After an awesome thrash debut with Burn My Eyes, Machine Head had this awkward phase where they went nu-metal because, well, everyone else was doing it. Thankfully, they pulled their heads out of their butts and came back with three great albums, one of which was an absolute game changer that confirmed Machine Head’s dominant force in modern metal. That album is, of course, Unto the Locust.
Oh, were you expecting The Blackening? Sorry, no dice. The Blackening is a great album and 99% of people will tell you that it’s their strongest effort, but I don’t get it. I think people were just surprised that Machine Head had such grandiose songs in them. Besides, a lot of it, like “Wolves” and “A Farewell to Arms” (i.e. a freaking third of the album’s run time), isn’t grandiose, it’s obtuse. Meanwhile, every song on Unto the Locust is absolutely vital. “Darkness Within” is epic, “This Is The End” has the fastest riffing you’ll hear outside of Zach Brown Band, and the whole record flows like a river. It’s a musical triumph that surpasses its predecessor in every way, but Machine Head released The Blackening first, so everyone went into UTL with preconceived notions that it could never surpass The Blackening and heard what they expected to hear.
So, let’s look at the record that has an extra three years between it and the gelatinous blob that everyone’s still drooling over – Bloodstone & Diamonds. “Now We Die” is a strong opener, with the symphonic overlay in the chorus giving that little bit extra it needed to get over the line, while the awkwardly leaked “Killers and Kings” is a straight up head bang anthem. This one is gonna go off at their live shows. It’s got sing a longs and breakdowns just begging for fist pumps and circle pits.
“Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones”, however, is the successor to The Blackening’s “Halo”. It’s got that technical leaping and swooping guitar riff built around a straight, metal core. It truly shines, though, when it improves on “Halo”. The central riff rules so hard, but the chorus hits and the song just loses all momentum. “Ghosts…”, conversely, manages to keep up the energy during the chorus and not compromise the song’s strengths, purely for the chorus’ sake. “Night of Long Knives” is one of the weaker tracks on the album, but it’s followed by the highlight. “Sail Into the Black” is the most haunting, vengeful slow burner I’ve ever heard. It takes forever to get going, but you don’t care because it has you hypnotised like that snake in The Jungle Book, only you feel like you’re in even more peril. When I listen to it, my mind’s eye conjures the most vivid picture of undead pirates slowly emerging out of a silent, mist-shrouded sea, completely silent on their ruined, rotten hulks, conveying sheer menace through their silence. Then all hell breaks loose and body parts are flying as the undead begin the slaughter.
The rest of the record doesn’t hit the same heights as “Sail into the Black”, but what could? “Eyes of the Dead” feels hollow after listening to that track, kind of like how the rest of letlive.’s Fake History sounded after “Muther”. “Beneath the Silt” is a slower groove-laden track that does recapture a bit of the glory, while “In Comes the Flood” and “Game Over” sound like every Machine Head song ever. “Damage Inside” and “Imaginal Cells” are just awkward filler tracks, while ‘Take Me Through the Fire’ finishes off the record with a welcome return to the heavier tendencies.
Ultimately, Bloodstone & Diamonds is a good collection of songs that, like Lamb of God’s Sacrament, are completely overshadowed by one track. “Sail Into the Black” is breathtaking and it makes great songs like “Beneath the Silt”, “Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones” and “Now We Die” seem merely adequate. Further, while the record has the epic, haunting, and slow burner down to a T, it lacks that kick ass head banger track to land the killer blow. While all the heavy songs are good, there’s nothing to be found here of the same calibre as “Beautiful Mourning” or “Imperium” (still the best song they’ve ever written) to be found. However, when one song makes the otherwise good songs look slightly less so, you know the album is a winner. Enjoy this one, Head Cases.