Machine Head - Burn My Eyes (1994)Release ID: 2988
Entertaining groove metal album that should please all those Pantera fans.
Before I discuss the merits of Burn My Eyes, I'd like to state that Machine Head are not necessarily my type of band. This very American styled groove metal generally grates on my nerves, with the exception of two very good Pantera albums in the early 90s, and so I'm probably not the best person in the world to review a Machine Head album. Despite this statement, I can most definitely say that Burn My Eyes is a good album that I thoroughly enjoy despite my initial hesitance.
The band seem to get a fair amount of flak (just read some of the reviews on this site) for a lot of their work, and perhaps some of that is justified for their later releases. But Burn My Eyes has enough great riffs and grooves to keep just about any metalhead happy, so I think a lot of the negativity directed at this release is a little harsh. Apart from the great chunky guitar work, the drumming is also awesome, and Rob Flynn's angry vocals suit the music perfectly. On that note, it does make me wonder why Rob didn't offer his vocal services to Vio-Lence while he was part of that band, as their otherwise decent thrash metal was all but destroyed by a truly horrendous singer (if you can call him that).
It is true that some of these tracks overstay their welcome just a little, with many of them running close to six minutes in length. It's also true that after the incredible one two punch of Davidian and Old, the album struggles to reach those heights again. But I can't say any of the remaining tracks are bad and in most cases they're damn entertaining. The band change things up throughout the album and don't thrash all that hard for much of the running time, but every time things are starting to feel a little stale, they'll crank things up with a monstrous riff.
All up I'd say Burn My Eyes is one of the better thrash metal debuts to come out since the golden era (ie. 1980s) and anyone that enjoys Pantera will get a large kick out Machine Head. I can't speak for any of their later albums as I haven't spent any time with them, but this debut is well worth your while. Highlights for me are Davidian, Old, A Thousand Lies, The Rage to Overcome, Death Church and the thrashing Blood for Blood.
Machine Head isn't totally bad. I just can't get myself into enjoying a huge lot of this band, and with this band being an important developer of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, it's kind of a tragedy for my enjoyment of the movement. Machine Head was formed by frontman Robb Flynn in the early 90s after he left thrash metal band Vio-lence following a violent altercation. His time with Vio-lence was when mullet-headed metalheads where in a moshing frenzy from all that vicious thrash. Soon the idea of groove metal's mid-tempo breakdowns and tribal tattoos begin to roll into popularity, and thrash bands began to add accessibility to their heaviness. Trying to find something to enjoy from Robb Flynn's new-band-experience, Machine Head has only given me a dull bruise instead of the battering moshing I needed...
Honestly though, Burn My Eyes has built up a bit from the thrashy origin of Flynn's career. After his time with thrash, Flynn and co. began taking more inspiration from Biohazard, Pantera, and Sepultura's Chaos AD. These influences are injected into the thrash sound for the band's own brand of groove metal, with occasional hip-hop chords. The band didn't really have the hardcore credit or Pantera personality in the riffs and vocals. Burn My Eyes shows the band making a fine balance between dynamics and atmosphere to please some metalheads. The drum thunder rolls to make the primal riffing more bloodthirsty. The bass by Adam Duce is good and thick. Robb Flynn can really shout like a caveman, and I don't mean that as an insult. He can encourage you f***ing jump through the tempos and riffs like other bands from their record label Roadrunner. Also add to the groove is some mechanical guitar leads that would remind some of Prong at that time.
Listeners ready to tune in will be struck by the massive punch of "Davidian" that can be considered the Godflesh "Like Rats" of groove metal. "Old" is a brilliant track here. If you've been listening to metal for a long time like I have, the enjoyment depends on what you're really into. Still the aggression can get you headbanging in no time. It should be noted though the vocals might not be for fans of Pantera who expect Phil Anselmo's southern accent. Some might also think of Sacred Reich there! The vocals in "A Thousand Lies" kinda make a goofy take on Biohazard. The less confident "None But My Own" sounds dull in the clean vocals. The groove breakdown isn't really their best way of imitating Pantera at that time. Fortunately, the structural machinery shows that the band knows who and what they are.
"The Rage to Overcome" sounds like it continues from the previous track, though never really a stinker. "Death Church" is once again reminiscent of Godflesh. Just listen to the riffing that's like that band's extreme industrial riffing, but without the industrial. This is where Flynn has a more authentic mood in the vocals. That's perhaps my favorite track of the album, much more than the similar still massive "Davidian" and slightly above "Old". The lyrics are h*lla catchy and worth driving in your car to, "Hey Jesus, can you help me with my pain, mainline me some religion to keep me sane?" Next up, "A Nation on Fire" is a straight mix of groove and mood while again losing some confidence. Though the thrashy ending will get you geared up for what's next. "Blood for Blood" is the closest to the kick-A thrash of Vio-lence. In all honesty, there should've a few songs as fast as this to replace the somewhat earlier dull Pantera/Biohazard-like tracks to make a solid groove/thrash album. Never mind that, I don't want too much confusion.
"I'm Your God Now" is once again back to that g****mn grunge-ish formula. Nonetheless, Flynn's soft singing sounds the best here, especially during the mid-tempo riffing. The singing sounds grittier when the riffing goes faster. From there, the groove starts rising up to better enjoyment again, getting pretty f***ing close to the earlier highlights. "Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies" is filled with samples of crimes and brutality. Again, the band takes the industrial metal of Fear Factory at that time, but removes the industrial. It's easy to hear how strong Flynn is when facing politics. "This country needs to go under a radical change." Finally, "Block" is back to the Pantera/Biohazard-like groove, though in f***ing catchier form, with the guitar tone being a bit thrashy. Clearly it makes sense when you connect this with the then-recent sound of Sepultura.
Upon seeing what I think of the music and the lyrics in a couple tracks, you might think a lot of the lyrics are received positively from me. The truth is, the lyrics in most of the non-highlight tracks are some of the worst I've heard in groove metal, sounding too cliche in the topic of suffering. The cover art is quite bizarre. The best non-sexual guess I can is a photo merge of a couple headbanging positions. Despite the oddities and lyrical atrocities in half the amount of songs, Burn My Eyes is a decent start to the band's career and I understand the groove metal scene growing from there....
Favorites: "Davidian", "Old", "Death Church", "Blood for Blood", "Block"
Burn My Eyes is a great example of Groove Metal done right. The riffs here are awesome, still with a Thrash edge and not too one-note. The rhythm section is full of energy and while there are plenty of midtempo sections, they’re usually filled with interesting drumming, or change up the patterns quickly enough that it doesn’t get too repetitive. Of course, the best parts are when they dial the energy all the way up and those Thrash influences shine through.
There’s a fair bit of other influence touched upon here as well, including Metalcore, Alt Metal, and even some Nu Metal. I don’t think any of that was intentional, but Machine Head managed to create a debut that sounded entirely unique at the time. Probably the best part is that it still holds up today without issue, having a much more timeless modernity to it than a lot of early Groove Metal. If I didn’t know this was 1994, I would never have been able to date this.
The early 90's was an odd time for metal. With most of the previous decades heroes being driven underground, going through a phase of substandard releases, or shamelessly trying (and failing) to latch onto the grunge scene that was taking the world by storm, heavy metal needed some fresh new faces to take the reins and steer the genre to pastures new.
With groove metal bands like Pantera standing tall, hardcore heroes like Biohazard bludgeoning their way into the action, and later bands such as Korn and Limp Bizkit taking the music in totally different directions, there was one band that fused elements of all these subgenres together, and so with the immortal lyric of "let freedom ring with a shotgun blast" did Machine Head burst onto the scene.
With some very fat, grooving riffs, plenty of middle-finger attitude and hard-hitting lyrics, Machine Head exemplified metal in the early 90's, when fans were care-free and passionate, ravenous for the next headbanging anthem. And there's plenty of 'em here! 'Old', 'The Rage to Overcome' and 'Davidian' (one on the bands best songs), are all reasons why Machine Head would be one of the bands to usher heavy metal into the post-grunge era of modern music.
The album does plod along at times and comes across as repetitive, which is why it only gets a three-star rating from me. Robert Flynn's vocals suit the music perfectly, although the overuse of harmonics (and in particular, stabs in the music with harmonics filling the gap) does become a tired trick after hearing it in the third or fourth song. But overall this is a solid debut, and 'Davidian' is easily one of the finest metal songs to come out of the 90's, so it's a damn good album just for that.
This is the album that seemingly half the fan base of early nineties metal have been waiting to be followed up for over 25 years now. Rarely do I hear conversation or read reviews of Machine Head output post this record that doesn't mention the debut. "This ain't no Burn My Eyes!" is one such common comment as if there is a genuine expectation that anything is ever going to match one of the most impacting and meaningful releases for most fans growing up with metal in the nineties. As is perhaps human nature, the success of a band at one moment in time becomes a stick to beat them with in years to come.
The majority of criticism that gets levelled at Machine Head is justified in my book, not that there is anything wrong with a band exploring new avenues and directions but with Flynn's unpredictable nature there is always a threat of you just not knowing what is coming next whenever a record release from the band is announced. This (aside from the fact that I believe that Burn My Eyes was a one off record anyways) should be evidence enough that the debut was never going to ever get followed up in the strictest sense of the term. Instead we should celebrate the brilliance of the debut as opposed to chaining it around the neck of the band like some wearisome burden.
By the time this record was released I had been into metal for five years and things were just starting to get a little stagnant for me. Nu-metal was in the early stages of development and I had already decided it wasn't going to interest me that much. Virtually every penny I earned went on vinyl, CD or cassette and my shelves in my bedroom were stocked full of everything from Pantera to Morbid Angel, from Bon Jovi to Judas Priest and I felt like I heard everything. My liking of Pantera was what I recall being the thread that lead me to Machine Head's debut album. A Vulgar Display of Power had been a big influence on my taste in terms of groove metal and Burn My Eyes seemed almost a natural progression for me. The record felt fresh, brimming with angst-ridden energy and brooding violence. It sounded like how I (and no doubt every teenage metal fan at the time) wanted their own band to sound like if they ever started one up. It was equal parts catharsis for the moody teenager as it was unbridled vehemence for the older hormones floating around in my blood at the time.
The tracks just stacked up like a string of devastatingly powerful wrestlers making their entrance one by one into some all out royal rumble. It was most definitely an album that in 1994 I would have awarded five stars to. A quarter of a century's worth of hindsight has seen the number of stars diminish as my tastes have changed and I rarely come back to this record with any regularity nowadays. I still stick to my point earlier on in the review that this record should be celebrated for what it delivered to both me personally and the metal genre as a whole at the time. It is still a brilliant and very important album.
Groove Metal (conventional)
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