Machine Head coming to town is a big deal for me and many other people, especially the writers here at GBHBL and meeting up before the gig for a few beers brings a level of excitement rarely matched where a group of relatively hardened metal fans get to act like excited children at Christmas while discussing what they may or may not get to hear tonight. With such a huge back catalogue now at their disposal, every person has personal favourites and wants, and talking about the possible set list just gets everyone pumped up even further. Everything is set for an epic night of metal with probably the most consistent heavy metal band around right now.
Aside from Machine Head’s album primer tour of small venues, it has been a good few years since a full on venue tour like this, December 2011 being the last time Machine Head arrived in London, other than a small gig playing as Ten Ton Hammer. So with 3 years having passed and an absolutely killer new album just released, excitement for this gig was at the highest possible level. Throw in a great venue in The Roundhouse, Camden and a Saturday night and it has all the makings of a night to remember.
While not quite having the emotional ties of Brixton Academy, The Roundhouse is a really fantastic venue. The stage is raised to help the audience viewpoint, the sound quality is probably the clearest available in London helped greatly by the round interior, good bars, easy to get in and out of and brilliant transport links all add to making the night as enjoyable an experience as possible.
The venue feels sold out as the band prepare to come onstage with a great deal of people rushing to the bar and there is a real buzz of excitement around the place. It is good to hear the familiar chant of “Machine Fucking Head” starting to resound around the crowd and as the lights go off to the sounds of Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne, the excited buzz turns into roars of approval and as the band appear, one by one onstage, as silhouettes against their own back drop, the feeling of emotion and intensity becomes feverish and as the opening notes of Imperium start, all the built up tension is released in an instant when the crowd and band alike raise their fists to the sky and bellow “HEAR ME NOW”. As Imperium ends, the band burst straight into Beautiful Mourning to keep the intensity high and there isn’t a static head in the venue. Almost as soon as Beautiful Mourning ends, to rapturous applause, then we get the first airing of a track from Bloodstone & Diamonds. The strings intro makes the crowd realise they are about to hear Now We Die and the reaction of the crowd is really impressive. As epic as this song sounds on the album, it is magnified tenfold in the live environment and is bound to become a regularly played live track going forward. The crowd again does Machine Head proud, screaming the chorus in unison and at times overtaking even Robb’s vocals in volume.
After a few words from Robb Flynn, the band completely throw everybody who try and predict set lists by bursting into the rarely played Bite the Bullet which goes down an absolute storm. This is followed immediately by Locust which itself is followed immediately by some crowd interaction of Robb chucking drinks into the crowd, where a new record of 4 in a row is set and The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears (Beers) is played at break neck speed. In what appears to be an attempt at killing the crowd, Machine Head dive straight into Ten Ton Hammer and it is very clear that Machine Head are here to destroy our necks and bodies. 40 minutes in and we have had, Imperium, Ten Ton Hammer, Beautiful Mourning, Bite the Bullet, The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears and Locust played almost one after the other with the tiniest of breathers at the end of Now We Die. They are some of the heaviest Machine Head tracks available and despite the fact that they span the full 20 years of their career, they fit seamlessly together. The next track played really surprised me as I was convinced that through the bands own patriotism, it may not be played but In Comes the Flood, from the new album, is played and I am glad it is as it works brilliantly and goes down a storm. It is amazing how every person there seems to know every word of these songs that are only around 5 weeks old but they do and the energy inside the venue is inspiring.
The rampant crowd finally gets a well-deserved breather as Robb gives a little speech about the band and their twenty year history and relationship with the UK and in particular London as well as the healing power of music which acts as the precursor to another crowd favourite, The Darkness Within. It is played and sung beautifully and the crowd carries on a newly found tradition of dragging the ending on themselves after the song has ended, much to the delight of Robb Flynn and the band who applaud the crowd gratefully. The band leave the stage for a few seconds as the lights dim and surprisingly Declaration, the introduction to the album Supercharger starts playing. The band return and burst straight into Bulldozer which is pure carnage live and has everybody, absolutely everybody, going mental. Bulldozer is followed immediately by Killers and Kings which, while being a very solid song in its own right, is probably the weakest off of the new album but it still goes down very well with such an appreciative crowd. Surprisingly, not as an encore, Davidian comes next with Dave McClain sounding thunderous on the drums it reignites a passionate crowd and again has every single person in the venue banging their heads along to the extended outro.
When Davidian ends, Robb gave a little speech about a song that hadn’t been played since 2010 and a curious crowd screams in delight when the opening notes of the mesmerising Descend the Shades of Night start. It is absolutely spine tingling and a look at the faces of those I am with and those around me shows just how much this moment means to everyone involved. The solo with Phil Demmel and Robb is unspeakably amazing.
If the gig had ended after that masterpiece, I would have still left a very happy man but Machine Head don’t do things by half and again, completely unpredictably, the band break straight into Supercharger. The intensity of the pit rises in appreciation and the second track of much maligned Supercharger album is absolutely ferocious live. A heartfelt speech about the anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s death follows and leads straight into Aesthetics of Hate, which again has the crowd at fever pitch, driven by the extra emotion this song carries. The shouts of “May the hand of God strike them down” at the end is booming and echoes around the venue long after the song ends.
Giving the crowd no time to catch their breath, the speedy Game Over, the fourth track from the new album, is played for the first time in London and it is hellishly fast live. Another new song sung loudly by everyone there with special emphasis given to the united screams of “GAME OVER”. Jared MacEachern bass sounds particularly prominent on this one.
Despite all the surprises of the night so far, the biggest was yet to come when at the end of a speech related to the 20th anniversary of Burn My Eyes the band break into Block. A brutally heavy song that hasn’t been played on these shores in over a decade. It completely reenergises everyone around and the simple chorus of “Fuck It All” is screamed out passionately by everyone. As the band say their thank you’s and leave the stage, the crowd take up the “Machine Fucking Head” chant loudly and in unison until the band return for the encore. As Robb himself would say – “This song is called Halo”. This song is the musical definition of epic and is the perfect ending to a truly fantastic gig. The crowd, using their last reserves of energy, sings, air guitar and headbang their way through to the close before feverishly applauding their heroes off the stage.
It is not really possible to mark a gig as higher than 9 out of 10. There will always be songs you wished they played and didn’t, especially with a band with so many amazing songs but this gig was a close to perfection as you are likely to get. It was absolutely brilliant. So many surprise tracks really added to it as you really had no idea what song was coming next. If I had a gripe at all, and I am clutching at straws a little here, it is that I would have liked another song or two from Bloodstone & Diamonds although have no idea what I would have wanted dropped to fit them in. Aside from that, and a poorly managed and expensive merchandising stall (sell a guitar for £550 but don’t take cards? Really? How many metallers walk about with that much cash on you?), it was a magnificent night and once again showcased a band that is one of the best in the world live. Absolutely amazing night that will live long in the memory.
Machine Head @ The Roundhouse, Camden Town (06/12/14)
The Final Score - 9/10
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