Album Review: ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN by Machine Head (Nuclear Blast)
Long time masters of riffing, stomping groove and killer hooks, Machine Head return with their 10th studio effort, titled ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN and due for release on the 26th of August via Nuclear Blast.
Machine Head, established in 1991, need very little introduction. Love them or hate them, you all know them and cannot deny the impact they have had on heavy metal over the last 3 decades. From genre-expanding triumphs like 1994’s debut, Burn My Eyes, 1999’s The Burning Red to the planet-conquering might of 2007’s The Blackening, to the new life injected in 2014’s Bloodstone and Diamonds, Machine Head have carved a singular path across the globe for over three decades now with no end in sight. Whether it be marathon 3-hour live performances, or millions of albums sold worldwide, and accolades both big and small, there aren’t too many ‘distractions’ clouding up the vision of guitarist/vocalist/founder Robb Flynn these days.
In 2022, Machine Head are back with their most crushing and complete album yet. ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN is an hour-long conceptual monolith, rich in colour and dynamics but hell-bent on destruction. Set in a futuristic wasteland where the sky is always crimson red, ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN tells the tale of two characters, both faced with incalculable trauma, whose stories become bloodily entwined as this deep, dark record progresses.
“The album and concept was loosely inspired by the Japanese anime series Attack On Titan,” says Robb, “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.”
Machine Head continue with their most recent line up of Robb Flynn on vocals and guitars, Jared MacEachern on bass and vocals, Wacław Kiełtyka (Vogg) on guitars and Matt Alston is credited for drums.
Album opener, SLAUGHTER THE MARTYR, is a mammoth track at near 11 minutes long. It sees Machine Head stretch all their creative muscle starting off with clean, melodic and super passionate sounding vocals that see Robb and Jared combine to create beautiful harmonies. The dissonant melody fades back and gets replaced by the more familiar crunch of grooving riffs and punchy drum beats as the track looks to set the tone for both the record and the concept. The verses crunch hard before heading onto a soaring, but short chorus that just refreshed the palette before a second crunching verse.
Being a long song, we do get a lot of the best of Machine Head. An angry and venomous sounding frontman, thick bassy riffs and wicked drum beats. The chorus hits again and it is a cracker, and the solo is a fiery little melodic beast. It’s a wonderful start to ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN.
We get a couple of familiar singles next, starting with the thrashy rager CHØKE ØN THE ASHES ØF YØUR HATE. A strong, pit filler of a song with excellent drums and some nice riff work. It’s heavy and fiery, with a wicked solo and a beat that forces heads to bang. I like it a lot but it pales in comparison to the next single, BECØME THE FIRESTØRM. Now this is my jam. Right from the off we are left under no illusion, Machine Head are here to fuck you up. The drums, the intensity, this is insanity and the chorus works wonderfully, staying at hyper speed but bringing in the cleans to just highlight the heaviness further. There are definite, This is the End, vibes from some of the melody and patterns but who cares, that’s a banger too.
This is a firm favourite that has been getting heavily played, and will continue to.
A brief intermission follows called ØVERDØSE which moves the story side along as we hear true grief and despair leading into yet another single, MY HANDS ARE EMPTY. This song makes so much more sense now, in the concept. Dark, sombre and grief ridden, the “oh, oh” intro with building drums and guitars has a real impact. As it explodes into life, it keeps the sadness even within the anger and feels poignant. The chorus is wonderfully effective in this song and the solo, with the quick drums is stunning. Another banger, made better than the stand alone single when listened to as part of the concept within ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN.
Carrying on with the well known singles comes an absolute favourite and one of Machine Head’s best written songs of recent times, UNHALLØWED. This is well known, this track. I have played it untold times and will continue to do so. I think it is one of Machine Head’s most accomplished recent records. It has magic, a wicked riff, ringing melody and a switch to epic greatness building up to a chorus after the solo that will raise every hair on your body. This is modern Machine Head at their best.
A story driving intermission moves things along called ASSIMILATE before another new track, KILL THY ENEMIES takes off. It’s a heavy number, going more for the chunky groove and pounding drums over the hyper speed. The simple chorus is extremely effective, a nice stompy headbanger with a melodic clean section that really elevates the track. It also has a huge solo, reminiscent of older times with plenty of dual harmonies and pace changes. It’s a wicked track, improving and growing as it goes on after a pretty standard, but decent start.
NØ GØDS, NØ MASTERS is up next, getting underway with some interesting guitar tones and plenty of harmonised vocals. It’s a cleaner song with some great vocals, and backing vocal passages. The drums stand out as does the extremely singable chorus. On to BLØØDSHØT and here comes the rage. A quick track with sections of screaming and squealing guitar lines bookend a thrashy, groovy verse full of chunky riffing and intense drums. The instrumental section in this one is a winner and very old school sounding. The drums are fiery, it isn’t a solo, is just more a pit inducing section of groove and thrash. It’s a decent track, but not up there with the best ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN has to offer.
RØTTEN follows and is the same as BLØØDSHØT in that it’s a very strong, heavy and crunchy track but is a bit more standard fare than the very high bar set across a lot of ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN. I love the simple riff, the switches in tempo are great and the thick bassy sound is welcome. The heavy roars, the chunkiness of the riff that follows and the screaming solo – it’s all very good, and I imagine destructive live, but it’s also pretty standard stuff.
So we reach the end game, starting with TERMINUS, another concept driving intermission that works wonderfully leading into the absolute stunner album closer, ARRØWS IN WØRDS FRØM THE SKY. I have long loved this track since it’s original release in June 2021 on an EP (which also had RØTTEN and BECØME THE FIRESTØRM on it). It’s epic, grandiose and emotional – a song I love singing, that gets me every time. From it’s clean, emotional start to the intro of that riff. The harmonised vocals are insane, the chorus is stunning and it has the best, or one of the best, solos on the whole of ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN on it. It is even better here, coming off the back of a concept I barely, but slightly, understand from an emotional standpoint if nothing else.
A supreme track, one of the very best across Machine Head’s complete catalogue, to end an impressive album.
ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN is not Burn My Eyes, before the naysayers arrive and spew forth their nonsense. It is an evolution again, another turn of the wheel, for a band that have become known as much for their quality as their changes. What ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN does very well is take all of the positive Machin Head familiarities and combine them into a single album. The earlier thrash sounds, the chunky as hell groove, ripping vocals and thunderous drums join forces with their more modern production, dual guitar solos, clean singing passages, grander choruses.
The concept, while loose in regards to Attack On Titan (for me as I don’t know it), is forefront in the emotion and passion on show. The despair, anger and awakening that comes across the album works a treat and maybe helped to keep the songs working together in a steady direction. I wonder if it helped focus the band’s mind in regards to song writing? After the marmite of Catharsis, an album that has plenty of quality alongside it’s lacklustre filler heavy content, I can honestly say that everything here has purpose and is well written, well imagined and well placed across the album.
It flows well, excites at times, makes you want to jump in a pit and unload at others. It makes you think and feel. Are Machine Head back, you say? Well, they never went away so that is a stupid question but ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN should at the very least shut up a portion of critical social media warriors because love them or hate them, ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN is a damn good album and shows a band with plenty of creativity, enthusiasm and fire still left in their belly.
Gran your copy of ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN now, from Nuclear Blast by following the link or from Machine Head’s website, here.
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ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN by Machine Head (Nuclear Blast)
The Final Score - 8.5/10