If you’ve been following the coverage of Machine Head’s latest release, then you’ll probably have received a less than complimentary impression. Even before its release, Catharsis was been slated, with many noting the worrying similarity to Machine Head’s godawful nu metal phase. Truthfully, I was expecting the worst when I gave Catharsis a listen yet whilst it is certainly not very good, its not exactly ‘The Burning Red’ part two either.
In terms of its core instrumentation, Catharsis changes little from its predecessors, though there are some interesting new additions. In particular, strings are featured prominently on several songs such as ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’ and the title track ‘Catharsis’. Problem is, they feel pretty redundant where they are featured, and rarely gel succinctly with the rest of the song.
I can't help but admire the sincerity with which the band put Catharsis together
This ties into a wider problem: the album’s tonal consistency. In some songs Machine Head stay pretty true to form, churning out heavy, punishing riffs, whilst others aim to be more melodious and almost ballad-like, whilst others still will switch between the two. However, this isn’t done in a manner that flows well or feels cohesive. Speaking of the riffs, whilst I think its unfair to say Machine Head have relapsed back into their failed late ‘90s nu metal phase, the comparison is fairly apt with some songs such as ‘Beyond the Pale’ which, to be honest, is simply dreadful.
All that said however, I can’t help but admire the sincerity with which the band put Catharsis together. Though they’re no stranger to political commentary, Catharsis feels uniquely charged and is, at its core an expression of despair and rage by frontman Rob Flynn on a number of contentious issues in the United States, such as the resurgence of the far right. This is particularly apparent in ‘Bastards’, a moving plea from Flynn to his children to always fight for change and remain proud doing so, though unfortunately marred by some pretty cringey lyrics.
Listening to Catharsis, its clear Machine Head bore their souls through the album. It’s a shame this passion didn’t translate to better songwriting.