By Greg Maki
So much has happened in the world of Machine Head in recent years that its previous album, the scattershot “Catharsis,” seems even more in the rearview than its January 2018 release indicates. Later in 2018, longtime drummer Dave McClain and guitarist Phil Demmel left the band, leading to guitarist Logan Mader and drummer Chris Kontos stepping in the next year for a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Burn My Eyes,” the band’s landmark debut album. Eventually, guitarist Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka (Decapitated) and drummer Matt Alston stepped in to complete the new Machine Head lineup moving forward.
This brings us to 2022 and “Of Kingdom and Crown,” the band’s 10th studio album, which once again sees Machine Head rising from the ashes to craft a modern classic. Similar to how “The Blackening” (2007) was the culmination of a climb back to the top after a dalliance with nu metal, “Of Kingdom and Crown” assures that the lineup turmoil is a thing of the past and that this latest incarnation of Machine Head is a dynamic force to be reckoned with and maybe the most technically proficient version of the band to date. (Navene Koperweis, formerly of Animals as Leaders, tracked the drums for the album.)
While maybe not as much of a rager as “The Blackening,” the record is plenty heavy and sounds huge, anthemic even, full of shout- and sing-along choruses and plenty of fist-in-the-air moments. At the same time, there’s an adventurous, proggy spirit that starts with the epic, 10-minute opener “Slaughter the Martyr” and continues throughout the album’s 13 tracks, ending with the doom-laden, somewhat “Halo”-like closer “Arrows in Words from the Sky.”
It’s important to note that this is a concept album set in a futuristic wasteland and centered on two characters: Ares, who loses the love of his life (Amethyst) and goes on a murderous rampage against the vile sect responsible for her murder, and Eros, who loses his mother to a drug overdose and becomes radicalized in the aftermath. Perhaps due to the framework the story provides, there’s a remarkable focus to the recording; all the detours and interludes, all the vocal harmonies of band founder Robb Flynn and bassist Jared MacEachern are in service to the songs—as opposed to “Catharsis,” which felt like Flynn running wild with no one to rein him in.
I’m not ready to say “Of Kingdom and Crown” is the best Machine Head offering to date, but it’s certainly the strongest since “The Blackening” and easily the best album I’ve heard so far in 2022.
Nuclear Blast/Imperium Recordings – August 26, 2022