When I bought tickets to see Machine Head at The Masquerade,
I was surprised they were playing such a small venue and a
bit disappointed that it wasn't somewhere I felt more at home.
Now I'm just grateful they played at all. Just before the
tour was to begin, bassist Adam Duce broke his leg while dirt
biking. The band is substituting Brandon Sigmund of Hostility
and Jared MacEachern of Sanctity for the tour. Then, venues
canceled two long-scheduled shows just days before they were
to take place. The first was the Anaheim, California, House
of Blues on September 7, and the second was at the Orlando,
Florida, House of Blues on September 17, the day before the
Atlanta show. Machine Head had played both venues previously
without incident, but lead singer Robb Flynn has said that
he was told that, in both instances, Disney pressured House
of Blues (on its property) to cancel the shows on the grounds
that metal attracted an "undesirable" element; he hypothesized
that "one of the main issues of contention Disney had with
Machine Head was our antiwar and anti-administration lyrics." Luckily,
Live Nation was able to book alternative venues so the shows
could go on.
I must confess, I'd never been to a real metal concert before. The closest I've come was this year's Family Values tour, but I'm just not comfortable putting Korn, Flyleaf, and Evanescence in the same category as these thrash and heavy metal bands. These guys are just a bit more hardcore. Just a bit. The opening acts were very good. Sanctity in particular had my head starting to go, and I was excited to hear they are from North Carolina. In fact, being shorter than most ten-year-olds, I hung out at the top of the steps into the room with the parents of their lead guitarist, Zeff. I joked that I expected to be the oldest at the show, and Zeff's mom got a little bit defensive. She was quick to point out that many older people like heavy metal and how technically talented metal musicians have to be. She's right, and Zeff should make her very proud. Sanctity were very tight and fast and hard. Likewise, Zeff should be proud to have such very cool parents who were following the tour around the South much like this former hippie once followed the Grateful Dead.
My, how times have changed! Where I once enjoyed the easy listening sounds
of hippie jam bands, I now prefer the difficult listening of metal. But I'm
picky. I don't like too much growling. I want a beautiful voice, and I want
melody. Yes, I said melody. And Machine Head have melodies that ebb and flow,
rising and falling like a classical overture. Obviously, Machine Head are not
your standard fare heavy metal. They are far above par. Since I discovered
them a few years ago, I've bought just about the whole catalog. Songs of open,
violent hostility paired with heart-breaking angst gave me anthems when I was
going through some of my life's most powerful struggles. The music was a catharsis
for me when I was raging at the unfairness of death and the evil ways of my
fellow human beings. I got three speeding tickets last year listening to Machine
Head. There is something to be said for driving fast while singing along to
earsplitting, seething lyrics where the word "fuck" is almost as common as
the word "the." There's something very healthy about such exquisite expressions
of unbridled bitterness and sheer, unashamed sorrow. In comparison, Machine
Head somehow make Nine
Inch Nails seem like The Partridge Family.
So, I was thrilled when The Blackening came out this summer. I bought it the day it came out. Its composition is even more complex than previous recordings. Dom Lawson of Metal Hammer describes it perfectly: "Gargantuan opener Clenching the Fists of Dissent sets the tone with maximum dramatic impact. It begins with an ominous, sombre intro and then erupts into a swirling labyrinth of brutal riffs, structural twists and textural turns." The full hour-long album maintains that level of complexity and genius. It's one of those albums you want to hear from start to finish, and then listen to it over and over again because you hear something new every time. In fact, like Opeth, Machine Head have this epic style that I dare say reminds me of prog rock. I realize this is heavy metal, but there is something far more intricate and compelling at the compositional level. Although the other three bands at this show were technically superb and great showpeople – and Arch Enemy had the special appeal of having a kick-ass female vocalist (Angela Gossow) – Machine Head are simply in a class of their own. They are storytellers and myth makers. This is something far more special and unique.
Arch Enemy in action.
Angela Gossow on vocals.
Did you ever like a band so much that you almost expected to be let down when you saw them live, as if there were no way they could possibly match the complete ecstasy achieved in recorded form? That's sort of how I felt going into this concert. I couldn't imagine a live performance could possibly be as good as the command performances held in my car flying through the streets of Atlanta. But even live, Robb Flynn's voice is eerily beautiful, strong and steady through the last encore. As on record, his words were palpably raw and scathing, yet still remarkably sincere and somehow even tender. Even live, he and Phil Demmel were in perfect synch playing dual guitar riffs of amazing complexity. On drums, Dave McClain played with utter precision, and the music's pulse thundered through us. And while it is unfortunate that bassist Adam Duce is at home recovering, I am grateful that the show did in fact go on. My only complaint is that the set was not nearly long enough. In fact, the band did not play even one song from my personal favorite of their releases, Supercharger. I fully expected to hear Bulldozer at the very least, and I secretly pined for Trephination. I understand the point of any show is to play the newer music, and with five previous studio releases, there is certainly a lot of ground to cover. Nonetheless, I left a bit disappointed. As much as I hate to be out late on a work night, there was no way I could wind down and get to sleep after having my adrenaline peaked like that and not hearing what I wanted to hear. I can only describe it as like having concert-going blue balls.
Machine Head's Robb Flynn.
Still, I have to give praise to the Masquerade, who apparently have hosted every Machine Head show in Atlanta. I also have to praise the crowd. I've never been among a more enthusiastic and appreciative audience. There was crowd surfing and diving, and of course, there was a moshpit. (The friend who went with me nearly had her nose broken, and one guy even got knocked-out cold.) The highlight of the evening had to be when I saw one woman swinging her bra in circles over her head before throwing it on stage. I laughed so hard I nearly peed. I mean, how cliché! And yet, how very rock 'n' roll. This was by far the most "rock 'n' roll" show I've ever attended, and even this little old lady had her fists in the air.