Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds - (7/10)
Published on November 8, 2014
In the rough.
When Machine Head released The Blackening back in 2007, it set the standard for all Machine Head, if not all modern (thrash) metal, records to come. And so, it is with great anticipation and expectation that we herald in the band’s eighth studio album, Bloodstone & Diamonds (another solid addition to 2014’s unprecedented collection of awkward album titles,) especially when every other metal publication on the planet is busy touting it as being as good, if not better than, The Blackening. However, while Bloodstone & Diamonds may be forgiven for falling short of the band’s last few records – topping them being an almost impossible feat at this stage – its real fault lies in it being one of the weakest collections of Machine Head songs to date.
This is some of the grittiest, straight-ahead thrash Machine Head have written since The More Things Change (1997). While that should be a compliment of the highest order, the conventional elements of Bloodstone & Diamonds aren’t quite successful enough to support the album on their own and the unconventional elements, such as the fleeting yet overbearing violin of “Now We Die,” come off as gimmicky rather than curiously integrated. The beatdown sections are huge and the solos and leads are top-order but there’s nary a memorable verse/chorus riff to be found, with a few notable but ultimately non-redeeming exceptions.
After two furious but ultimately flat-sounding opening tracks, “Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones” drops in like a ten ton hammer and things become so sonically volatile that you can virtually feel everything around you itching to explode. Likewise, “Game Over” takes the album in an unexpectedly upbeat direction, with its palpably kinetic, almost punkish, chorus providing Bloodstone & Diamonds’ most instant and memorable hook. “Eyes Of The Dead” is the most successful of the more straight-forward thrash outings – making up for its forgettable first half and awkward, clean chorus by dropping in an absolutely devastating breakdown section, rounded out by some absolutely insane soloing for the remainder of the song.
On the other hand, “Beneath The Silt” – a song that lets you know what The Burning Red might have sounded like had djent been a thing at the time – is the worst Machine Head song to ever be found outside of Supercharger, and even then… “In Comes The Flood” attempts to take on Wall Street with the same savage gusto as “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent” addressed the Second Gulf War(s), but it’s lyrics are off-puttingly shallow and cliché even by, singer/guitarist, Robb Flynn’s ham-fisted standards. There aren’t really any other offensively, or even categorically, bad songs to be found on Bloodstone & Diamonds (although “Night Of Long Knives” doesn’t sit terribly well with me personally) but the album is ordered in such an odd manner that a lot of tracks suffer collateral damage due to their strange placing.
The slow and menacing “Sail Into The Black” is a wonderful change of pace for the band, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect them to be closing out records with these days. However, its effect is largely lost by having it placed at track five, just as Bloodstone & Diamonds is gathering some real momentum, and it ultimately serves to disrupt the album’s flow far more severely than it adds to its effect. “Damage Inside” is an awkward interlude, that further complicates things by sandwiching the frantic “Game Over” between itself and the political, overdubbed sound-scape (think “Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies”) “Imaginal Cells.”
A lot of Machine Head songs over the last three albums have been creeping up towards, and sometimes beyond, the ten-minute mark, yet, despite its songs floating around five-to-six minutes in length, Bloodstone & Diamonds is the longest record of Machine Head’s career (compare it’s fourteen songs to Unto The Locust’s seven) by a good ten minutes. With a bit of trimming and rejigging, Bloodstone & Diamonds could have made for a far more efficient and lethal experience.
Bloodstone & Diamonds is the first Machine Head album without founding bassist Adam Duce who was fired from the band in early 2013, and has maintained a controversial relationship with them ever since. It’s sad to say but Duce’s presence isn’t really missed, (unless you can infer a sort of Wylde/Catanese dichotomy from the dip in quality), and, ironically, his replacement, Jared MacEachern – one-time singer/guitarist for the Trivium-championed Sanctity – is gifted with the loudest bass mix Machine Head have ever had, although his role remains pedestrian.
Conversely, Dave McClain’s drums are nowhere near as powerful and driving as usual and Flynn, now the band’s lone original member, often sounds forced and/or strained when it comes to belting out the rougher parts (specifically those of “Night Of Long Knives”), rather than being propelled by his usual passionate fury, although maybe that’s just decades of pissed off screaming finally taking its toll.
Bloodstone & Diamonds is not a terrible album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s far from Machine Head’s best work, and one gets the feeling it’s not the best Bloodstone & Diamonds it could have been. By any other band’s standards Bloodstone & Diamonds would have been more than impressive (hence the high[ish] rating), but at the same time there’s a bunch of bands out there (i.e. Unearth) doing things in a similar vein, only to better effect. There’s a really good, possibly great, album to be had here, it’s just that Bloodstone & Diamonds isn’t quite it.
However you feel about Bloodstone & Diamonds, you’re sure to get a kick out of these: