With the sun beating down on eager, head-banging ready necks hours before doors open, it would be apparent to any passer-by that something special is to grace the Roundhouse for six hours over the course of the next two nights. The number of black t-shirts adorned with variations of Machine Head’s iconic diamantine logo and lyrics throughout their long and storied career is staggering; it shows a level of devotion and reverence typically reserved for the likes of Iron Maiden and Metallica, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Machine Head have earned their place in those echelons over the last 29 years through an unwillingness to compromise and create emotionally resonant, heavy as hell music. They are every bit as important as their peers and the progenitors of the genre in which they live.
Entering the venue itself, the audience is treated to a retrospective of heavy metal over the years blasting through the PA. Stalwarts of the genre gain rapturous applause and sing-a-longs, particularly Sweet Leaf and Sad But True, while more modern classics get the grungy kids grooving with unbridled joy – who could ever tire of hearing Lamb of God’s 11th Hour? – all coming to a head as Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman signals the last moments of peace before the Oakland titans unleash their fury upon the converted railway engine shed.
The houselights fade down, a swathe of deep blue envelops the stage, and one by one the members of the bad appear to tear faces off and break necks with Imperium. It’s a smart and well considered choice; other than the fact it’s an absolute banger, it represents a moment in time when Machine Head took a chance re-inventing themselves during the mid-2000s, rather apt given the stylistic decisions made in the creation of their latest studio album, Catharsis. On both evenings, a huge circle pit erupts signalling that middle section, as Robb Flynn looks down on the devotees with a mixture of glee and awe. Not content with the idea of the crowd getting a second of rest, the band launch straight into their first ‘fast-one’; Volatile. Whatever your thoughts may be on the divisive new album, there is no denying that Volatile is wonderful, and is unlikely to be leaving the Machine Head live set any time soon; with its self-titled era Slipknot main riff and a pummelling, bass-driven chorus, it receives a reception not dissimilar to the belter before it. During this song it becomes apparent that Phil Demmel’s guitar is significantly quieter than Flynn’s, as it remains for the majority of the night; a great shame apparent on both evenings. Flynn and Demmel’s dual guitar leads and traded solos is a staple part of MH’s sound, so to have one half be relatively subdued in the mix is disappointing to say the least.
Next up is Now We Die from the horrendously overlooked Bloodstone and Diamonds, and signals one slight issue with the first set; recordings played through the PA. Of course, getting a live orchestra to play the opening string section would be too much to ask (God, how good would their version of S&M be?), but using a seemingly pre-recorded vocal for a couple of lines in the bridge section Kaleidoscope sits uncomfortably for some in the audience. This faux pas can be overlooked fortunately, as on night one they launch straight into Clenching the Fists of Dissent, a song epic in every sense of the word, and played live and in full – no miming going on here, that’s a certainty.
The entire performance is masterfully executed both nights; there’s a lackadaisical camaraderie playing out between the members, while the musicianship is top-tier, especially from Dave McClain; probably the most underrated drummer in modern metal. The only slight slip other than mixing issues is Flynn’s lyrics; he appears a touch lost at a couple of points, finding himself repeating lines from previous verses, but really, when the words are that fun to sing, there’s no need to chastise him – even though that seems to be the metal corner of the internet’s favourite past-time en masse.
It’s heartening that over the two evenings there is some setlist variety; with a light show as dynamic and meticulously programmed, it wouldn’t be out of the question that there was only to be one setlist per leg of the tour. It shows that the band love their musical history just as much as the thousands-strong crowds they captivate with such ease. The light show comes to its surprising zenith in what was perhaps the highlight of both evenings; Triple Beam. Despite its dark subject matter and blunt lyrics, the song is daft as a brush, and ludicrously enjoyable fun. During the spoken-word/rap hybrid middle section, the lights imitate police cars pulling up around the band; the camp theatre of which has shades of Alice Cooper, and is totally devoid of subtlety, as the song would demand. A Machine Head show is about as delicate as being smashed around the head with a ten ton hammer. Son.
Being in the band’s company for nearly six hours is certainly an endurance test, and as Flynn notes both nights – in a rather well-rehearsed speech – it was unclear if the ‘Evening With’ concept would work for a band of their ilk. A catalogue so jam packed with fast, aggressive anthems leaves very little room for respite during a set, but as the two sold out crowds would tell you, that is exactly the kind of format Machine Head not only deserve, but demand. It’s unlikely they’ll revert to the package tour format again as with two setlists reaching nearly 30 songs each, there is so much more that Headcases will clamour for – more from The More Things Change… next time, please – and no single setlist will ever fully satiate their hunger. It’s a big risk that has undeniably paid off, but that is itself, indicative of the Machine Head story.
Only one song could realistically close out a set of such verbose grandeur, and after Flynn’s heartfelt thanks to all the fans in attendance, as well as noting how they have gone from having four to forty girls at their shows, and a lot of angry dudes, Halo ends everything in spectacular fashion. Rarely putting a foot wrong and giving die-hard fans something truly special, the two nights were triumphant displays of the band’s legacy, and they show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Night 1: 8/10
Night 2: 9/10
Night 1// Night 2
Now We Die// Now We Die
Beautiful Mourning// Beautiful Mourning
The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears// The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears
Kaleidoscope// Crashing Around You
Clenching the Fists of Dissent// This is the End
Guitar Solo// Guitar Solo
Darkness Within// Darkness Within
From this Day// From this Day
Ten Ton Hammer// Ten Ton Hammer
Is There Anybody Out There?// Is There Anybody Out There?
Locust// Hallowed Be Thy Name
Beyond the Pale// Locust
Drum Solo// Bastards
Bulldozer// Drum Solo
Killers & Kings// Bulldozer
Davidian// Killers & Kings
Descend the Shades of Night// Davidian
Exhale the Vile// Descend the Shades of Night
Triple Beam// None But My Own
Aesthetics of Hate// Triple Beam
Game Over// Aesthetics of Hate
Old// Game Over
Halo// Blood for Blood
– // Halo