Big Al's Metal Review

Artist: Machine Head
Documentary: Elegies DVD
Label: Roadrunner Records

Artist: Anthrax
Album: Alive 2
Label: Sanctuary Records

There are many words that come to mind when I think of these two bands. Talent is the most obvious choice. Integrity, however, describes their longevity and the loyalty of their fans. In the case of Machine Head, imagine yourself in this scenario:

Having been dropped by your label and rejected by every possible suitor you approach, would you (a) change your name or (b) call it a day? Machine Head did the obvious. They went back into their studio to record the most blistering tribute to their past and what-they-felt-could-have-been-their-future, if only the labels would take their heads out of their asses. If these guys were going out, then their latest disc, Through the Ashes of Empires, would seal their legacy.

It wasn?t always like this. In 1994, they brought American thrash back, and infused it with a fire that took the metal world by storm. Touring the world, bringing their madness with them, they inspired many copycat acts.

1997 brought The More Things Change, and Machine Head went from upstarts to heavyweights. Like a Ten Ton Hammer coming down, the sheer brutality of the riffs laid down, coupled with their intense lyrics, carved a new place for them alongside bands like Metallica and Sepultura. But like their NorCal home, there would be a foggy period awaiting them.

First off would be the seemingly continual lineup changes. Drummer Chris Kontos left after the first album, Logan Mader (guitar) after the second. With The Burning Red and Supercharger, their next two albums, proving too experimental for some fans, Machine Head found themselves without a label.

Of course, it wasn?t their fault that Roadrunner made an untimely mistake by releasing Supercharger on September 11, 2001, with a single called ?Crashing Around You.? And with an industry in flux, dominated by mega-corporations owned by companies with no history in the music business, a band without a hit single is a band without a label.

Slowly, though, things fell into place, as detailed on the DVD. Their first good move was the decision to return to their roots. Second was getting Phil Demmel into the fold as a second guitarist to replace yet another departure.

Having someone who believed in this band as much as Demmel helped tremendously, and setting forth to record they found themselves signing a European distribution deal with Roadrunner Records, the same label that had dropped them.

Upon release, the band thought that TTAOE could possibly sell a few thousand copies the first week. Word of mouth tripled that, and the band and their new-old label were slackjawed with the demand for this band whom everyone had counted out ? everyone but Machine Head themselves. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the last album, and of a band in transition.

A little more real than Metallica?s movie, Elegies is a documentary packaged with a sold-out performance at London?s Brixton Academy. Mixed and produced well, this is a great recording of the reception the new songs received live. Consider that Europe has always given this badn better reception than those of stateside, and you have a winning disc.

Now consider Anthrax. Alongside Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, they forged the music we now call thrash metal. A thoroughly American mixture of the best of the New Wave of Brit metal with the Yankee penchant for speed, this potent music goes straight for the jugular. Metallica, of course, went on to stardom, and Megadeth and Slayer have eeked out nice livings, Slayer staying true to their roots and fans the whole way through. But Anthrax, for whatever reason, has always had obstacle after obstacle thrown their way. Label changes, an amazing album (Stomp 442) not promoted, you name it.

They did crack the mainstream nicely with The Sound
of White Noise, and have never sold out. But TSOWN was a definite sea change in the songwriting and playing. Getting the raspy John Bush to replace Joey Belladonna brought them initial commercial success and continued musical integrity, but somehow people always asked about the classic Belladonna/Spitz/Bello line-up. And if they won?t reunite now, on their 20th anniversary as a band, then when?

My first metal album was Attack of the Killer B?s, a collection of (what else) B-sides and covers. I was hooked at 16 ? can you imagine thrash metal mixed with Public Enemy? Well, you can now because of Anthrax; pioneers willing to take a chance in the face of ridicule.

A million ball-cap-wearing frat boys thank you, boys! Just kidding, y?all. In the face of all the love shown them by their long-time fans, the classic Anthrax have released a live album/DVD recorded in their hometown (well,
sort of) Sayerville, New Jersey. A collection of all the hits you banged your head to when you still had hair, this is a beautiful addition to your DVD collection.

One more before I go is Judas Priest?s Rising in the East. A document of their reunion with Rob Halford, this filmed-in-Japan concert is now in stores. Check ?em all out.

Until next time,

Al Cohen
Senior Staff