Like every other mother in the world, my mom always used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. Well, that doesn’t exactly work when you need to review the biggest-name metal release of 2018. So I’m sorry Mom, but really it’s all Machine Head’s fault.
Catharsis is a disaster. My expectations weren’t exactly sky-high following their
disappointing 2014 release Bloodstone & Diamonds, but this is still the same band that wrote The Blackening and Unto the Locust, two of my all-time favorite metal records. How they could go from those two works of arts to this baffles me. How a band’s sound can regress so much from their high point back to the lowest of lows is beyond me. But Machine Head pulled it off on this record.
The one word that can encompass Catharsis is “dated”. Nothing about the record sounds fresh or original. The band have decided to run with the nu-metal sound that they had back in the late-90’s and early-2000’s that absolutely nobody was asking for them to bring back. Robb Flynn alternates between rap-rock vocals and cringe-worthy whispered growls that are, I don’t know, supposed to make him sound extra angry? They don’t, Robb. They just sound stupid. They didn’t sound good in 2001, and they sure as shit don’t sound good in 2018, when your core audience is no longer 14 and knows that nu-metal, despite our previous tastes, is complete garbage.
At it’s best, certain tracks on Catharsis are inoffensive. “Beyond the Pale” has a fun main riff and a very catchy chorus. It’s not their finest song, but there’s nothing objectively wrong with the track. There are a few other “highlights” on the record that are unmemorable, for better and worse. Most tracks that stand out on the record do so for the worst of reasons:
- “Catharsis” closes out with the aforementioned whisper-growls, which are so laughably bad that they ruin what, up to that point, wasn’t a terrible track.
- The lyrics on “Triple Beam” are some of the worst I’ve heard. And I’ve mistakenly listened to an Attila track before, so that’s saying something.
- “Behind a Mask” may be the first metal track that I’ve ever heard attempt to pull off an acoustic guitar solo. It, unsurprisingly, does not work.
And then, folks, there is “Bastards”, the track that will inevitably draw the most attention of any song on the record. Robb Flynn hasn’t been shy in recent years with his political views, which really doesn’t bother me. In fact, I basically agree with the meaning and intent behind “Bastards”. But good lord, the song fucking sucks. Robb, you’re in Machine Fucking Head!!! Stop with the acoustic guitars! I swear they ripped off the keyboard part from “Free Bird” during the intro, and when they finally bring in the rest of the instruments it is eerily reminiscent of “Come Sail Away”. That’s not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination. The song is laughably bad. The music is horrific. The lyrics are nauseating. How and why this song made it onto the record astounds me (speaking of which, when you are struggling to right good tracks, feel free to put fewer than 15 on the album. Just a tip). And to make matters work, they bring the fucking abomination back in a stripped-down, acoustic version for the album closer “Eulogy”! Why? Why, god dammit? This album is full of more swings and misses than a drunk Charles Barkley on the golf course with one arm tied behind his back.
Catharsis is a stain on Machine Head’s legacy, to be sure, but I’ll choose to remember the good times (hell, my song of the day is Machine Head pulling off perhaps the only good Iron Maiden cover of all-time). Machine Head, and Robb Flynn in particular, is capable of so much more than they give on this record. Let us remember Machine Head as they were, not as we see them now. Really, it’s for the best.
“Beyond the Pale”