LIVE: Machine Head @ O2 Brixton Academy, London

By Chelsea Smile

It’s a(nother) cold and rainy Saturday evening in south London. Drinkers are getting turned away from Brixton pubs because they’re at capacity – a sure sign that there’s a sold out gig at the Academy later on tonight.

Californian metallers Machine Head have come to town to celebrate 25 years of their debut album, ‘Burn My Eyes’, by playing it in its entirety front to back before a sold out crowd. An Instagram post, where front man Robb Flynn seemingly confirms that the band will start at the early bird time of 7.45pm, has gone viral, and now punters are scrambling to finish their pints and get inside stat.

Just shy of 8pm, the house lights suddenly fade to black and the usual “Machine Fuckin’ Head” chants start bellowing throughout the venue. The band take to the stage – but the song they open with isn’t ‘Davidian’, the first track on ‘Burn My Eyes’. It quickly becomes apparent that the band will be playing a greatest hits setlist and finishing with the full album, which seems a strange choice given that everyone is more sober and energised now than they will be in two hours, but hey – it’s happening.

The Americans begin with ‘Imperium’, which has a 37 second intro of delicate sombre chords that serve perfectly for entrance music. After it drops, the first lyrics of the night are, “HEAR ME NOW!” roared by Flynn as heads bang and hair whips aggressively in time to the music.

As we all marvel in the fact that Machine Head have been releasing music for a quarter of a century, it’s simultaneously bittersweet when you look at the unfamiliar faces surrounding Flynn on stage. Bassist Jared MacEachern joined the group in 2013, whilst guitarist Waclaw Kieltyka and drummer Matt Alston were only drafted in this year as a double substitution. Some fans are pining for what could be considered the classic line-up – Adam Deuce, Dave McClain, and Phil Demmel. Like it or not, Machine Head is now Robb Flynn’s solo project.

Still, what they lack in original members, they make up for in heavy metal classics, burning through ‘Take My Scars’, ‘Now We Die’, ‘Struck A Nerve’, ‘Locust’, ‘I Am Hell’, and ‘Aesthetics of Hate’ under diamond shaped light fixtures, as the audience creates circle pit after circle pit upon Flynn’s command. The technical ability of each member is nothing to sniff at, either. Every musician performing is completely proficient and totally on the money of their respective craft. Flynn himself is pretty much a guitar virtuoso as he effortlessly shreds and holds his Flying V up to the people.

The vocalist then pauses and embarks on what becomes an eight minute speech, reminiscing about playing London for the first time in the very room we’re in back when Machine Head opened up for Slayer in 1994, dramatically strumming his guitar intermittently as he regales the memory. It’s almost Kanye West-esque, except that instead of preaching, the content of his monologue unites the room as he talks about his dependence on music, former drug use, shock at still being alive, friend recently being diagnosed with cancer, and summing up with how we can all be there for each other as a community.

On with the set, and ‘Darkness Within’, ‘Catharsis’, ‘From This Day’, and ‘Ten Ton Hammer’ and are unleashed. Everyone likes a good cover, and we’re happy to hear them take on ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ by the capital’s own Iron Maiden, before they finish up with ‘Halo’.

Flynn then announces that there will be a ten minute interval. Wow. The only other band that have been known to do this is Rush – but before anyone who wasn’t already at the bar can even grab a beverage, it’s finally time for the ‘Burn My Eyes’ portion of the evening, which reassuringly begins with ‘Davidian’.

It is simply incredible to enjoy such a comprehensive and now classic body of work performed in order of track listing in a live capacity; such a rare and welcomed treat has musos buzzing excitedly and pinching themselves as the material washes over them.

The foursome then blister through ‘Old’, ‘A Thousand Lies’, ‘Not But My Own’, and ‘The Rage to Overcome’ – but then, during ‘Death Church’, a drink is thrown, hitting the sound desk and bringing the show to its knees for a full 20 minutes. Flynn, understandably, isn’t happy,  explaining that the soundboard doesn’t drink beer and ordering the irritated mob to “knock the teeth into the back of the neck” of the person who’s responsible. It’s probably not a great idea, however, to follow that up with a joke about how we as a country can’t get our act together when it comes to Brexit – the one subject nobody at all wants to think about as we’re waiting to see if Machine Head can even continue.

The band eventually restart the set with ‘A Nation On Fire’ and go on to finish the record as intended, defying the curfew – it’s appreciated, but the night has certainly been marred by this incident as some have already left frustratedly in order to get their last trains home.

Sometimes less is more and a three hour – let alone three and a half hour – gig is far too long without ample warning, even though nobody can dare say that they didn’t get enough bang for their buck. On the bright side, though, Robb Flynn certainly isn’t exhibiting any signs of slowing down, and there’s a good chance that we’ll get to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ‘Burn My Eyes’ – hopefully minus the soundboard and beer fiasco.