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McIver, Joel
Machine Head-Inside The Machine (Book Review)
December 2012
Released: 2012, Omnibus Press
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP

I have had the very great pleasure of getting to know UK Journalist, Joel McIver. Last year he told me he was working on a book about Machine Head. The first thought that crossed my mind was, “Why?”. I’ve never considered them to be a very good band and certainly not worth writing a book about, let alone Joel wasting his talent on such a third rate band. However, he was enthusiastic and patiently explained to me that in Europe they are far more revered and accepted than in North America. I was skeptical but curious. Besides I know Joel is more open-minded than I and then I remembered he did write a book about Nu-Metal, so with his being sympathetic or tolerant of that genre, I can see why he tackled Machine Head as a topic. MACHINE HEAD-INSIDE THE MACHINE is Joel’s 22nd book and he continued his strong relationship with Omnibus press. The book itself it a slightly larger paperback with an in-depth discography, an introduction from ex-Machine Header Chris Kontos and over two dozen colour photos on glossy plates.

I’ll state my bias right up front. I don’t really like Machine Head and the band (with the exception of one review (out of five CD reviews) has not really had much positive sentiment from us here at I’ve always felt that the overhyped debut BURN MY EYES was an uninspired Pantera kinda thing (and I don’t like Pantera either so that is not a compliment) and the band just tanked after that. So, having said all that, why bother even writing this book review? It’s important to understand that despite my personal opinion about the band is unimportant. It’s a good book and an excellent look at an admittedly popular band with the kids, so we have to be fair.

INSIDE THE MACHINE is a very good exploration of this hard-working band. It follows the linear development of the band from the early days of the Bay-Area thrash scene in which mainstay Robb Flynn was a part of. Joel brings up many good historical points, I had forgotten that Flynn was in Forbidden way back. Joel goes through the various phases of the band much of the work based on his own detailed interviews with various members over the years, and in that sense it is a first rate effort.

Joel comes across as an apologist and a bit of a revisionist for the ugly, ugly middle years of the band. The conventional wisdom across the Metal community, is that after a decent Pantera-esque debut, the band immediately sold-out. They radically changed their look, their sound, their producer, their song-writing, playing and performance; they changed everything and it failed. Miserably. They wallowed for directionless and with multiple defections. Addictions and label trouble for a decade, roughly 1997-2007. Eventually they gave their (Machine) heads head a collective shake and put out a couple of much better albums. I’m not sure why Joel decided to take the brave approach of going against the grain, but perhaps that is the hallmark of good journalism. While he admits many (most?) people gave up on the band he suggests it really wasn’t THAT bad. While I (and just about everyone else!) disagrees, with his perspective, he presents his points well with enthusiasm and good research.

Flynn in the various interviews, comes across as a bit of hard-ass but you have to be to make it and it is his conviction that made the band service the lean years even if he was chasing the trends to try to keep his career afloat. One thing that annoyed me is that he was quoted in at least a dozen occasions making comments about writing 10 minute long songs, like it was revolutionary or ground-breaking. Who cares? Hundreds, literally hundreds of bands have written 10 minute long songs before he did, but he seems oblivious to this fact and went on and on like it was such a big deal. Flynn also suffers from a bout of revisionism when he defends the actions of the band in those dark years, but I understand that from an artists perspective it is incredibly hard to see alternate perspective when one is so committed to their art. That is probably one of the reasons why he persevered, by ignoring and refusing to listen to the overwhelming criticism.

My last gripe is the hyperbole on the back cover. It says, ‘Heavy Metal is in a state of chaos. Five to 10 years from now, the biggest bands of the genre will be retired or dead.’ I’m not sure who wrote the blurb on the back cover and I asked Joel if he agrees with the statement and in all honesty I got a bit of an indirect answer, which I took to mean, maybe deep down he doesn’t believe that too be completely accurate, but it does sell books. Joel is an unapologetic fan who happens to have a high-level of journalistic integrity and wrote a very good book on a very average band. My higher rating reflects the quality of the book, the writing, the research and presentation, not my personal view on the band, which as I suggested before, is irrelevant. If ya like Machine Head get this book, and even if you are ambivalent about the band, it’s still worth the quick easy read at 250 pages and you will learn all there is to know about the band.

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