Machine Head – ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN: Album Review

Machine Head return with a blistering new record that sees the Bay Area thrashers scale the summits again.

Released: 26th August 2022

Label: Nuclear Blast X Imperium Recordings

Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital / Cassette

Machine Head have never been a band to compromise. Plenty of their records have been divisive and plenty of their records have been stonewall classics. Three decades into their existence, Robb Flynn and his current band of men have hit the spot on ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN. Now consisting of the ever present Flynn along with Decapitated guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Matt Alston, Machine Head’s new album is one of concept.

The ‘c-word…’ concept… sometimes a tricky proposition in music. On the concept, Flynn comments; “The album and concept was loosely inspired by the Japanese anime series Attack On Titan, in the sense that in that series, there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guy… both sides believe they’re doing the right thing, but both are committing atrocities and evil.”

Flynn’s comment sets up the album perfectly. Narratively, the story is just that. The story moves between two characters and the musical accompaniment enhances the emotion of the story. Character #1 is Ares: (pronounced Aries), our main, who loses the love of his life (Amethyst) and goes on a murderous rampage against the vile sect responsible for her murder. Character #2 is Eros: (pronounced Arrows) the perpetrator, who loses his mother to a drug overdose and becomes radicalized in the aftermath. Eros goes off the deep end manifesting his own killing spree. 

Paint yourself the picture of a futuristic wasteland with an omnipresent red sky and you have the ingredients to really immerse yourself in ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN.

SLAUGHTER THE MARTYR opens the album in grand fashion. Clocking in at the double digit mark, the atmospheric opening builds alongside Flynn’s impassioned vocals. A thumping bass drum beat and pulsing guitars propel the song into its second part. Epic is something that Machine Head are very good at (see The Blackening). They display their quality in producing a wildly thrilling and epic opening here. When Robb Flynn brings in his distinctive vocal style you can’t help but want to raise a fist.

How do you follow up a long and expansive opener? Go for the thrash jugular. CHØKE ØN THE ASHES ØF YØUR HATE cuts hard. The Bay Area thrash DNA is unequivocally clear. There is a little Mustaine in the vocal delivery and there is plenty of Holt (Gary) in the guitar style, as well as the dissonance of the Kiełtyka fretboard. So far, so unrelenting.

BECØME THE FIRESTØRM completes the opening trilogy of songs that appear to represent one of the aforementioned characters. Some nice twin guitar work makes things a little lighter and melodic, but this is still a ferocious bastard of a song. MacEachern’s bass rolls around and the soloing again swings back to the Bay.

ØVERDØSE follows and sets up another set of songs that tell the story of another character. The interlude precedes MY HANDS ARE EMPTY which sets off in mournful fashion. Foreboding dark effects and a vocal refrain of melancholy build into a halo of swirling guitars before an explosion of grief in music. Shifts back and forth between the opening style and the crushing explosion make for a thrilling ride. Lyrically, there is a little dash of Slipknot in the nihilistic feel of the song. ‘I will not hide these scars of mine,’ growls Flynn. You really do feel the anguish in the music; a skill that is so oft missed in music of this nature.

In following up MY HANDS ARE EMPTY, comes UNHALLØWED. It is a complete see change in mood with more sung vocals and a devastating groove that Machine Head are so well known for. Emotion oozes out of the song and the drumming of Alston shines in the breakneck pace of the song. Atop the drumming are a flurry of searing guitar solos.

ASSIMILATE punctuates the story again as it sets up KILL THY ENEMIES. The guitars get more dense and it makes for a claustrophobic and chaotic listen. NØ GØDS, NØ MASTERS continues the onslaught; a song that is going to be a shoe in for live sets to come with an incredibly catchy vocal take on the track title. Again, Kiełtyka and Flynn shine on guitars with pummelling riffing and shrieking guitar licks that leave their imprint.

BLØØDSHØT swirls like an air raid siren of anger before giving way to a another glorious slice of thrash metal. One of the great things about Machine Head is that they pay their dues to their roots and the underground but put their distinctive stamp on anything. Sometimes this can miss the mark, but as mentioned, this record hits the bullseye.

The old adage of saving the best to last is what Machine Head have done with ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN. RØTTEN still plays into the apocalyptic narrative but the song transcends worlds in its message. You can’t help but think that when Flynn exults, ‘Everything is rotten to the core,’ that he isn’t making comment on our world and the dire state of many things. ‘This nightmare never ends,’ feels like a completely true statement. In delivering the vocals, Flynn hits almost Death Metal proportions of growling.

TERMINUS again punctuates the maelstrom before the album closes with the humongous ARRØWS IN WØRDS FRØM THE SKY. Like the album opener, the sing is grandiose and goes through the whole scope of emotions. ‘I am reborn,’ sings Flynn before the song degenerates into a tumult of cacophonous riffs and soaring solos. The guttural vocals again rear their ghastly head as this monolithic and majestic hour of a record concludes.

ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN will be a talked about Machine Head record for many a year. It is up there with their finest works. It will rightfully be mentioned alongside Burn My Eyes, The Blackening and Unto The Locust. Form is temporary, but class is permanent; Machine Head bleed class on ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN.

Machine Head’s forthcoming tour with Amon Amarth will undoubtedly be one of the heavy metal highlights of the year; two bands that are hot on the heels of great releases and playing bigger venues. One not to be missed. Check out the dates below.

Listen to NØ GØDS, NØ MASTERS from Machine Head below.

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