CLASSIC FROM THE CRYPT – MACHINE HEAD “BURN MY EYES”

It’s not every day that a classic album comes around for a fancy vinyl reissue. In Classic From The Crypt we highlight important releases being given the special reissue treatment.

In our third installment the band is Oakland, California’s MACHINE HEAD and their much celebrated debut album “Burn My Eyes”, soon to be repressed in exclusive gold double vinyl from Run Out Groove.

Having formed out of frontman Rob Flynn’s previous band VIO-LENCE (a fairly straightforward thrash outfit) back in 1991, Flynn as the band’s only constant has lead MACHINE HEAD through 9 studio albums to date, and while 2007’s “The Blackening” earned the band well-deserved praise as a major return to form (after some less well-received output), their debut definitely remains in the conversation for their defining achievement. Never really a thrash band as such, MACHINE HEAD have been held up as a pioneering pillar of the so called new wave of American heavy metal, or groove metal, or alternative metal. You might just choose to call them heavy metal.

As much as MACHINE HEAD have had plenty of perceived peaks and troughs through their career, both their strengths and weaknesses were on show from the start. Rob Flynn has never been the most dynamic of vocalists, but the fact that you can still hear bands today displaying clear Flynn-isms (see the recent debut by SHATTER BRAIN for example) goes to show how he carved out his own unique style. Although I often find his chest thumping call-to-arms vocals tiresome after a while, I give him credit as a metal vocalist who can switch between a hard, aggressive delivery and a more melodic style and do both pretty convincingly.

To achieve the status of a “classic” album it certainly helps to have some defining, iconic tracks and within the MACHINE HEAD catalogue it doesn’t get much more iconic than the opening “Davidian”, “Old” and “A Thousand Lies”. Straight away on the first track, Flynn plays the *brooding, brooding, brooding* GUUUUUUAAAAAAAA card that MACHINE HEAD deploy, well pretty much everywhere. If you were to reduce “Burn My Eyes” down to three words, it might be “menace/ aggression/ payoff”. It’s not difficult to see why the band fit the term groove metal; rarely has there been a band so clearly aiming to incite mass waves of head-banging. And while there’s little that’s especially sophisticated about how they go about it, it takes a grumpy old cynic not to be carried along on Flynn’s opening “OWWW” on “Old”. Even by this second track the template is pretty well established, but when the sound of the chugging riffs and pounding drums is so massive, why not just let yourself be carried along for the ride? 

Following not long after the L.A. riots, tracks such as “A Nation On Fire”, and “Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies” are a reminder of the time and place this album came out. Flynn may have fancied himself as a bit of a social commentator, documenting the disintegration of society. At other points the focus is more internal, like “I’m Your God Now” where Flynn addresses his troubles with substance abuse. Like the music itself, there isn’t anything especially sophisticated or groundbreaking about Flynn’s lyrics, but the violence and conflict of his words perfectly fits the menace and aggression of the music.

As heavy and menacing as the album is though, by the fourth track “None But My Own” the band are already recycling their own riffs and it isn’t difficult to hear the album’s basic template reworked with minor variations again and again. You only have to consider a band like PANTERA for a contrast of how much more variety and creativity it’s possible to have playing this kind of music. Also, while Flynn definitely has his recognisable style, he’s far more limited in range than Phil Anselmo (whatever you may think of the divisivefrontman) and doesn’t display very much of the former PANTERA singer’s humour or self-awareness. Flynn is always incredibly earnest in his delivery, to the point that it can be hard to take seriously if you’re even a little bit cynical.

None of the tracks between “A Thousand Lies” and final track “Block” are bad at all, but the amount of times the band recycle their own riffs is hard to ignore. “None But My Own” and “The Rage To Overcome” both feature riffs that bear pretty close resemblance to opening track “Davidian”, and whichever tracks the band actually wrote first, when you listen to the album from start to finish, it’s inevitably a case of diminishing returns as far as the impact from one track to the next goes.

Fortunately “Burn My Eyes” finishes on a high, and possibly the highlight of the whole album with “Block” a track that just rips with irrepressible fire and fury. Though MACHINE HEAD are not shy of a guitar solo, it’s telling of the nu-metal associations to come that there ain’t a solo in sight here, just battering riffs and grooves for a solid 5 minutes. When the band released their third album “The Burning Red” in 1999, there was a sense that they were jumping on the bandwagon with a nu-metal friendly style (you can definitely hear the influence of producer Ross Robinson on that album), but MACHINE HEAD were never really a million miles from the down-tuned, percussive groove of what became nu-metal anyway.

For all the perceived highs and lows of the band I’ve never really been fully on board with MACHINE HEAD, but perhaps for that reason I also don’t take any of their changes of direction particularly as a betrayal of any stylistic principles. Throughout their career there have always been standout tracks alongside some filler. 1994 was a year that overflowed with an abundance of rock and metal classics. “Burn My Eyes” lacks the consistency of a “Far Beyond Driven” or a “Troublegum” or a “Superunknown” to really stand the test of time as a true classic, but it still packs a punch and to me, sits pretty confidently on that second rung alongside semi-classics of the time like “Weight”, “Youthanasia” and “Cleansing”, not without their faults, but not to be taken lightly either.

The forthcoming double vinyl edition of “Burn My Eyes” comes remastered and complete with five bonus demo tracks, and is available now to pre-order from Run Out Groove until the 2nd of June. The final pressing will be based on pre-orders, so if you want a copy, place an order to avoid having to pay through the nose later. You can pre-order here. Tom Boatman

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