Metal Roundup: Machine Head, Mastodon and Five Finger Death Punch

 
You wait ages for an awesome metal album to be released and three come along all at once. So this week I’ll be tackling all three of these, some of the hardest hitting heavyweights of the year.

First up is Mastodon. Hailing from Atlanta Georgia this band are by far and away the least conventional of the three. Where other bands take you on journeys through lands as bleak and black as the plains of Mordor, take a trip with Mastodon you get a little more colour. You feel like your flying through a storm of fireworks, with explosions in shades of all the colours of the spectrum. The echo and the effects give the notes a sense of awe, an ethereal wonder that reminds you of the northern lights or the opening credits of Star Trek: Voyager.

“Blasteroid” and “Creature Lives” are the two most original and different sounding tracks in the entire trio of albums. They even sound entirely different from one another. One is reminiscent of the late 90’s Foo Fighters, the other starts with the bloops and bleeps of a 70’s family science fiction film, then completely changes direction and turns into an anthropomorphic morality tale you could see Jim Henson’s creature workshop having a go at.

All that doesn’t mean they can’t go hard and fast when they want. “Specrelight” is a nugget of thrash gold with a great riff that speeds through the track like a torpedo. But the real pleasure of the album is in seeing where metal mentalities can take you that isn’t the usual abyss of despair. It’s the variety and originality of this album that is the main draw. Where other bands will take you on a tour, these guys will lead you on a safari.

But if you hunger for more convention in your metal breakfast look no further than Five Finger Death Punch’s third album “American Capitalist”. You play the first five seconds and you know exactly where you stand. Pulsing riff, drilling drums, bad ass lyrics sung by a bad ass vocalist. Without a shadow of a doubt if you’re looking for a collection of songs to just bang your head and pump your fist to, this is the one.

Most bands talk about being heavier, louder, faster, despite only ever having plans to slow down, lighten up and use more eye liner for the tweens. 5FDP make good on that much undelivered promise with the best album of their career so far. Hooks you could bait a shark with, dragging you kicking and screaming to a soaring chorus that demands to be shouted from the top of your lungs. Anthems are the word of the day for 5FDP as an uncompromising resolve and an unshakable foundation combine to create the kind of lyrics you get tattooed to your arm, the kind of words to live your life by. Its the kind of attitude that makes the title track and “Under And Over It All” possibly the best two songs in the whole lot.

Unfortunately, unlike Mastodon, when 5FDP deviate from the formula there success isn’t quite so assured. “Remember Everything” is a sick bucket bothering pile of clichés. The kind of self indulgent, self pitying ballad that rhymes “rain” with “pain”. This track is so far outside the comfort zone of this band that they let some doozies slip, such as the self-evident “It’s a long and lonely road, when you know you walk alone.” Urgh!

Then we come to Machine Head. One of the most seminal acts in all of metal history and yet one of the most underrated. Their last album was the 2007 masterpiece “The Blackening”, an album that in my mind made legendary a band who after sixteen years of the best metal of their generation shouldn’t have to prove how legendary they are.

Perhaps the most inward looking of all three (Mastodon’s might be inward looking as well but fuck knows what those guys are on about) Machine Head’s “Unto the Locust” is without doubt the most powerful album in both its musical execution and its ability to affect the listener. The final extended bridge of the title track alone is enough to make you shout at the top of your lungs no matter where you are, bedroom, library, public transport, funeral for your girlfriends uncle you never knew she had until he was dead. Anywhere.

Not just the most personal album but also, fittingly for Rob Flynn, the darkest.  “I Am Hell” is written from the perspective of a female arsonist, someone who burns and destroys not out of hatred and dominance but out of love and affection. The track takes you on a nightmarish journey through a warped and disturbed mind, through a destroyed landscape that dares to call itself a Sonata, perhaps the most punishingly brutal one you will ever hear.

But the true moment of greatness on the album, like Nirvana’s “Polly”, “Darkness Within” proves that the most subdued songs can often be the most intense. One of the greatest odes to the act of songwriting I have ever heard, it is at once both deeply intimate and completely universal. Flynn manages to perfectly express the motivations behind forty-one years of distorted guitars, machine gun drums and vocal chords brought to the brink of collapse.

All of these albums 5FDP have this most instantly gratifying, Mastodon the most interesting and Machine Head the plain and simple best. All three are great choices to get you through a cold and dark December and all three have the power to get you banging your head so fast if you hear a snapping noise call a doctor. If you can move your fingers that is.

Lee Hazell

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