Machine Head‘s rebirth amongst the metal community began in 2003 with their career saving Through The Ashes Of Empires and their career exploded in 2007 with the release of The Blackening, winner of countless “album of the year” and “album of the decade” awards granted by everyone from Metal Hammer on down. Fast forward another four years and they have returned to UK shores, armed with latest release Unto The Locust and with bigger and bolder expectations and things expected of them.
Machine Head are a band who’ve never had any trouble filling the mid size “theater” venues around the UK such as Brixton Academy but The Eighth Plague Tour sees them taking a gigantic step up to their first headlining arena tour. With the competition of many other gigs and tours (most notably Defenders Of The Faith and the last ever Cathedral show) taking place in and around London on the same weekend, there was quite a lot of speculation what kind of crowd would be in attendance for potentially the biggest headline show of Machine Head’s entire career. Rocksins’ was there eagerly awaiting to see how it went down.
By the time Machine Head’s set was fast approaching following performances from Darkest Hour, the excellent Devildriver (who we reviewed separately and you can read that here) and Bring Me The Horizon, Wembley Arena wasn’t full but it was pretty damn close to capacity with only a few gaps at the back of the seating area. The standing area was full of eager metalheads who were intent on headbanging and moshing their way through Machine Head’s entire set.
What was clear from the opening bars of I Am Hell (Sonata in C#) is that Machine Head had come to put down a serious marker from the word go. Both the music and the lyrics spat out by Robb Flynn have considerably more power behind them than it sounds on CD and when the initial drop in the song occurs Wembley Arena proceeded to go, for lack of a better word, apeshit. There were at least four good sized circle pits on the go as Robb Flynn and Phill Demmell engaged in the shred off before Robb was joined by the majority of those in attendance on the last round of I Am Hell’s chorus. Not easing up, Machine Head went straight into Be Still and Know, the second track from Unto The Locust with the cries of “And The Sun Will Rise” booming around all corners of the floor section.
Robb’s first visit to the microphone in-between songs brought the customary cheers but any respite was very short lived. Things hit the level marked “incendiary” when Imperium was the next song to make an appearance, with the audience so loud Robb barely had a need to sing the chorus and there were major collisions in the pits as the song reached the climax. A lot of other bands by this point would consider slowing proceedings; Machine Head’s decision was to pull out Beautiful Mourning from The Blackening, with its powerful cry of “F**K YOU ALL” setting off another round of headbanging and chaos. A trip into the back catalogue followed as The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears was lifted from The Burning Red, a choice that proved to be extremely popular. Unto The Locust was next up and like I Am Hell was a) a lot more impressive in person and b) sung by the crowd as if their lives depended on it.
Aesthetics of Hate (dedicated as always to “our brother Dimebag, your brother Dimebag”) was flawlessly executed and one of Machine Head’s timeless classics from Burn My Eyes Old had almost the entire standing area bouncing or pummelling each other to a pulp. Possibly the song of the night though was Darkness Within, with its acoustic intro and the way it builds and builds reminiscent of classics by the likes of Metallica and Maiden to name but two. Bulldozer was a semi surprise addition to the setlist but a welcome one, while Ten Ton Hammer never fails to elicit a reaction and tonight was no different.
Before going any further, Robb thanked everyone in attendance once again and talked about how Machine Head had now been doing this for seventeen years and that this was the biggest headline show of their entire career, and despite all the adversity and negative feeling towards the band from different people over their career they were still here and on the biggest stage of their careers (so far). An apt introduction to “Who We Are” from The Blackening, which closed the main part of the set, complete with a picture montage on the video screens of Machine Head fans with written placards saying what the band means to them.
Thanks to loud chants of “Machine F**kin Head” (not for the first time on this particular evening) the band were not off stage for long before returning to deliver one of the bands most loved epics, Halo from The Blackening. Watching Phil Demmell perform the solo to Halo is always a fantastic sight and it seemed made to be played on such large stages at Wembley Arena. There were absolutely no surprises for guessing what the last song of the night was. If anyone would expect the words “Let Freedom Ring With A Shotgun Blast” not to be involved then they don’t know Machine Head very well. Davidian brought the house down and Machine Head’s largest headline show to date to a fitting close, leaving the band to take one last huge roar from their very pleased fans.
The full Machine Head Wembley Setlist was:
I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)
Be Still and Know
The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears
This Is The End
Aesthetics Of Hate
Ten Ton Hammer
Who We Are
From this performance several things became rapidly apparent, some of which people will have been aware of before and others maybe not as obvious. The most plain of these facts is that despite the awful financial situation and strong competition from other shows, Machine Head have a huge UK fanbase and are definitely now in the league of bands who can sell a several date UK arena tour close to capacity (arguably tonight’s show would have been completely sold out were it not for the other shows mentioned earlier in this review). They are a band who’s live reputation has deservedly preceeded them for years now and this was another fantastic live show to add to the catalogue of great Machine Head live shows in London.
Secondly, despite the relatively short amount of time the album has been available, Machine Head fans have taken Unto The Locust straight to their hearts and the response to all the new songs tonight was hugely positive, often getting louder audience participation than some of the older numbers. Thirdly, and most surprising to this reviewer was how much more impressive the songs from “Locust” sound, particularly the title track and opener I Am Hell. Machine Head are always an excellent live band but those two songs gain a considerable extra punch in the live environment (not that they were exactly lacking in the first place).
This tour has proved that Machine Head have moved into a realm occupied by few other hard rock or metal bands in the UK. Like their label mates Alter Bridge less than a week before in the same venue, this show (and on a wider basis this tour) has put Machine Head into a position where they must be considered genuine UK festival headline candidates in the next couple of years. They’re already booked to headline Wacken 2012 alongside In Flames, and after Sonisphere’s punt on Biffy Clyro in 2011 could they possibly take the plunge with Machine Head in 2012? Time will tell but on this evidence it will be extremely surprising if Robb, Adam, Phil and Dave are not at the top of a major festival soon.