For the Irish, 2014 has been an incredible year for gig-going fans of heavy music. The live music scene has rarely been stronger, and this year has seen an incredible number of acts from all facets of metal’s sub genres coming to Ireland to play for capacity crowds. It may be almost over, but incredibly, tonight’s show is not the last event of the year; that honour falls to Kreator and Arch Enemy who will play here the following night. However tonight, one of the genre’s most recognisable names were in town. Bringing a close to their ‘Killers and Kings’ European tour, Machine Head treated the Dublin audience to an extend set, and for a lucky few, a whole lot more besides.
With a career stretching back two decades, Machine Head have a multi-generational appeal, as evidenced by the diversity of age in the audience tonight. While younger fans may cite the band’s later period career defining work ‘The Blackening’ as their masterpiece, for the older generation, it is debut album ‘Burn My Eyes’ that remains their best. Tonight, with a show that ran for over two hours, fans were treated to tracks from all periods of the band’s career, including plenty of cuts from those pair of defining releases.
Machine Head are torchbearers for Classic Metal these days, and as if to assert their preference for, and indeed reverence to the genre, it was tracks by the likes of Megadeth, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne that poured from the sound system as the rammed-in crowd at this sold out show awaited the band’s arrival on stage. With no support act, due to a strict venue curfew, the air was thick with anticipation by the time the house lights dimmed and the four-piece took to the stage. Kicking off with ‘Imperium’ from 2003’s ‘Through The Ashes Of Empires’, both band and crowd erupted in an explosive ball of energy, the likes of which had not been seen in The Academy in quite some time. With frenzied moshing – a truly mesmerising spectacle for those viewing from a safe distance - a bombastic ‘Beautiful Morning’ followed, with the first part of the show focusing on tracks from the band’s most recent albums.
Following a clutch of new songs, including the pulsating latest single ‘Now We Die’, a slew of older tracks followed, with the heavy as a, well, ‘Ten Tonne Hammer’ the first of the band’s early material to receive and airing. Proving that their early work is still, arguably among their best, the band were quick to delve deeper into their history. It’s admirable that Machine Head are not afraid to revisit any period of their career, even those albums that have come in for the most criticism. Their turn of the millennium soiree into Nu Metal and all that went with it - the tracksuits, the spikey hair and most damning of all, the rap vocal stylings - may remain the bugbear for some, however tonight’s airing of ‘From This Day’ from that period, was greeted rabidly. Exerting the same explosive response as what had gone before, Flynn adapted the song’s vocal lines to sit much more comfortably with the band’s current musical aesthetic, resulting in a combustible rendition of the all too often maligned song.
As a frontman, Flynn may have his detractors, but he is none the less an entertaining and engaging watch. Recalling the band’s first ever show outside of America, he delighted the Dublin crowd telling them “The first place that we ever played outside of our own continent was right here in Dublin”. He may be the group’s key member, however, as a band, Machine Head fire on all four cylinders. Their second longest serving member, drummer Dave McClain anchors the show, whilst new bassist Jared MacEachern slots in so effortlessly, it is as if he has always been there. Newly adorned with fresh mutton chops, guitarist Phil Demmel meanwhile is no slouch either, soloing, preening and providing Flynn with a formidable front of stage partner.
With the band leaving the stage, Flynn took time out to thank their fans and crew, before donning an acoustic guitar to perform a brief solo spot. Offering a brief change of tack, the melancholic ‘Darkness Within’ was initially accompanied only by the voices in the Dublin crowd, before the full band joined in. A slow building mini-epic, the song reached its climax, with the clapping of hands, stomping of feet and choral singing of the crowd threatening to drown out the not inconsiderable noise made by the band themselves. It might just have been the highlight of the set, however there was one song that everyone was waiting to hear. Recalling how, on that first visit to the city as support act to Slayer, the Dublin crowd were the first in the world to sing the now immortal words ‘let freedom ring with a shotgun blast’ unprompted, Flynn introduced ‘Davidian’, as the Academy truly erupted. The song’s crushing riffs remain as brutal now as they were back then, and as every voice sang along in unison to the song’s sloganeering, head banging, moshing, crowd surfing and general mayhem ensued.
As the end of the set approached, the band were clearly in a celebratory end-of-tour mood, with Flynn tossing vodka shots into the crowd. Cuing up a keyboard intro for what was to follow, a comical and impromptu verse from Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ threatened to divert the main set, as the festive Dublin crowd playfully put their full voice behind it. Sadly, a full rendition wasn’t to be, and a juxtaposing ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’ brought things back on track. Finishing off the evening with a song from each of their most popular releases in the relatively aptly-named ‘Old’ and The Blackening’s ‘Halo’, there was no dip in the energy levels in the room, as both band and crowd reached their peak.
At around two hours and twenty minutes, the show was truly a marathon of metal, and as the crowd left the venue, they could have been forgiven for thinking that the band would be headed towards their hotel for some well-earned rest. However, Machine Head are made of sterner stuff, and those in the know headed to Fibber Magee’s rock bar, where just under three hours later the band took to the stage, to play a special secret show. With a fun set featuring covers from bands such as Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Pantera, it was an early Christmas present for the lucky few that were in attendance. Machine Head may have their critics, but tonight in Dublin they proved that they are a band who give back as much as they get. It’s all about the blood, the sweat, the tears apparently… and perhaps a little festive cheer. Merry metal Christmas.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 23 December 2014.