|Empires rise and empires fall. All things must change, and all things must come to an end. But as they say, for every ending, there is also a beginning. And that is where Machine Head sits right now, one era having come to a close for the band, but another just opening up, spearheaded by the band's fifth studio album, Through The Ashes Of Empires.
Less than 2 years ago, Machine Head was saying goodbye to the American branch of Roadrunner Records, unsure about their future in their own country. But the band has now come out of that experience stronger than ever, and Through The Ashes Of Empires, phenomenally successful throughout the rest of the world, now arrives in the U.S. on... Roadrunner Records.
The American release of the album is the crowning achievement in an already dazzling run of events. Through The Ashes Of Empires stormed the album charts all over the world, debuting in the Top 50 in countries like Sweden, France, Austria, England (where it was #7 on the rock chart), Finland, and Germany (where it charted at #24). A triumphant, sold-out European tour followed, as the press acclaimed the album as "Album Of The Year" (Metal Hammer UK 2003 Critics Poll), "the best thing the band has ever recorded" (Kerrang!, AU.), and "classic Machine Head" (Total Guitar, UK).
In short, Through The Ashes Of Empires has been a fresh start for Machine Head in ways that the band could never have dreamed. "This album does feel like a new beginning," says drummer Dave McClain. "Supercharger (the band's previous studio release) now feels like an end to some evolution that was going on musically."
Supercharger was a turning point for Machine Head more than musically. It was an effort besieged with difficulties, least of which was that it was issued on October 2nd, 2001, scant weeks after the nightmarish events of September 11th. The reverberations of that horrific day were felt in every facet of life, even down to the release and marketing of a metal album. The economy slumped, record sales dropped, people were uninterested in music and entertainment, and radio stations across the U.S. were suddenly scrutinizing their playlists for the slightest hint of insensitivity.
It didn't help that the first single and video from the album was called "Crashing Around You". The track, which had landed at radio on September 10th and was in the Top 5 Most Added, was yanked almost immediately. Meanwhile, the video -- which included the band performing in front of a 200-foot-wide projected image of the San Francisco skyline in flames -- met with equally disastrous results. Things spiraled downward from there, and at least in the States, it seemed clear that Supercharger would not get an opportunity to make its mark.
"It was a very humbling - to say the least - experience," recalls McClain. "No single, video wouldn't get played. Our hands were kinda tied behind our back in a way. The thing that really hit hard was being without a label for a while, but looking back on it, that may have been a big reason why we started writing the way we did for Through The Ashes Of Empires."
With the Supercharger situation behind them, a number of recording options ahead, and a newfound freedom to do whatever they wanted, Machine Head found themselves feeling, in many ways, like a new band. "There was a 'nothing to lose' mentality that brought us back to the point where we were a band that's just starting out," says McClain. "So we better have a debut record that's gonna blow people away!"
McClain says the band's mission when they began writing Through The Ashes Of Empires was clear: "To write an album that would really satisfy us musically," he says. "Longer songs, off-time parts, leads. We didn't worry whether this song or that song could be played on the radio or not." The resourceful Robert Flynn undertook the production alone for the first time, while living legend Colin Richardson, who knows a thing or two about capturing Machine Head on tape (he did, after all, produce the band's first two slabs, Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change), handled the mixing duties.
By all measures, the results are ferocious. Not only is Through The Ashes Of Empires huge sonically, but the music possesses a fierceness and power that rivals those seminal early albums. But we're not talking rehash here, not by a long shot. Machine Head is a band that always strives to move forward, and it's clear that everything they've learned about themselves and making music over the previous four studio efforts has been poured into this one.
And once again, leave it to the pen of Robert Flynn to set loose some of the most emotionally intense lyrics in all of metal. While songs like "In The Presence Of My Enemies" and "Imperium" relay all the anger we've come to expect from Machine Head, "Left Unfinished" finds Flynn at his most personal and exposed, as he comes to terms with his deepest unresolved issues about his adoption as a child, and the feelings of abandonment that emerged from that.
With a new album that harkens back to the aggression of old, plus a new guitarist with a historic connection to the band (Phil Demmel, who played with Flynn in the much-loved Bay Area thrash band Vio-lence), Machine Head is glancing back while still moving forward. And now that the band is back home on Roadrunner in America, the final piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. Dave McClain puts it best: "We feel that if Through The Ashes Of Empires was our first album, it would do the same things that Burn My Eyes did, in terms of establishing Machine Head as one of the best metal bands out there." For this band, a new empire is rising.