On February 15, Robb Flynn dropped a 16 second video on Instagram.
“Where we at?” the frontman asked, staring wild-eyed into the camera. “We’re in the studio! We’ve got the guitar, layin’ down some tracks… some new heaviness…”
Fewer than three months since Machine Head’s November 24 end-of-an-era show in Santa Cruz, CA marking the departure of long-time guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain it was, to say the least, a surprising development. Without even a confirmed line-up with which to move forward – bassist Jared MacEachern excepted – a vast majority of the logistical and creative burden would fall squarely on Robb’s shoulders. Perhaps even more so, barely a year since the release of diverse, wildly divisive ninth LP Catharsis, it feels hard to believe that the bandleader was ready to go back to the creative well.
If the winding road leading up to this point has taught us anything, however, it’s that Machine Head fans should learn to expect the unexpected. As such, we thought we’d indulge in some wild speculation on what the Bay Area beasts might get up to next...
A DELVE FURTHER DOWN CATHARSIS’ RABBIT HOLE?
It’d be an understatement to say that Machine Head’s last outing divided their ‘Head Case’ fanbase. For a band who’ve built their reputation on benchmarks of pummelling, route-one metal, Catharsis’ freewheeling sense of experimentalism marked a bold, daring detour.
From the tech-metal of Beyond The Pale to the folk-punk inflected B*stards to the slamming nu-metal revivalism of California Bleeding and Triple Beam’s (frankly misguided) rap-rock assault, this was the sound of abundant invention and boundless ambition.
For fans of the band’s deeper cuts, it was hardly a surprise and, having acknowledged the record would be controversial before release, it’s not like Robb didn’t know what he was doing. Since then, there’s no hint the well has dried up. If anything, it seems more and more like the torrent of ideas and ideologies could barely be contained within the narrow constraints of the genre Robb helped define. Who’s to say that stream will be stemmed any time soon?
THEY STRIP IT BACK TO BASICS?
Define Catharsis? The dictionary unpacks it as ‘the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions.’ For Machine Head, was it a palette-cleanse; a necessary purge of so much that had gotten so pent-up? There’s an argument that the spectacular ’00s build through 2001’s Supercharger and 2003’s Through The Ashes Of Empires that culminated in the career-high of 2007’s The Blackening wouldn’t have been possible without 1999’s The Burning Red. Many, including Robb himself, have drawn parallels between that record and their latest. Having expunged so much scattershot creativity, might they be ready to get back to their lean, mean best?
Interestingly, appended to that hypothesis, there’s even something of a clamour online, wondering about the possibility of a sort-of Burn My Eyes-era reunion. Drummer Chris Kontos has slipped off the radar somewhat, but as anyone who’s caught his current band Once Human knows, original guitarist Logan Mader is still more than capable of bringing the heavy. A tasty proposition.
A FULLY-FLEDGED ROBB FLYNN SOLO PROJECT?
With Phil Demmel reflecting, in Catharsis’ wake, that Machine Head “just became a Robb Flynn solo project,” the autocratic affliction hamstringing momentum became painfully obvious. Robb admitted as much himself. “I have held on too tight to the reigns of this band and I have suffocated those guys. I’ve got a lot of drive, but I’ve got a lot of anger and rage, and that drive of mine has alienated folks and the band.”
With all that said, we can’t help but wonder what Machine Head as a ‘solo project’, fully uninhibited, might look like? The so-called “Flynnanigans” at a recent fundraiser for baseball legend Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, headlined by Robb Flynn & Friends (AKA Robb Flynn & The Fabulous Disasters) might just have given us a peek. From Andy Galeon of Death Angel and ex-D.R.I. bassist Harald Oimen to Robb’s son Wyatt Flynn (on cello!) alongside Meg Titchener and Rebecca Roudman of the Oakland Symphony, it’s clear Robb isn’t short of a friend or two. With a set list ranging from Darkness Within to Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run to The Beatles’ Hey Jude, too, he’s not light on ideas. Clearly, Catharsis’ smorgasbord of styles just scratches the surface of his influence.
PERHAPS IT’S TIME FOR THINGS TO GET REALLY POLITICAL…
America is gearing up for another election cycle. If the circus last time out is any indication of what to expect, we can look forward to a complete and utter shitshow. “Facts – Our president is an a*shole…” read one tweet on November 10 last year, succinctly summing up Robb’s (entirely understandable) outlook on the present American situation. In the rock world. there was a promise that at least these turbulent times would precipitate a new generation of protest music, but few have managed overt statements capable of really ruffling feathers in the era of fake news and disappearing accountability. The sheer blunt-force of the MH man’s anti-Trump sentiment, though, coupled with his recent swerve back towards the more radical genres of punk, hardcore and hip-hop just might be the sort to break through the ever more blusterous forcefield. Let freedom ring with the shotgun blast, indeed…
The concept of the ‘supergroup’ is a double-edged sword. They’re exciting, but inherently transitory projects. Hence Machine Head will never fall into that category. At the same time, finding musicians – and personalities – of the calibre that simply can’t be written-off as “hired guns” with whom to forge forward will be one of Robb’s greatest challenges steering into the new era.
THEY MAKE THE BEST ALBUM OF THEIR CAREERS
Whatever happens next, we can be sure of one thing: it’ll be absolutely pivotal in the Machine Head story. Of course, Robb’s never been afflicted by the sort of self-doubt to feel the need to prove himself. Chasing the past glories of Burn My Eyes and The Blackening would be an act of self-plagiarism, indeed. But the convergence of enforced reinvention, the admission that it might be best for processes to change, and the advent of the tenth Machine Head LP throws up a unique opportunity to celebrate and to define – or redefine – the headbanging brilliance that’s made them one of the most vital cogs in metal’s engine-room.
And, for any doubters prematurely proclaiming their creative demise, let’s not forget there were 13 years separating unassailable classics Burn My Eyes and The Blackening. We’re almost at the end of another 13-year interval. Whatever shape that “new heaviness” happens to take, here’s hoping they (ten ton) hammer it out of the park.