MACHINE HEAD – Hellalive

MACHINE HEAD - Hellalive


Release date: March 11, 2003

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In December of 2001, right before Christmas, I had the pleasure of seeing what is surely one of the planet’s most explosive and intense live acts on a rare visit in Oslo. We’re of course talking about Oakland’s very own Machine Head, among the leading alternative metal bands of the 90s. Their newly released live album, Hellalive, dates from that very same period in which I saw them, capturing the band (mostly) at London’s legendary Brixton Academy as well as not so legendary Leipzig, Germany (two tracks recorded at the With Full Force Festival).

With every album consisting of live material, there are two essential questions which need to be answered: Firstly, does the album manage to recapture what the band sounds like in a live setting? Secondly, and of almost equal importance, does the selected material give a proper account of the band in question’s career? In other words, are the best songs featured, the classics the fans come to hear? In the case of Machine Head’s newest effort, the answer will have to be a roaring “yeah” on the first one and a clear “nope” on the second one. I’m reporting this with some disappointment, obviously. There is no doubt that Machine Head’s career has taken somewhat of a fall in recent years, both in terms of creativity and song writing (which go together like cornflakes and milk, I’m afraid…). Not surprisingly, this has had a profound impact on their sales figures, which have seen their following reduced considerably. While their two first albums, Burn My Eyes (1994) and The More Things Change (1997) were instant classics, 1999s The Burning Red showed signs of fatigue, and follow-up Supercharger (2001) fared no better, quite frankly.

This is the simple reason why Machine Head’s live set should feature more songs from their first two albums and less from the last two. Sure enough, we get bone crushing versions of “Ten Ton Hammer,” “Take My Scars,” “Old” and “Davidian,” the classics that sparked Machine Head’s road to fame and credibility, but there’s still too much indifferent material here to lift this outing out of the ordinary. This becomes all too clear in comparison with Pantera’s Official Live: 101 Proof album from 1997, which in my book must be regarded among the best metal live outings of all time, at least in terms of song selection and intensity. All of this having been said, charismatic front man Robb Flynn and his crew sure know how to put on a show. No complaints can be made about the general atmosphere or the communication between the band (well, Rob that is) and the crowd. For the more casual and critically minded observer, however, one is left to ponder what this album might have been like if only more emphasis was put on the early days. We’ll just have to wait eagerly on Machine Head’s next studio effort and hope for a return to form, which will give them some new classics to perform live.

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