Thursday, 8 December 2011

Machine Head - Manchester Central, 6th December 2011

As far as metal goes, Machine Head are in a fairly precarious position these days, commercially. Despite having toured into the ground on The Blackening, surely soaking up all demand there was for them the world over, and despite Unto The Locust racking up lacklustre numbers when compared to a vast majority of 2011’s metal releases (selling only half of Mastodon’s The Hunter), Machine Head somehow find themselves in a touring limbo: not big enough for the arenas, but too big to play anywhere else. At least with a line-up like this, anyway, boasting support slots from Darkest Hour, DevilDriver and a controversial choice in Bring Me The Horizon. Tonight’s venue, Manchester Central, has a capacity of 10,000, and the aforementioned naggings aside, tonight’s attendance falls impressively between 7 and 8,000, which is pretty remarkable all things considered. These four arena dates are the first time Machine Head will present choice cuts from Unto The Locust in a live setting in the UK, and it speaks volumes of at least the albums critical reception that all but one of the seven tracks that make up the CD are given an airing tonight. But we’ll get to that in just a little bit.

Having missed Darkest Hour (I fucking hate my friends), it’s over to DevilDriver [7] to start my night. DevilDriver are a hit and miss band when it comes to live performances, and whether it’s due to the standard support-bands-get-shit-sound rule or there’s any tension within the band given Dez Fafara’s pending reunion with nu-metal stalwarts Coal Chamber, they fall just a touch flat tonight. Only one track from this past February’s Beast makes an appearance, the angular, off-kilter ‘Dead To Rights’, which is just as well considering how much of a cluttered mess it sounds amidst such a horrendous mix. That being said, you can still feel the grooves, and during set-closer ‘Clouds Over California’ the sound makes a drastic shift into holy-fucking-shitballs territory. The last fucking song. Who hires these sound engineers? The talking point of the whole tour is by at least ten country miles Bring Me The Horizon [8]. It seems that unless they’re headlining, they’re never going to be well received by the more-metal-than-thou crowds, this audience seemingly in complete ignorance to the fact that Machine Head themselves invited the band out on tour. Nevertheless, BMTH are due a fuckload of respect for taking the abuse in their stride and spitting it back in the faces of a crowd of oafish tr00 metulz warriors. The between-song banter is comedy gold (“This next song’s called ‘I’m Getting Paid £25,000 A Show’”, “This song’s called ‘I’m Supporting Your Favourite Band And You Never Will’”) and everything else aside, they sound tighter than a fly’s rectum. After ‘Chelsea Grin’, the band exit the stage with a “See ya later, ya cunts” and the cheekiest smirks you’ve ever seen. Not a single fuck was given. Well fucking played.

Machine Head though? Machine “Fuckin’” Head [9] are absolutely outstanding. Opening with the first track from Unto The Locust, ‘I Am Hell (Sonata In C#)’, it’s clear that the band have somehow vastly progressed as musicians over the past few years, because they blast through this without breaking anything remotely resembling a sweat, and the roar from the crowd that follows the songs climax is so deafening that you can’t even hear the tapped intro to ‘Be Still And Know’, which sounds positively monolithic in a live environment. The chorus is absolutely spine-tingling to sing along to in a crowd of sweaty, bearded metalheads (I’m not even being gender specific here) and the song as a whole just takes on a different life when it’s being played, right there in front of you, and this is the case with all of the ...Locust tracks tonight. They’ve made their statement by this point, and from herein it’s an absolute carnage-inducing setlist, peeling off the classics in ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears’ and ‘Old’ and mixing them in seamlessly with brand new offerings in ‘This Is The End’ and a sterling rendition of ‘Locust’. It’s when the lights go down and Robb Flynn switches to an acoustic however where the atmosphere takes a turn from mayhem to awe-inspiring. Robb gives us a speech about the role music has played in his life, how much it means to him and how it fuels his entire existence, and it’s hard to hide the chills going up your spine because at this moment, Robb Flynn connects with everybody in the room in a way that not many frontmen can. It’s damn near impossible to choke back the tears as he dedicates ‘Darkness Within’ to Phil Demmel’s late father, and promptly launches into his own personal hymn to his own personal religion: music. Truly inspiring stuff. Before long though, we’re back into the heavy shit, with ‘Bulldozer’ (the only track from 2001’s genuinely dreadful Supercharger), the classic ‘Ten Ton Hammer’ and the anthemic ‘Who We Are’ rounding off the main part of the set. We’re still missing a couple of mainstays though, songs that Machine Head surely can’t go a gig without playing by this point. ‘Halo’ is just astounding even to this day, improving with age like the finest wine and the inevitable ‘Davidian’ sends us back off into the night with a shotgun blast (see what I did there? Christ. How I haven’t been published yet is beyond me).

Tonight has confirmed two important to remember things. Number one: Machine Head are indisputably one of the best metal bands in the world today. Their passion for their craft has never been more evident and they deserve an endless amount of reverence. But, number two: Machine Head are not even slightly big enough to be headlining major festivals. This debate has raged on for at least five years now and this, their first proper headlining run of arenas, was surely a “testing the waters” effort. Judging by the unfortunately dull ticket sales even in the company of a huge supporting line-up, this should hopefully put the argument to rest for now. However, it’s undeniable that Machine Head deserve to be headlining a festival the size of Download or Sonisphere. Their dedication, their sincerity and their contribution and influence on the genre see fit to that. With any luck, we’ll one day see them in that gloried position but for now, they remain the ultimate people’s metal band.

P.S.

If you’ve ever thrown a bottle at a band, regardless of how awful you think they are, you’re a fucking moron. I hope you all die in a ditch. Or at least go partially blind or something.

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