like “In The Presence Of My Enemies” and “Imperium” relay all the anger we’ve come to expect from Machine Head, “Left Unfinished” finds Flynn at his most personal and exposed, as he comes to terms with his deepest unresolved issues. “It’s a song that deals with the fact that I was put up for adoption,” he explains. “And the feelings of abandonment that emerged from that.”
With a new album that harkens back to the aggression of old, plus a new guitarist with a historic connection to the band (Phil Demmel, who played with Flynn in the much-loved Bay Area thrash band Vio-lence), Machine Head is glancing back while still moving forward. Dave McClain puts it best: “We feel that if Through The Ashes Of Empires was our first album, it would do the same things that Burn My Eyes did, in terms of establishing Machine Head as one of the best metal bands out there.” For this band, a new empire is rising.