MACHINE HEAD
"Bloodstone & Diamonds"

(Nuclear Blast Entertainment)

01. Now We Die
02. Killers & Kings
03. Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones
04. Night of Long Knives
05. Sail Into the Black
06. Eyes of the Dead
07. Beneath the Silt
08. In Comes the Flood
09. Damage Inside
10. Game Over
11. Imaginal Cells
12. Take Me Through the Fire

RATING: 9/10

With the smoke cleared and lawsuits settled between MACHINE HEAD and departed co-founder Adam Duce, the band moves forward with new label Nuclear Blast and things are business as usual. That is to say, MACHINE HEAD keeps on seeking their own path in a metal market subdivided and sullied between cliché forms. Robb Flynn brought SANCTITY vocalist/guitarist Jared MacEachern aboard on bass last year and MACHINE HEAD's eighth album "Bloodstone & Diamonds" sounds like no personnel interruption ever occurred. If anything, MacEachern's indoctrination appears to be an organic fit both on bass and backing vocals as MACHINE HEAD once more mashes everything metal into one slab better than the majority of their contemporaries.

Bouncing between longer and shorter numbers on "Bloodstone & Diamonds", there's still so much going on with this band that each song on the album is to be studied, not just consumed. As universally celebrated as "The Blackening" is, MACHINE HEAD continues to push themselves into broader frontiers to discover what else they can pull out of themselves to tantalize their audience with. "Bloodstone & Diamonds" may not be all-over-the-place-per-square-inch as MACHINE HEAD's previous albums, but its rewards are still abundant.

The 7:10 opening number "Now We Die" rides its heavy masses upon an intoxicating set of chamber strings that serve as both the intro and background fills on the choruses. As the number hits a clobbering, mid-tempo charge, MACHINE HEAD harmonizes the blaring agro march with the lacing violins, leading up to a gorgeous guitar solo from Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel. Keeping the chamber swirls lurking behind the clean-sung bridge, "Now We Die" is more elegance than crunch, though it's still heavy as hell.

The crunch comes in full force with Dave McClain's clanging clamor throughout "Killers & Kings". McClain interchanges his double-timed strikes with slide tempos leading to a series of apposite progressions where his rolls are given extra girth from the riffs around him. Even the breakdown is crushing on "Killers & Kings", as MACHINE HEAD are one of the few bands left out there who know how to usefully plant a metal breakdown.

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"Night of Long Knives" is one of those MACHINE HEAD staples where slow introductory rhythms are immediately sodomized by a blast section (last tinkered with on the "Unto the Locust" album), followed by a thrash breakaway and then mid-tempo trudges, repeat all modes accordingly. Robb Flynn's combined scream-croons are appealing and even endearing as "Night of Long Knives" turns its screws with alternating tempos and tuneful choruses. Jared MacEachern proves his worth by tumbling note-happy bass glides beneath the scorching guitar solo on the track. Later, MacEachern owns "Beneath the Silt" with his low-end reverb rumbling at the front and guiding the band's reciprocated drop tuning.

The 8:29 "Sail Into the Black" is luxuriant and entrancing as it is murky. It takes more than four minutes to heavy up following a shuddery yet peculiarly soothing sequence of piano and acoustic rolls. Once the volume is jacked with bass and guitars, the continued slowness of "Sail Into the Black" is chocked with a methodic rage that escalates to a beauteous finale where growls jockey amidst cleans and the guitar solos reach for the universe.

"In Comes the Flood" is a quirky number that doesn't make the introductory chamber strings integrate as sinuously as they do on "Now We Die". Instead, "In Comes the Flood" rambles about as Robb Flynn lets his forked tongue fly in a pissy tirade and lets dubbed soundbytes of "My Country, 'tis of Thee" float over the track to make his angry point. Positioned afterwards as if bearing a guilty conscience is the quietude of "Damage Inside", as close to a ballad as you'll get out of this band.

For those seeking more thrash from MACHINE HEAD on this album (which you'll have to be extra patient for), it comes in waves on "Eyes of the Dead", buoyantly hanging about the mid-tempo, melodic choruses and screeching breakdowns. When turned free to speed on this cut, the guitars are equally blazing.

The punked-up moshes on "Game Over" kick major ass and only MACHINE HEAD could get away with sending the track through a whirligig of mid-tempo progressions and prolonging it to 6:36. All said, "Bloodstone & Diamonds" is a transitory album with new tricks to back up MACHINE HEAD's new addition on bass. It's nowhere near gonzo and devastating as "The Blackening", but that album's measure of success is damned hard to replicate. Instead of trying to match who they were in 2007, MACHINE HEAD wisely keeps turning their cogs to stimulate themselves, much less their listeners. In that respect, "Bloodstone & Diamonds" is another winner for one of metal's most esteemed acts.

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