“Fuck the world” bellows Rob Flynn as opener Volatile bursts out of the speakers to give you a hefty kick up the backside. In just a few seconds, the urgency and immediacy of Catharsis is very evident… and by the time you’ve reached Triple Beam, with its quasi-rap delivery and back-alley bludgeon, you’ll have realised that this is a very different beast to its predecessors, Bloodstone And Diamonds and Unto the Locust.
As fine as those records were, they didn’t live up to The Blackening or give us the kind of pit-starting firecrackers that ignited the band’s career in the 90s.
But Catharsis is a leaner, fresher and fiercer Machine Head. It boasts some of Flynn’s finest writing in years (the title track and California Bleeding are particularly spectacular) and straddles multiple styles with ease.
Indeed, this record is like a grand tour of the Machine Head canon: the dramatic, gleaming metal of Heavy Lies The Crown mixes with thrashy, Motör-head bangers like Razorblade Smile; Grind You Down brings a fistful of mighty tech-grooves to the party; and Psychotic drags us into a dank, claustrophobic hell. The glistening, acoustic ballad Behind A Mask – where Flynn and bassist Jared MacEachern partner up on the harmonies – does provide some respite…but not for very long.
There is also plenty of room for Flynn to bare his soul. Bastards, for instance, sees the frontman despairing at the kind of world his sons will inherit, but carries a message of hope and defiance, railing against America’s descent into intolerance and hate. Raw emotion drives the Californians’ ninth opus… and it’s all the better for it.
This is a record brimming with anthems, a shot in metal’s arm and an early contender for album of the year, make no mistake. Just as they did with The Blackening, Machine Head have raised the bar once again.