In recent years there has been a surge of interest in the four major bands of Thrash Metal, otherwise know as The Big Four: Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer.  However, there are other bands from that scene, and the subsequent scenes that developed out of Thrash, that are just as important, talented and innovative.  Machine Head is certainly one of those bands.

They have been on the frontlines of the modern American Metal scene since the early 1990s, and have put a huge effort into shaping what the band has become known as today. I remember being a kid, and hanging out with my cousin as he conjured up lewd tattoo drawings, and blared Machine Head’s “Burn My Eyes.”  That album turned into a strong memory from my childhood that is still just as vivid to me today.  To me, and many others, Machine Head is just as much a heavyweight in American Metal as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer or Anthrax.  The chance to experience Machine Head live is just as exciting as seeing any of those other bands.

Phil Demmel of Machine Head holding The Backstage Beat mini mag

Before the show started, some of the grand photographers of The Backstage Beat and I got the chance to sit down and chat with Machine Head’s lead guitarist Phil Demmel.  I asked him about the new album, “Unto The Locust” whose sound is very ambitious and dynamic with classical elements blended into Machine Head’s distinctive style.  I was very curious whether the blend of influences had been intentional, or if it was a result of the natural flow of recording. Phil explained that they had actually been taking in some classical music over the course of writing the album.  The musicians also paid homage to bands that inspired them to start making music in their youth, such as Iron Maiden.  Phil also discussed how Metal has a stronger following in Europe than the United States, and the band’s eternal struggle to reach a similar level of recognition in the US.  It was a pleasure to talk with Phil, and an experience I’m grateful for.

The show itself was comprised of three bands; Darkest Hour, Suicide Silence and the almighty Machine Head. Rise To Remain was a part of the tour earlier on, but they dropped off before reaching Atlanta.  Even if the lineup had only been Machine Head, the show would still have been just as stellar.

I have been a fan of Darkest Hour for over a decade, but it was actually my first time seeing them live.  What an experience it was!  They have been shredding since their formation back in 1995, and have refused to let up even the slightest over the past 17 years. As I climbed the stairs, the chords from the intro track ‘Terra Noctunus” off their new album “The Human Romance” carried through the air, and I could only imagine what I was about to walk into.

I couldn’t have imagined the true form of talent and endless ability displayed by Darkest Hour live.   They played songs riddled with intricate structures and riffs with precision, while lead vocalist John Henry spouted out his lyrics with a fire and passion that only comes from true emotion. Darkest Hour’s set ran through new songs such as “Savor the Kill” and “Love as a Weapon,”  but also went back to “With a Thousand Words” and “Say But One” from the album “Undoing Ruin.”  They closed with “Doomsayer” off of “Deliver Us.”  All of their material showcased the strong writing talent and solid musical ability of each band member.  Of all the bands, they certainly had the best attitude and overall willingness to interact enthusiastically with the crowd.   It’s very clear that Darkest Hour performs for the love and passion of music.

Suicide Silence followed Darkest Hour.  This band is the only one of the three that I had seen before, and once again they failed to impress me in any way. I had chanced upon them at the 2010 Vans Warped Tour only because they were playing in the one shady area of the festival at the same time I was desperately trying to escape the heat.  I tried to give them a second chance, but my verdict: one of the most mediocre performances I’ve ever had the pain of experiencing. I’m not even sure where to start. I mean, the only good thing they had going for them was the bafflingly positive crowd response.  The audience couldn’t have been responding to Suicide Silence’s lack of talent or boring stage presence.  More likely, they were excited only because this band is one they had heard of in the Metal scene.  If the band hadn’t thrown out the names of some of the songs, I wouldn’t even have know which was which.  That is not because I generally do not listen to them, but because each song sounds essentially the same, with little or no innovation. This comes from a guy who has for many years listened to Death Metal, Grindcore and Hardcore – all genres that have been accused of everything sounding the same by the uneducated public.   When it comes to Suicide Silence this accusation is  actually true. Throughout the entire performance I got absolutely no sense that anything they did was from a passion or true love of the music.  It felt more like they just tried to be as brutal as possible because it is cool.

And now back to the good music! The time had finally come for us to have the pleasure of Machine Head thoroughly destroying our eardrums with a show that most bands could only dream of one day executing. Machine Head manages to accomplish something rare:  they seamlessly blend showmanship and honest feeling with musical talent. Machine Head’s show doesn’t feel like it is completely rehearsed and planned out. Instead, they actually do let themselves get lost in the music while still putting on a great show.  They were nothing short of amazing. Machine Head went off like a Hydrogen Bomb with the opening song “I Am Hell” — the first song of their new album, “Unto The Locust.”  That was just the tip of the iceberg.  When it comes to the rest of the set, the entire album “Unto The Locust” took up a majority of it, with a couple of older tracks such as “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears” and “Davidian” thrown in.  The inclusion of the older songs really helped showcase the band’s evolution of sound and style over the years.

Machine Head’s performance as a band was something to certainly be in awe of.  Their flawless precision while playing the songs never faltered as they let themselves go crazy. Phil and Adam wandered over and played each other’s frets in the middle of a song like it was nothing. It wasn’t just awesome to watch — it clearly showed just how exceptionally talented they are as musicians. During the show, Robb Flynn acted as ringleader to the entire crowd.  His ability to get the crowd to move, laugh and smile created an all together positive energy, and honestly made everything feel unified. He did get serious for a bit though when they reached the song “Aesthetics of Hate” due to its subject matter:  the death of Dimebag Darrell, and a disgustingly hateful article written about him after his murder. Robb reflected on a time Dimebag Darrell, out of true kindness, sent Robb gallons of vodka to put in his collection, and keep him in stock for a long time.  He related that Darrell was one of the greatest human beings he had ever had the chance of knowing. Robb was also wearing a bracelet that a fan had given to him the night before at the Charlotte, North Carolina show.  He explained it was in memory of the fan’s mother who had just passed away.  The fan approached him after the Charlotte show, and simply asked him to take the bracelet and wear it at least for one show — a wish that he gladly granted.

Machine Head definitely succeeded in making a strong and personal connection with the crowd, and that really proved how important a band they are to people in the Metal scene.  They hit on a deep personal level with their music. From the crowd’s reaction to the band, you can tell that they have no fair-weather fans, but rather a solid group of loyal people who wholeheartedly love what Machine Head does. They still are among the top 5 greatest bands I’ve ever seen live. Hands down.

I don’t know what else to say really, I mean even though a part of the show was fairly horrendous, the remainder of it completely made up for the bad. Darkest Hour and Machine Head are just two bands that fully encompass what Metal really is about: artists exploring inner conflicts and pains, along with feelings towards the outside world, all through a form of music that’s aggressive yet beautifully executed.   Their music brings out the reality of situations that are grotesque yet have glimmers of hope beyond them, and they both do it in a way that is exceptional and amazing in the genre itself.  In a way I should be thankful for Suicide Silence, because, even though what they did was not good in any way, they made me appreciate what Darkest Hour, Machine Head, and any other band out there that actually puts their heart into it does and continues to do.  I grant a full recommendation to go see both Darkest Hour and Machine Head, together or separate.

 Photos by Ann Bodan / Phil Demmel pic by Geoff Millwood