Amy Kelly of Ultimate-Guitar.com recently conducted an interview with MACHINE HEAD frontman Robb Flynn. A few excerpts from the chat follow:
Ultimate-Guitar.com: You once described your album "Through The Ashes Of Empires" as coming "back from the dead." How would you describe "The Blackening"?
Robb Flynn: We toured for about 2 years with "Through The Ashes" when we went into it and started writing again. The thing that was kind of on our minds was that, in those 2 years since then, a lot of bands have kind of come out and started doing that sound. If we were going to stick with that formula, it probably wouldn't be as fresh. So we really needed to challenge ourselves and make something just extraordinary. Even though the safer thing to do would have been to just play it safe and stick with the "Through The Ashes" formula, we were like, "We can't do that. We've got to take this some other direction." We're trying to bring something new and exciting to the table, kind of get out of the safety zone and do and try some scary stuff!
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What were some of the songs that you felt really pushed the band and brought out that scary side?
Robb Flynn: I think just the long songs. We have two 10-and-a-half minute songs and two 9-minute songs, and we were actually wondering if our fan base or other bands could wrap their heads around what we were doing. Will our fans be able to get their heads around what we're doing here? I think that in the end they do believe in us and they can get it around it. It's not like pop music, where you've got to have just one riff for three minutes. We can kind of do a lot. I think our fans have learned to always expect something a little different on each record. I think in many ways they kind of demanded it of us as well. We've never tried to make the same record twice. In the end, it was a great feeling, having that kind of confidence. For many, many parts, we were just kind of writing and seeing where things were going. When we finally sat down, we were as surprised as anybody to find out that we had two 10-minute songs!
Ultimate-Guitar.com: There is an incredible acoustic intro on "Clenching The Fists of Dissent" before the metal takes over. Did you write the acoustic line first?
Robb Flynn: The acoustic thing was actually the last thing that was written. We used to have this really dumb intro, which I hated. It was the main riff and it was all heavy parts. It was just lame! One day I was fucking around at home on my electric guitar, but not plugging it in to anything, and I had those harmony notes. We tried to write the saddest notes you'll ever hear. Then it came about in the studio. We were going into record the record and on the second day I told Dave [McClain, drums], "I'd like to try it. I've kind of been doing this whole other intro, but I think it might be better." So we tried it. When I played it for the rest of the guys in the band, they were like, "Oh, my God. That's fucking killer, dude!" I went ahead and said, "I want to add bass under here. I want to add this Middle-Eastern intro or whatever." We had basically been trying to create this DEAD CAN DANCE vibe.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did you worry about opening the album with something a little bit more acoustic-oriented, not to mention a 10-minute-long song?
Robb Flynn: Yeah. The record company was like, "Are you sure you want to open up with a 10-and-a-half minute song? Are you sure you don't want to get into something a little more direct?" The more we thought about it, it was like, "This is the only song that can open the album." It just sets the tone lyrically. It sets the tone musically. It's this piece of music that's pummeling. It's one of the brutalist, heaviest songs we've ever written and it's fun to play! We were like, "This is it." It was a challenge, I can tell you that. That intro alone was 86 tracks. There are military snares. There are like 20 tracks of military snares and 4 tracks of kick drums, marching cymbals. There are 4 tracks of acoustic guitars and 5 tracks of electric guitars. Then it comes in with the vocals and the bass — it was a nightmare!
Ultimate-Guitar.com: When you look back at the first incarnation of the band in 1992, is it amazing to think about the evolution of the band? Did you ever think you'd reach the level of composition you have today?
Robb Flynn: Never in our wildest dreams did we think that we'd still be here in 2007. There were people that told us, "Hey, you'll probably last about 5 years." They told us that when our first album came out. "Yeah, I can see you lasting about 5 years." No one had us lasting much longer than that, let alone ourselves. The fact that we're still here, hitting creative highs, and probably doing the best we've ever done on a worldwide scale, internationally — as well as America — on one of the coolest tours you could be on, it's incredible. It's really cool. That's kind of due to the fact that we just write from the heart. We've been consistent at doing that one thing. Our goal has always been to never have a record sound the same.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: In 2002, you went through some tough times when your deal with Roadrunner dissolved. Did you ever consider ending MACHINE HEAD and moving on?
Robb Flynn: We asked to be released from Roadrunner and eventually they obliged. At the time, we had just all these labels blowing a bunch of smoke up our ass about how they were going to sign us. "As soon as you're off Roadrunner, man, you're on blah, blah, blah records." Maybe it was naïve of us on our part to fall for it. That period was just the 3 of us in the band. It was Adam (Duce, bass), Dave and I. We didn't really know what we were going to do, but we loved jamming together. We loved making music together. Once we started writing again, it really was just about writing music very selfishly. We were getting off on it. Basically we were writing the record that we wanted to hear, but we weren't. That's what "Through The Ashes" was. We got Phil [Demmel, guitar], and Phil came in about the last third of the writing process. We just took it to a whole different place there. We have a lot history, we grew up together, and we learned how to play guitar together. Our aspirations, even when we were a kid, was to be that kind of guitar team like Gary Holt, Rick Hunolt of EXODUS. Especially in the Bay Area and all those big guitar teams, the thrasher, when we were coming to see those shows. That kind of sensibility was the writing for it, which carried on to "The Blackening".
Read the entire interview at Ultimate-Guitar.com.