Album Review: Machine Head – The More Things Change (Roadrunner Records)

Looking back at past albums can leave you feeling more than a little old and this is one of those moments. What was my favourite Machine Head album for many years is now 20 years old. I remember buying this album on digipak at an Our Price record shop on the day of release. That was two decades ago. Oakland born, but UK (and Europe to be fair) adopted heavy metal band Machine Head had really been thrust into the lime light with their exceptional debut album, Burn My Eyes, and all metal media watched this album very closely, and judged it very firmly, to see if the band could possibly top that debut. Generally most people like it but think it didn’t reach the same heights but I disagree. I think this is easily on par with it, maybe better, and it is definitely the heavier of the two albums. I loved Burn My Eyes, don’t get me wrong, and it is because of enjoying it so much that I was out trying to get hold of this album on the day of release but The More Things Change had the biggest impact on me out of the two.

The More Things Change was released in March, 1997 through Roadrunner Records. It was the first Machine Head album to feature drummer Dave McClain and was the last to feature lead guitarist Logan Mader.

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The album came with 10 tracks on it totalling just under 53 minutes in length on the standard album. The digipak came with 3 bonus tracks on it as well which were a cover of Ice-T’s Colors, a cover of Discharge’s song The Possibility of Life’s Destruction and finally an additional Machine Head track called My Misery.

One thing I know now, that I wouldn’t have back then is how much heaviness Machine Head pour into the first full track of an album. I would have seen it on Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change but now, 20 years on, I have seen it on every album. It definitely appears to be a well thought out plan of attack. Musically smash the listener to pieces in the first few minutes for maximum impact. These first tracks have also go on to be favourites at live shows and are mostly heralded as “classics”. The first track on Burn My Eyes is the iconic Davidian, after the short intros on both The Burning Red and Supercharger we get Desire to Fire and Bulldozer, Through the Ashes of Empires hits us with Imperium, The Blackening brings forth Clenching the Fists of Dissent, Unto the Locust gives us I Am Hell and the latest album, Bloodstone and Diamonds gave us Now We Die. All very popular, heavy tracks and some of their best used which are used as show openers and closers across the world.

Do you remember the first track on The More Things Change though? Of course you do. It was the behemoth that is Ten Ton Hammer.

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Basically used to kick the crap out of a gig crowd, the album opener is rightly one of Machine Head’s most popular songs. Everyone knows the intro and everyone raises their fist high to shout the chorus “AND LIKE BROKEN GLASS YOU’LL SHATTER, WITH BLOODY FISTS I’LL BATTER, LIKE A TEN TON HAMMER, SON”. Starting with a small squeal of a guitar it then explodes into life with a crash of instruments. One loud hit followed by a few short hits like Blaaaaam, dun, dun, dun, dun, Blaaaaam, dun, dun, dun, dun. Okay so writing sound with letters doesn’t really work but you know what I am talking about. The verses are deep, dark, slow and heavy but build as you near the chorus. There is a short sung prechorus before Robb Flynn’s vocals hit you full force with a shouted chorus. The song packs a great little guitar solo into it as well that leads back into a chorus that this time, ends with an array of death metal shouts and screams before it breaks down into, similar to Davidian, this low, dirty, chugging riff that you can’t not headbang to. Seriously, if anyone ever asks you why we headbang, put this ending on and watch them accidentally start doing it too.

So how do you follow up that awesome start to an album? Well, with arguably the most popular, and to many, the best song on the album, Take My Scars. Take My Scars has one of my favourite intros in metal. Logan Mader plays a simple high pitch tune, Adam Duce then adds his bass after a few bars then, a few bars later,  Dave McClain starts lightly tapping drums along too. Finally Robb Flynn adds a 4th layer with a deeper guitar note. The drums slowly start getting louder and louder and then with a roar from Robb, all instruments kick in at volume together. It is a brilliant, groove laden intro. It stays at that groove kind of pace for the most part and each verse is separated by a catchy chorus but for me, the best part of the song is still to come with a scratchy, muted solo that builds into a faster and faster one before it suddenly slows into a quiet, drawn out melody. Robb sings in almost spoken word for a few seconds here before the song absolutely explodes with heaviness and mayhem backed up by some of Robb’s most brutal screams in the band’s entire history.

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One thing this album has in spades is great, creative intros. Struck a Nerve starts with a feedback noise before hitting you with a bassline, a roar and an explosion of metal. The Frontlines is a brilliant example of how to mix things up with another great intro. Long drawn out squeals of guitars from Logan and Robb are suddenly joined by a rhythmic drum pattern and a groove laden bass line before another roar pulls all the instruments together beautifully. Spine uses Adam’s bass for the intro this time and then has the guitars and drums jump in and join that with a catchy riff. Bay of Pigs doesn’t do anything clever with the intro and instead just has a few simple notes and drum beats before ripping into the fastest verse sections on the albums so far and then Blistering has an intro that starts with a dentist drill before a wavy guitar line is followed in by the other instruments.

As a complete album, it is a masterclass in musicianship and using your instruments creatively. There are bass intros, duelling guitars, drum patterns, all instruments at once, layers of different instruments joining individually – genuinely each song starts here with a bloody good idea. While it all seems like it is thrashy, heavy, fast and brutal so far, there is a lot more to this album and while yes, it is brutally heavy throughout, it’s pacing is more groove heavy then thrash and speed heavy though it isn’t repetitive as the album does have songs that switch it up. Bay of Pigs is fast and thrashy in comparison to the groove found on Spine and Blistering but then there are absolute gems like Down to None. With it’s epic chorus of “BOW DOWN TO NOONE, BOW DOWN TO NONE”, it strikes a chord with most of the metal community but is different to so much of the rest of the album as it starts with the slowest possible guitar melody. One note on the bass followed by a couple slow, melodic notes on the guitar kind of lead you into a false sense of tranquillity and when the song raises the volume, this time it doesn’t raise the tempo. It is slow, rhythmic and sombre as it builds towards a verse where Dave starts playing the drums at an unbelievable pace and you expect it to explode into the fastest of thrash songs but while the pace picks up for short bursts, it always drops back to a broody, deep sound. Well, that is until the end when it all goes nuts for the last 30 seconds or so. This dark, sombre groove is also used well on other tracks. The Frontlines is one such track with an almost softly sung, but angry, verse where each line ends with a short burst of instruments. Spine also has a very angry sounding but softly spat verse which has real feeling behind the vocals. It also has one of the best solos on the album that leads into a spoken section where Robb repeats the line “I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE” and as he repeats it, it builds into an absolutely epic ending with thumping drums, raging guitars and throat bursting roars of “I’M NOT”.

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If that wasn’t enough, and on the subject of epic, there are two other songs on this album which can surely only be classified as epic. The first of those is Violate which, at the time, was long for a Machine Head song at over 7 minutes long. Now we now that is just a short burst for them as they have albums packed with 8, 9 and even 10 minute long tunes but back in the day, this was big. It is a slow starter with a little rhythmic drum pattern and a slow low toned guitar riff. The verse is sung by Robb, rather than shouted and then, as it hits the chorus, the volume jumps up a notch and Robb’s tone switches to a more shouted sound. It drops back down for the second verse which follows the same pattern and sound as the first all the way through to the end of the second chorus when there is a sudden roar from Robb, like a call to arms, and the song starts to change. First the drums pick the pace up and then the guitars follow and suddenly you are in the middle of a fast, thrash song with lyrics, and instruments, all coming at you at pace. It has some of the angriest lyrics I have ever heard from Machine Head. Lines like “DON’T COME MY WAY, DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY, PRAY YOU FUCKING DIE, BEFORE YOU FEEL MY RAGE” are furiously shouted at you and you feel like he means it. The song ends with a slower, but heavy, chugging riff that is led by the bass. Awesome song.

All this love I have for the album and I haven’t actually touched on my favourite song yet. That song is Blood of the Zodiac. This is the one that shows me where Through The Ashes of Empires came from, despite the little detour en route, with it’s huge sounding drums, clever riff, long guitar solo, different styles of singing and really clever lyrics. It starts slowish with a simple guitar and bass line played before drums add to the tune. Dave starts playing these brilliant little drum rolls and his speed increases as the song builds up to a furious roar from Robb,. The riff is still slow and groove like but listen to that drumming in the background. It is astonishingly quick. The lyrics deal with topics that are familiar to Machine Head fans, mainly drug addiction and religion with clever, dark and morose verses like “THIS BITTER MAN WOULD UNDERSTAND THROUGH ALL HIS LIFE A NEEDLE HAD, BEEN HIS SAVIOUR, BEEN HIS GOD, SO HE TRIED TO MAKE A CHANGE, TRIED TO REARRANGE, GUN AT HIS SIDE, SUICIDE”. The verses are shouted, there is a prechorus that is shouted louder, a second pre chorus that is sung before a really catchy chorus that is a mix of singing and shouting is bellowed out. The second chorus leads into a fantastic, and long solo, with a little bit of dual guitars playing off each other, which is heavy at the start and slows down at the end. Over this quieter tune Robb recites some lyrics in almost prayer like fashion that then increase again in strength and aggression along with the music. Again the drumming is impressive as Robb tells us that it is “TIME FOR ALL OF US TO RISE”. Brilliant song and my favourite on the album.

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A really, really good album. So close to being a 10/10, maybe it should be but I have marked it as 9/10 because while it is fantastic, it isn’t as good as albums like Through the Ashes of Empires and that scored a perfect 10 as you can read in our review here.

Whatever the score, The More Things Change is probably Machine Head’s heaviest album to date but despite the anger and aggression, it manages to be intelligent and creative in it’s delivery. It is jam packed full of great riffs, intense drumming and clever lyrics and reaffirmed their position as the band to watch, back in the day, and with hit album after hit album still being released 20 years later, they are still one of the most important bands in heavy metal today.

If you want to read more on Machine Head then check out how many The More Things Change songs feature in The Disc’s Top Ten Machine Head Songs, or check out a few of our live reviews from Norwich in 2014, Camden in 2014 and Hammersmith Apollo in 2016.

 

Machine Head - The More Things Change (Roadrunner Records)
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    The Final Score - 9/10
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