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Live review: Machine Head @ Guildhall, Southampton (13/05/2018)


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Tonight, Southampton’s heavy metal diehards know that 13th May, 2018 will definitely be a night to remember.

At 6:30pm sharp, they find themselves storming the city’s immense Guildhall in anticipation for a truly monumental prospect: the extreme metal heroes Machine Head celebrating a 25-year-plus career by playing an uninterrupted, three-hour extravaganza.

Machine Head

(Photo: Albert Tatlock)

There’s no support. There’s no bullshit. Fans are going to get exactly what they paid for, and a damn lot of it, too! With their favourite band prepared to lay out an energised demonstration almost twice the length of your usual headline slot, what could possibly go wrong?

“Lots” is apparently the answer to that question, of which only a small fraction is actually the fault of the group performing onstage. The stars truly align tonight, resulting in a cluster-fuck of weirdness that ranges from kick-ass to hilarious to distressing, all in the space of 180 measly minutes.

As proceedings commence, things begin by looking incredibly promising: Robb Flynn and his hard-hitting cohorts storm the stage to the sound of ‘Imperium’’s neck-snapping breakdown, which segues into brand new bruiser ‘Volatile’: a very recent cut from Machine Head’s controversial Catharsis disc that keeps the taut groove metal flying high. Beyond that, the symphonic grandeur of ‘Now We Die’ then finds itself juxtaposed by the rap rock-infused vitriol of ‘The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears’.

So far, the set-list, the crowd’s explosive passion and Machine Head’s onstage enthusiasm are all perfect, yet are let down by the Guildhall itself, which not only has the acoustics of a baked potato, but also dire mixing that renders Phil Demmel’s lead guitar basically inaudible.

Regardless, the evening continues for some time with an indomitable blend of metallic flair and pummelling distortion. Machine Head shine despite the dampened audio quality, with highlights including the ever-building brilliance of ‘The Darkness Within’, the incessant stomp of ‘Ten Ton Hammer’ and the anthemic muscularity of ‘Locust’. Furthermore, the performers’ chemistry is simply joyous to watch, especially as co-guitarists Flynn and Demmel joyously jam on their instruments opposite one another. Robb even indulges in some friendly banter with his crowd after the riff-driven excitement of ‘Bulldozer’, but is quickly taken aback as he is flashed from the balcony above. The (probably unsuccessful) attempts by several men on the floor to recreate that magic results in the official coronation of the 13th May as “Man-Tit Sunday”. Mark it in your calendars, folks…

It is almost precisely two hours into this evening, however, that the entire affair appears to flip onto its head. ‘Killers & Kings’, the penultimate song of the main set, is introduced with Flynn continually demanding a titanic monster of a moshpit, which hits a frenetic apex as the thrashing track roars to life. This is the last gasp of a now-visibly exhausted crowd, whose stamina is clearly not as strong as that of those onstage; even through two subsequent encores, the mania of this moment is never even close to being recaptured on such a destructive and impressive scale.

Thereafter, the lauded and outspoken ‘Davidian’ takes hold. The powerhouse is one that is hugely reliant upon the contrast between dissonant guitar leads and primal, unforgiving rhythms, thus making the absence of Phil Demmel’s shredding from the mix only all the more noticeable and irritating. All the same, the incendiary single is easily one of Machine Head’s most popular, closing the body of their concert in the biggest and most satisfying way possible, while also beckoning the question of just how they can top that in the ensuing encores. Will they dive straight into the subversive aggression of ‘Halo’? Or the blistering ‘Take My Scars’? Maybe even ‘Crashing Around You’, in all its swaggering glory?

None of the above. Instead, Southampton is gifted with three consecutive songs, beginning with the tranquil and dulcet ‘Behind a Mask’ and then a slower rendition of ‘None but My Own’ that has the murky overtones of vintage Alice in Chains, before being concluded by the dynamic nu metal of ‘Triple Beam’. Needless to say, after the pure, blinding vigour of ‘Davidian’, none of these choices hold up.

‘Aesthetics of Hate’, a speed demon that is not only taken off of Machine Head’s magnum opus – 2007’s The Blackening – but also dedicated to the fallen metal god Dimebag Darrell, gets the night back on track, appearing to set up a ravenous and gratifying conclusion, but instead gives way to another obscure entry in the form of Bloodstone and Diamonds’ (2014) ‘Game Over’. This marks the point of no return, as the deep cut is interrupted by a serious injury in a pit toward the centre of the venue: a result of what Machine Head later describe as a fan being “picked up by a larger unknown dude and ‘suplexed’ WWE-style”. After what feels like an eternity of concerned confusion, Robb Flynn returns to the mic to announce that the gig must be postponed until the arrival of an ambulance. “This guy is more important than the show,” he admirably (and correctly) states.

The concert would never restart. By the time it would have been safe for Machine Head to continue, Southampton’s 11pm curfew had long since passed.

Thus came the abrupt end to one of the most emotionally jarring heavy metal gigs in recent memory. While the first two hours of Machine Head’s solo performance were nothing short of magnificent, bar some audial troubles, the final third witnessed the night unravel irreparably. From set-list blunders to an increasingly lethargic pack of onlookers and then, of course, the worrying injury dwarfing all of that, this was an event that started with an ear-splitting bang, but concluded with a worrying whimper.

Mercifully, bar a few bumps and bruises, all reports say that tonight’s fallen concertgoer is currently fit and healthy once again, ready to headbang another day.

Machine Head’s new album, Catharsis, is available now via Nuclear Blast. Read our review of it here.

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