Arrows in Words from the Sky: Can Robb Flynn and friends regain the fans’ favour after a turbulent few years?

Machine Head has put out some of my favourite music of this millennium, having an almost unmatched run of form in their album output between Through the Ashes of Empires and Bloodstone and Diamonds. However, since the latter album, they have dropped rather dramatically in quality, with 2018s Catharsis being widely shunned by fans due to the change in style and lyric writing. This has also carried over into their singles; from 2016 to now I have found myself cringing at at least a couple of the lyrics in each of them (especially ‘Do or Die’s attempt at calling out his own fanbase) and gone is the epic-lengthed, modern thrash feel of it all, instead stripping back and becoming more basic and lighter, favouring commercial success over quality. However, having not checked out their new EP before this review, I have seen a LOT of people saying it is their best work since The Blackening. A HUGE statement to make, given the quality of Locust and Bloodstone, as well as Blackening itself. I had little hopes for this EP when it was announced and had pretty much given up on Machine Head since Phil Demmel wasn’t allowed to write anymore so left, but these statements have at least piqued my interest. I shall waffle no more; let’s get into the review!

I guess it could be considered the lead single from the EP as it is the one getting pushed the hardest on social media, but ‘Become the Firestorm’ opens it up. Straight away we get a huge drum roll as the guitars slide down into a crazy fast riff reminiscent of ‘In Comes the Flood’. Robb’s powerful scream is immediately present too, the one thing that I can still praise the man to no end for, his voice is fantastic and perfect for this sort of music. It stays pretty heavy and fast throughout the verse, a pretty decent guitar riff and blisteringly quick drums fill out the sound pretty well behind Robb’s surprisingly not cringy lyrics, even if they are a little cliché. We get some pretty interesting backing vocals in the chorus, being a lot more highlighted than they used to be, and Robb’s repeated line makes it pretty catchy. Not the best chorus they have done by a long stretch, but not bad! We get a sick trebled guitar riff coming out of the second chorus as the song slows down, a great bridge that could lead to either a breakdown or guitar solo. It’s the first one. We get an awesome slow breakdown, having an almost nu-metal feel to it with the high notes mixed in there. Robb’s vocals are present throughout most of it, only adding to the heaviness. However, it does lack a little of the emotion that I feel like he used to be so good at injecting into them. Coming out of the breakdown we get a great harmonised guitar riff/solo, showing off their Iron Maiden influence that they like to do pretty often. It then suddenly speeds up into a blistering solo from both Robb and Wacław Kiełtyka, this definitely giving off the Blackening vibes that I have so far not heard. Both guys did fantastically, it being the highlight of the song by far as the music changed just enough multiple times behind the soloing to keep it interesting and give them something new to work with. We get a final double chorus to close things out, a rather needless key change coming out of nowhere for the second half of it. However, it didn’t take too much away from a pretty decent track overall. Playlisted!

‘Rotten’ opens on another big few notes before dropping back down for just a massive-sounding guitar riff and vocals for the verse. It builds pretty perfectly throughout the verse, the lyrics being dark but fitting to the mood, all leading to it dropping out for the last line and sounding awesome. We’re then hit by a surprisingly steady but still heavy riff for a few seconds before it speeds up a fair bit for a brief chorus. It’s again pretty catchy, even if it is simple and far too short in this writer’s humble opinion. It almost gives off punk vibes instead of metal. We get a great little bass solo riff for a bar or two coming out the second chorus before in comes a HEAVY slow guitar riff and maybe one of Robb’s best growls to date, low and powerful. I loved it. It stays crazy heavy with the slow breakdown riff and some heavy screams from Robb before his cleaner singing voice comes in for the second half, sounding great and adding some nice dynamics into it. Another guitar solo comes a little sudden and out of nowhere, but is still pretty quick and technical, again fitting the music behind it pretty well. It wasn’t quite as good as the previous song’s I don’t think, though. We get a nice return of the riff to act as an outro/final chorus, going on a little too long in my opinion, but then again it does fade out so it makes sense, I guess. It’s at least pretty slow and heavy, reminding me of the Davidian outro in that respect. While not as good as the first song, it was still good and I’ll definitely be listening to it again in the coming weeks.

The title track and closing track of the EP is a ballad. Just wanted to put that out there before we got any further with this. Make of that what you will, Machine Head has done some great softer, slower songs before, but they’re usually at least coupled with either some heaviness or so basic that it’s just Robb with some simple backing behind him. This is not that, for the most part. Robb’s vocals come in pretty quick over a nice, clean guitar riff, but his vocals have some pretty interesting, VERY nu-metal/post-grunge effects over the top that I don’t think was necessarily needed. It drops into a pretty nice, distorted guitar riff for the second verse, the effect being taken off the vocals and making it sound a lot better. Robb’s cleans sound better than ever, too. The chorus is kind of nothing, there isn’t too much to it and there is little variation between it and the verses, to the point where I struggled to distinguish the two parts before the song title line being sung. However, the use of backing vocals and harmonies through this are fantastic, adding an epic feel to it all and making me want to hear if they can pull it off live. The pretty heavy riff after the second chorus was fantastic, especially with the whispered vocals and all of the harmonics from the guitars. The lower whispered/growled vocals that join in were awesome too, giving it an almost evil, demonic feel to it, maybe my favourite part of the song. We get a slower, very fitting guitar solo after the breakdown, it being filled with emotion and maybe my favourite on the album, it had a little bit of everything. That crazy low scream from Wacław is back afterward, blowing my mind again as we head into another breakdown. This is heavier than I was expecting from a ballad. However, just as I type that, the song drops out to just clean vocals and a very simple guitar riff, turning light faster than a Poppy song. It turns out it is part of a dynamic double chorus, the second half being distorted guitars again before the clean opening riff takes us home again. This was fantastic, and just this song alone deserves a fair amount of the praise it has been given. Easily playlisted.

Overall: I fall somewhere in the middle with this EP. It was definitely better than anything since Bloodstone, but I wouldn’t put it up there with The Blackening by any stretch. The first two songs felt like a band unsure, trying to find themselves again after a couple of failed style changes and the fans wanting them to stick to the same formula. They were good but felt a tad forced at times. However, that closer was a banger and honestly one of the best slower songs the band has ever produced. I’m interested to see where the band goes from here, as if they build on this for a full-length album in the future, I feel like I’d definitely enjoy it. Just please, Robb, no more rapping or posturing, you’re better than that.

The Score: 6.5/10

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