Bloodstone & Diamonds
Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Reviewed By Simon Milburn
Their most ambitious release to date
It’s been 20 years this year since Oakland (California, U.S.A.) quartet Machine Head delivered their quintessential debut, Burn My Eyes - an album that was a part of an elite group of pivotal releases that define metal in the ‘90’s. Since that time, a lot has changed within the Machine Head camp, with founding member vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn now the sole original member. Whilst the quartet has unleashed some outstanding releases over the course of their career, they’ve also had their share of rough patches as well. The band have undergone several well publicised line-up changes over the years, including the recent, ugly split with original bassist Adam Duce (who formed the band with Flynn in 1991) in 2013, they’ve undergone underwhelming stylistic changes both musically (Supercharger) and visually (dayglo orange jump suits and spiked hair anyone?), and even survived being unsigned in their own country.
Since the band’s resurgence that began with 2003’s excellent Through the Ashes of Empires, they have gone from strength to strength with each album outclassing its predecessor with not only the songs themselves, but the musicianship involved and the broader appeal of the band to the metal masses. It’s been said before but guitarist Phil Demmel’s recruitment into the fold has certainly been a big factor in this. The formidable pairing of Flynn and Demmel is as razor sharp now as it was back in the Vio-Lence days. Couple that with Flynn’s gruff vocals, Dave McClain’s criminally underrated drumming and thundering bass from new recruit Jared MacEachern (ex Sanctity), and the mighty Machine Head are back firing on all cylinders with the band’s eighth studio album, Bloodstone & Diamonds.
The first two tracks, “Now We Die” and “Killers & Kings” have been out there now for a while and whilst they are typical Machine Head - monstrous riffs, Flynn’s in your face barking vocals, pounding drums - when put in context of the entire album, as good as those songs are, they are in no way indicative of what is to come. Quite simply put, Bloodstone & Diamonds will be the band’s most polarizing release since The Burning Red and Supercharger. This doesn’t mean it’s jumping on any bandwagon trend or the return of the aforementioned dayglo orange jump suits. No, nothing like that. However, this is an album that is made up of parts from all the band’s previous releases. Fans that expect an unrelenting metal juggernaut that continues in the vein of Machine Head’s last three albums will be in for one hell of a shock.
Bloodstone & Diamonds has many different moods to it. From the atmospheric, brooding funeral dirge of “Sail Into the Black” - a track like no other Machine Head track before it - to the super downtuned, sludge-riffery of “Beneath the Silt” to the dark “Damage Inside” and the punked up simplicity of “Game Over” - which is full of venomous lyrics - there’s little doubt that the diversity on this one will be the biggest talking point amongst fans and media alike. No matter what the track - even the new age “Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies” aka “Imaginal Cells” - each and every song here is heavily textured and layered but at the end of the day, production wise it’s definitely Machine Head sounding as you’d expect.
The songs are lengthy again and sometimes they do run a little too long. A little bit of editing here and there might not be a bad thing. The entire album runs just under 72 minutes and does start to feel a little long towards the end, and the album’s finale, “Take Me Through the Fire” isn’t exactly a powerhouse like “Blood of the Zodiac”, “Who We Are” or “Block”.
There’s a lot to take in on Bloodstone & Diamonds. It seems that killer riffs have taken a step back and Flynn’s vocals are more the focus this time around. Everything still works well and new kid Jared MacEachern has slotted in nicely. The album’s diversity will divide many however. It’s not necessarily a brave adventurous step into the unknown as the band has done in the past. But, for those wanting another The Blackening or another Unto the Locust or even the next logical step from those two monstrous albums, be prepared to be surprised. Bloodstone & Diamonds is not an album you may instantly like. One dimensional fans may not get it. In fact, for some, it could be the point at which their relationship with the band is at a crossroads or even an end. But for those willing to give it time - and trust me it will take more than a few listens before this one clicks - you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. Bold, epic, unique, and dark all rolled together and re-imagined. Machine Head have pushed the boundaries with this one and have come out trumps.