It is so easy to label; be it political or religious ideologies or guitar sounds and lyrics - it is our natural inclination to label things in order to limit their scope and in turn allow us to grasp them better. Bay Area quartet Machine Head have set the trends and influenced the sounds of the American metal movement for the past decade, and they have done so through a steadfast conviction to avoid being labeled, and therefore limited. Five studio albums and over 1.7 million in world-wide sales later, Machine Head return to their rightful place atop the hard music kingdom they helped build with the release of Through the Ashes of Empires.
Critics and fans alike heaped praise upon the album, which was released internationally in October of 2003. Hailing it as a metal masterpiece, TTAOE went on to become the 2nd best selling record for Roadrunner Records Europe that year. Six months later in the Spring of 2004, Through the Ashes of Empires saw its U.S. release, also via Roadrunner, with a new song, "Seasons Wither" added as a bonus track. The album debuted at #88 on the Billboard Top 200 (tying Machine Head's highest debut ever) and their follow-up live DVD Elegies bullied its way to #13 in the U.S. Billboard charts, and #4 in The U.K charts. Their three U.S. headline tours of clubs and small theaters both achieved stellar numbers, selling out nearly all of their shows in major markets throughout the country, garnering a direct support slot for Lamb Of God on select U.S. dates. The band's European summer festival run included blistering appearances at Germany's Rock Am Ring / Rock Am Park (as direct support to Korn and Evanescence), a headlining slot atop Germany's important Wacken festival (prompting fans to vote Machine Head "Best Band of the Festival" on Wacken's official website), the U.K.'s Download Festival in Scotland, and a show-stealing Donington performance as direct support to Slipknot and Metallica, with the fans once again electing Machine Head "Best Band of the Day" on Download's official website. In addition to selling out every single date of their headlining tour of Australia (their first in nine years), their two European headline tours of large and small theaters both achieved stellar numbers, selling out nearly all shows in major markets throughout the continent (the most recent of which was the most successful in the history of the band).
Upon completion of Through the Ashes of Empires, rather than just hand the record over to the label, the band chose to embark on a grass-roots campaign. Reaching out to fans via their website (www.machinehead1.com), the band broadcast documentary-style "Making Of" featurettes of both the album and their videos, exclusively announced several pre-release playback parties (complete with "Machine Head Karaoke") and held an online contest allowing fans to vote for songs that they'd most like to hear the band cover. Once the two winning tunes were chosen - Metallica's "Battery" and Faith No More's "Jizzlobber" - the band then recorded the songs in rough demo form and posted them on the website for everyone to hear. All of this was done to fuel the near-insatiable fire that Machine Head fans consistently exhibit.
And with good reason; to witness Machine Head live is to understand both their unique internal chemistry and the undeniable bond that the band shares with its audience. Their performance has been honed and strengthened through nearly seven years of non-stop worldwide touring. Touted by many as the best live band in metal, oftentimes one can barely hear the band perform over the din of the audience singing along to favorites, old and new alike. Tickets for the band's recent sold-out U.K. tour elicited bids in excess of $300 per pair on eBay and had bootleggers selling rip-off's of lead singer / guitarist Robert Flynn's coveted "FUCT" stage T-shirt.
One can fully appreciate the band's current level of success by looking back on their less-than-glamorous beginnings. From beer-fueled rehearsals in a small Oakland, CA. warehouse that they shared with 4 punk rock bands, to playing their first house and kegger parties, Machine Head (some members not even old enough at the time to get into the 21+ clubs they were booked in) set about to create something unique and different in the metal world. To spread the word, the band took guerrilla marketing into their own hands, relentlessly flyering high schools and stickering unsuspecting cars at metal and punk shows. The band's first demo - recorded for $800 in a friend's bedroom, with their amps in the bathroom - was a very rough estimation of their sound, a combination of the aggression of metal and punk, and the social anger of urban rap, intertwined with hypnotic Alice In Chains-esque vocal harmonies. It was this demo that eventually made it into the hands of Roadrunner Records, then-home to countless influential heavy artists including Sepultura and Fear Factory. Impressed with their ability to market Sepultura's Chaos AD, Machine Head would go on to sign with Roadrunner and begin looking toward a bright future.
Their groundbreaking debut album Burn My Eyes - released the same year as such seminal albums as Pantera's Far Beyond Driven, AFI's Answer That and Stay Fashionable and In Flames' Subterranean - would soon serve as the template for the 'metalcore' sound that dominates the aggressive music market today. Resplendent with some of the heaviest guitar tones ever heard in rock (thanks to their pioneering use of a dropped B tuning, and Peavey 5150 amplifiers - virtually extinct prior to Burn My Eyes) alongside gritty, streetwise lyrics delivered via brutal metal shouting and lush, melodic singing, Burn My Eyes would change the landscape of hard music forever. Critical praise overseas, combined with 17 months of non-stop touring (including 5 months with Slayer), a U.S. headline tour that had them booked at every pool hall, strip bar, and rock club in America, a European headline tour that had them booked in the very same venues they had just supported Slayer in, appearances at 130,000 strong Dynamo festival and Donington Monsters Of Rock, and a successful first-ever 9-date tour of Japan and Australia. Burn My Eyes sold just under 100,000 in the U.S., and over 400,000 copies worldwide, becoming the biggest-selling debut artist on Roadrunner Records at the time.
After the success of Burn My Eyes, the band re-entered the studio with new drummer Dave McClain joining the ranks and a new thirst to create. The result was The More Things Changeâ€¦ an album that charged out of the gate full-bore, overflowing with raw anger and power, challenging the listener to absorb their monstrous sound in one sonic blast. Several high-profile tours in America followed, including Ozzfest (which saw the band flirt with expulsion after starting an on-stage grass-throwing riot in Detroit), Pantera, Megadeth and three U.S. headlining tours, as well as two subsequent headline tours of Europe, and a rare 2nd opportunity to co-headline Dynamo, firmly establishing Machine Head as a live draw to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the bands' dependence on alcohol and drugs began to get the best of them. Then-guitarist Logan Mader became increasingly paranoid, and, believing the CIA was spying on him, quit the group. Flynn would enter therapy soon afterward to deal with his own problems.
Choosing to face his demons head on, Flynn confronted his issues through his lyrics. Rather than lashing out at societies' woes in general, he exorcised his own personal demons, purging his psychological wounds on the bands 3rd album The Burning Red. Flynn's confessions on the songs "Five" and "The Burning Red" were lyrical scars torn wide open, revealing dark truths that he had yet to even share with many of his closest friends. This heightened lyrical heft lent itself to even greater musical experimentation, with the band incorporating such lesser known influences as The Cure, and the guitar psychedelics of Jimi Hendrix into their healthy dose of metal. Bassist Adam Duce agrees, "The Burning Red was a brave and pretty bold step forward. We felt like we had kind of backed ourselves into a corner after The More Things Changeâ€¦, so we decided to take some risks, screw playing it safe." The risk paid off, with The Burning Red allowing Machine Head to expand its fan base outside of the metal genre in the U.S., gaining commercial airplay for the single "From This Day" and support for the accompanying video by MTV. Subsequent tours of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, would take the band to the to previously un-scaled heights, pushing The Burning Red past Burn My Eyes in total U.S. sales and go on to sell 400,000 copies worldwide.
While 2001's Supercharger would produce such live concert favorites as "Bulldozer" and the harrowing "Trephination" - a fact solidly reinforced on their follow-up live album HellaLive (recorded at a sold-out 4000-capacity concert at London's Brixton Academy) - as well as include their first-ever festival headlining appearance at Germany's With Full Force Festival, appearances in Korea and Australia supporting Slayer, a slot at Japan's "Beast Feast" festival supporting Pantera and two U.S. headlining tours, both the band and fans alike felt that Machine Head could push themselves harder, challenging themselves to forge something that was once again fresh and innovative.
With that, the band headed back into the studio in June 2003 with new guitarist Phil Demmel a part of the family, and Flynn in the producer's chair alone for the first time. "This album definitely felt like a new beginning," comments drummer Dave McClain on the direction of the new album. "We had a sort of 'nothing to lose' mentality that felt a lot like a band that's eager to put out a debut record that's gonna 'blow people away!'" Robert Flynn echoes that sentiment, stating that "In many ways this was the most important record of our career. We needed to make a record that was fearless in its ability to embrace, but not be limited by what we had accomplished before. All of our musical heroes have made monumental records that didn't necessarily go with the evolution of their band; a perfect example would be The Cure from Pornography to Disintegration, or Metallica from Kill 'em All to Master of Puppets. Those bands destroyed their drawing board and reconstructed it."
And it is that fearlessness that has allowed Machine Head to make music that was daring, true and honest. Never creating the same album twice, they've stuck their necks out numerous times, always looking to push the envelope just a little further. And while any time you take a risk, some results may fare better than others, there's one thing you can always be sure of - the Machine Head album you're listening to was the album they wanted to create. Compromise has never been an option for Machine Head, and it is that steadfast commitment and singular vision that has allowed them to rise through the ashes and once again stake claim to their own Metal empire.