Machine Head are one of the few metal bands out there that make an attempt to be larger than life. Their music over the last few album cycles has tilted towards the epic, bringing back the scope and vision of when rock and metal was able to fill arenas. “The Blackening” is hailed as a modern classic, and Machine Head are one of the most talked about bands, even if the reason for it is not always positive. Machine Head have been accused of being trend-chasing sellouts (which isn't exactly untrue), of being too much in love with themselves, and of giving metal a bad name thanks to Robb Flynn's tendency to say things he shouldn't.
“Bloodstone & Diamonds” is the third record in this phase of Machine Head's existence, and continues the band's affinity for taking themselves far too seriously. When “The Blackening” started gaining acclaim, Machine Head took the praise as a raison d'etre, trying to be the rock/metal band for the intellectual listener. Of course, being the same band that produced nu-metal records like “Burn My Eyes”, they are not well-equipped for such a task.
We get all the evidence we need in the form of “Now We Die”, which opens the album with seven minutes of sub-thrash riffing, horrible vocals, and enough slathered on strings to make me wonder just what they thought they were accomplishing here. When the song goes into a breakdown, then a bridge, then a solo, then another piano led bridge, the only thing I can think about is why they felt the need to include all of these elements, when two would have more than sufficed, and kept the song to a more manageable running time.
In fact, that inability to self-edit rears its head all throughout the record, which is a bloated seventy-one minutes in length, far too long for it to make any real impact without overstaying its welcome. “Bloodstone & Diamonds” is trying to be epic, but sheer length is not the measuring stick for that quality, and it does this music no favors. At the length of a classic double album, but without the variety that marked most of those, getting through this record is a slog. Hearing the same guitar tone and vocal approach for that long, without songs that break it up by tackling some different moods, it tries the patience of anyone listening. And that is criticism that doesn't account for the actual quality of the music.
Machine Head are capable of writing some good songs, but they seem to always try to do too much in every one. “Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones” has a moshing riff, and then throws it aside for an atmospheric verse that doesn't feel connected to it at all. “Night Of Long Knives” has a really solid hook, but for some reason sandwiches it between some of the least powerful blast-beats I've ever heard. Every song is a bit jumbled, as though the band thinks because they can appeal to both extreme metal and hard rock fans, that they have to include elements of both in every song. They don't, and their insistence on trying to appeal to every facet of the metal community hinders their songwriting.
What's worse is the vocal approach Robb Flynn takes, with his shrill barking dominating the proceedings. It is a style I have always hated, and one that holds back whatever success this album could achieve. I don't enjoy people screaming in my ear in person, nor do I enjoy it on record. The heavy parts don't sound heavy enough, because there isn't the demonic presence of a true growl, and the melodic parts don't sound melodic enough, because Flynn isn't really singing. It's in line with the old adage of balancing on a knife-edge; eventually it's going to cut you in half.
With all of that being said, I can't say I enjoyed “Bloodstone & Diamonds”. Rather than being the epic metal statement Machine Head wants it to be, it sounds like a band that is trying to be epic. Those are not the same thing at all, and it marks the difference between the classics and every imitator that came afterward. “Bloodstone & Diamonds” doesn't sound like an album that Machine Head went into a rehearsal room and came up with. It sounds like a labored effort to write a huge modern metal album. The calculation is what makes it sound inauthentic, and ultimately small. Rather than do what Machine Head is good at, this album stretches them beyond their abilities. I'm sure Machine Head can make a good metal record, but this isn't it.