Angry Machines is often seen as the epitome of mid-90s metal desperation. It is likely the most obscure album that Ronnie James Dio ever released and is solely remembered as a time when one of the biggest metal legends was reduced to chasing contemporary trends without a sign of resurgence in sight. Angry Machines isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it is certainly enjoyable when one is in the right nihilistic mindset.
The blend of doom and groove metal on 1994’s Strange Highways was already a major departure from the days of Holy Diver. Angry Machines logically continues this style with a deeper emphasis on the groove side as Dio’s vocals are at their nastiest and Tracey G’s guitar playing has a greater emphasis on pitch harmonics and crunchy mid-tempo patterns. There’s also a hint of industrial influence in the more ominous keyboard work, vocal filters on songs like “Black” and “Big Sister,” and the uncanny mechanical interlude on “Stay Out of my Mind.”
But what really makes Angry Machines stand out in Dio’s discography is the seemingly conscious attempt to avoid being catchy in any conventional sense. Strange Highways and Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer before it weren’t exactly singalongs but there were still plenty of ear catching riffs and vocal lines on them. With the exception of the traditional speedy “Don’t Tell the Kids,” this album’s memorability is based much more on dissonance and unconventional structuring. For the most part. it yields interesting results, but then you have the songs like “Hunter of the Heart” and “Double Monday” where things seem to just kind of happen with no real purpose.
Fortunately, decent writing and good musicianship does mean there are still solid songs on here. While some find the stop-start rhythm on “Black” off putting, I think it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve and wouldn’t have worked on any other album before it. Also worth noting is “This Is Your Life,” a piano ballad that completely breaks form and closes things in a surprisingly touching fashion. It’s tragic that the track has only been noticed in the wake of Dio’s unfortunate passing, but it’s better than if it had slipped completely through the cracks.
While the tweaks to Dio’s style and songwriting formula on Angry Machines do make it a somewhat disjointed listen, it is hardly a disaster. The band’s chemistry and intent to shake things up do make it much less phoned in than something like Sacred Heart but many of its strengths were done better on Strange Highways and Dehumanizer. It’s not an album to be “rediscovered” or vindicated by time, but hardcore fans who’ve already gone through Lock up the Wolves and Killing the Dragon may want to give this another evaluation.
“Don’t Tell the Kids”
“Stay Out of my Mind”
“This Is Your Life”