Machine Head’s comeback, from hitting rock bottom in the beginning of the 21st century to being reborn literally “Through the Ashes of Empires”, reaching the uncharted prog thrash peak of “The Blackening”, and finally the boundless exploration of “Unto the Locust” (mostly) and “Bloodstone & Diamonds”, with sold out “an evening with” 3-hour tour de force shows and one win after the other, could be the basis for a TV series. It’s such a good redemption story, that breaking up that line-up, with the departure of Dave McClain and Phil Demmel, shortly after 2018’s uneven, confused and far less democratically written “Catharsis”, due to Robb Flynn ‘holding the reins too tight’ (these are his own words, in the video announcing the news), can only be compared in terms of ego-driven comically tragic self-destructiveness with Pantera’s unceremonious end or Megadeth’s dismemberment of the “Rust in Peace” line-up.
Due to that last sentence (not only though) I wasn’t particularly optimistic about “Of Kingdom and Crown”. Could Flynn – leader, resilient, top-class musician, composer and frontman – find his way once more?
Good news first: a) Cool production. Especially in the often beautiful vocal harmonies between Flynn and bassist Jared MacEachern the sound is flawless. b) Cohesiveness. This is not about this being a concept album, without the three interludes I doubt anyone would have noticed, but musically, this is far from the ‘one of each’ mentality of “Catharsis”. c) Seriousness. No cringle lyrics about California, no weird white uniforms, no battling against internet trolls, no poetry slams.
However, the raging reviews I read, simply don’t reflect reality. Let’s be reasonable – and sober – and not call this ‘the greatest record Machine Head have ever made’ like a major metal news outlet did. Opener “Slaughter the Martyr” is strong, featuring some of Flynn’s best ideas on this record, but does it belong in the same category as “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” or “I Am Hell”? Of course not. “Of Kingdom and Crown” has good moments, not inarguable masterpieces. Its creator’s compositional solitude is evident, and it feels more like a first effort to start a new chapter, with the band’s line-up still barely stable, rather than a grandiose return to form. Especially when it comes to our favourite artists, the bar needs to be set high.
Lastly, this was very badly promoted. If you exclude the 3 interludes, the record has 10 songs. With one EP and three singles, 6 of them have already been released! Meaning you buy the album with only 4 new songs left to discover…