I should probably put in a disclaimer that I have never liked Machine Head. I remember the hype that surrounded The Blackening when I was in high school and not understanding what the fuss was about despite my best efforts. Listening to their other albums has also failed to endear me to them, as even staples like Burn My Eyes and Through the Ashes of Empires are just average to my ears. That said, I suppose I should be thankful for Machine Head; there are few others that so efficiently illustrate the different degrees of how much a band can suck.
It’s also rare for a band to make an album this simultaneously eclectic and shallow. As tempting as it is to think of Catharsis as a Burning Red/Supercharger throwback, there’s thankfully a bit more going on than that stylistically. There are plenty of rap metal moments on the horrid “Triple Beam” and “Psychotic” among others, but you’ll also find elements of the thrash-tinged groovecore riffing associated with the band’s comeback era on “Heavy Lies the Crown,” while “Behind a Mask” and “Eulogy” provide more melodic odds and ends.
Unfortunately, the band lacks both the songwriting skill and confidence to make any of these ideas work. I’ll admit that the singles are easy to get in one’s head, but even on the slim chance that you’d like what these tracks are going for, the lazy structures make them hard sells. This is best demonstrated by “Bastards,” the album’s controversial centerpiece. Even if you’re one of the few people who intrigued by the idea of Machine Head pulling out a folk punk anthem, the execution is far too plodding for what should be a bouncy, defiant call to arms. The fact that there are fifteen songs on here just adds insult to injury.
Even sadder is the fact that the musicianship is still incredibly tight. The production puts all the instruments in perfect balance; the guitars, bass, and drums shine throughout and even the most awful songs are sustained by powerful tones and a good grip on tempo shifts. The musicians clearly put a lot of effort in making sure these structures were at least well-maintained, which only highlights how horrible the original blueprints are. I can only imagine how it must’ve felt to lay down such intricate patterns just to see them lose all credibility as soon as their fearless leader stepped up to the mic…
As everyone has already pointed out, the worst of Catharsis lies in guitarist/vocalist Robb Flynn’s vocals and lyrics. But here’s the thing: his vocals and lyrics have always been the worst thing about Machine Head. His yells are toothless, his cleans are ungodly whiny, and his raps are cringeworthy, but they’ve been that way for nearly twenty-five years now. I suppose his flaws are accentuated by lyrics, which I find obnoxious even though I’m one of the SJW libtards he’s pandering to, but it really shouldn’t be that surprising. It also doesn’t help that he frequently contradicts his political attitudes with tales of drug abuse, violence, and other frat bro-isms.
Much like the alt-right surge that got Trump elected, Catharsis is merely the exposure of a seedy underbelly that’s always been there. As much as the excellent musicianship tries to save these wretched tunes, the album is a seventy-minute distillation of everything that has been wrong with Machine Head from their inception. It doesn’t share Supercharger’s rock bottom position, but any good intentions are marred by poor writing and worse deliveries. If the band survives this, they’ll likely end up back in good graces once they find a new trend to hop on. I will remain unconvinced. I admire what you told your sons, Mr. Flynn, but the bastards are still grinding you down and this is the soundtrack.
“Behind A Mask”
“Heavy Lies the Crown”