Part 7 and 8, the final pieces of the "Through The Ashes Turns 10" journals will be up on Monday and Wednesday of next week.
I've been focused on writing lyrics and because of this The General Journals have taken a back seat, but I'm almost done with parts 7 and 8. As promised I will have some rarities from the Flynn Vault in the final Journal.
As you may have noticed there aren't any, "hey, were in the recording studio" updates happening. That's because were not!
A few Journals ago I said we'd hit the studio at end of October, and while we tried our damnedest to make that deadline, the fact is, we weren't ready.
We started writing in January of this year but between the bassist auditions, teaching Jared all the old tunes, rehearsing for headline dates, doing Mayhem, getting Jared up to speed on the new tunes, and back into writing mode in September, we just didn't have the songs yet. We probably only wrote music for 4 out of those 9 months, if we went in, it would have been rushed.
This is an important record for us. With a new label, a new member, and this being the follow up to "Locust" all eyes are on us. This record cannot be rushed or hurried, it needs to be great. It needs to be classic Machine Head. It needs to be a timeless album.
Our new label, Nuclear Blast agreed and said "hey, if it comes out in April or August, who cares? In 5 years, they're only going to remember if it's great or not."
It was refreshing and we were grateful that's how they felt.
We are now going in the studio the first week of February, 2014.
We already have 5 or 6 song demoed, some are in more finished stages than others, so we'll continue demoing through the New Year. Shit, who am I kidding? We’ll probably be demoing up until the day before we hit the studio, LOL!
Thanks for the patience my friends.
In September of 2003 Dave McClain got married.
At the wedding reception in Arizona, when festivities were over, my wife and I went back to our room and had wild, drunken, slobbery sex. In October, right before the record came out in Europe we found out she was pregnant.
It was good news.
We had been trying for about 5 months, though we had taken a break over the summer so we could wakeboard (Genevra is a ridiculously good wakeboarder). But as soon as the Summer was over we started "trying" again (basically not using the "pull out" method) and at the reception it worked!
Like so many other couples, we had put off having kids for a while, waiting til "the time was right," til we had "enough money," and all the typical excuses people say why they wait to have kids. But we weren't going to wait anymore. Whether we had money or not, if Machine Head was signed or not, we weren't going to plan anymore, however the cards fell we would make it work.
I told the guys in the band and while I think there was some apprehension and concern if I could still commit, most were congratulatory.
(Little did I realize that that would be the last wild, drunken, slobbery sex I had for years, AGH!!)
The record came out in Europe right as we began a European tour and seeing the success of the album was almost instantaneous. A lot of the labels that passed on us 6 months before had come back to us offering deals. Roadrunner U.S. was one of the labels. It was a real surprise and complete thorn all at the same time. There was A LOT of arguing over whether we should sign with them again or not. Some people felt betrayed, others were more forgiving. Me personally? I felt that from the outside it looked like business as usual. Our “public” status was solid, with our decision we didn't go down a notch, we didn't go up a notch, and we held our ground.
So, in the end, for the second time in the bands career we decided to go with Monte Conner and Co. There were a lot of people at the company that had our backs, people that really believed in us and while there would always be challenges ahead, they grew up with us and us with them. It meant a lot to have people that had been with us our whole career on our side.
We are in fact the only band on that label to ever be released from our contract and taken back. However this time it was under a completely new and far fairer deal.
All the US labels we had been talking with knew full well that the record would have been out for 6 months before “their” version hit the stores wanted "bonus tracks" to add to the U.S. version of the album. Roadrunner was also of this mindset. So in January of 2004 I started putting together the main and verse-riff that Phil had started playing in Hamburg at sound check, with a kinda-Biohazard-y riff I had for a chorus, this complicated-slurry-riff I had for the middle, a really cool riff for a mellow breakdown, and then a heavy breakdown at the end.
Soon I had, what I felt was an interesting vocal hook for the mellow part in the middle. We got together an jammed it a few times and in February we went back to Sharkbite Studios with Mark Keaton to cut what would become "Seasons Wither."
I banged my head up against a wall for a while about what to write the song about. The melodic middle section had taken on a Morrisey-esque tone, with a beautiful almost-pop melody with really fucked up lyrics, something which always intrigued me, how Morrisey worked in so cleverly. Inspired I wrote "We pray you die, we pray you suffocate, in pain you'll writhe, this day we celebrate."
One night during the middle of all this I had been talking with a friend of Genevra's and she told me a horrifying story about how when she was 14 she was raped by 4 guys. When she told her mother, she didn't believe her and called her a slut. She had fantasies of getting back at them, of killing them.
It was brutal and sickening.
So with that in my head, I sat down to write "Seasons Wither." A rape-victim-revenge-fantasy, told thru a women's eyes, (though it could have just as easily applied to what happened to me when I was a kid).
In many ways musically, this song would serve as a template for what came later with “The Blackening.” We were starting to write longer songs with more diverse arrangements, all-over-the-neck-riffs, and visceral lyrics.
“Through The Ashes of Empires,” the U.S. version was now ready to go with “Seasons Wither” inserted "into the album" rather than as an extra "bonus track", becoming the new track 8.
We booked a U.S. headlining tour and RR US scheduled the album for 4-20-2004 release date (4-20 KID!!!!). Excitement was high and I took to the internet and let our fans know and folks were indeed stoked. I knew even before the record came out that the tides were beginning to change in the US. I'd go to Bay Area shows and run into people who had torrent-ed the record and dudes were like "HOLY SHIT DUDE, NEW ALBUM IS SICK!"
But not everyone in the US was stoked. The vast majority of the metal media of the time was obsessed with “name-your-stupid-band-that-everyone-has-forgotten-about.” In particular Revolver's editor was frankly a cock. Upon its release they gave “...Ashes” a smarmy review. Taking it one step further they also refused to give us even a small story and told us that, "they wouldn't give us any coverage until we got 50,000 copies." when we got to 50,000 copies they said, "get to 70,000 copies"... when we got to 70,000, they said "no thanks". Almost every US and Canadian magazine slagged us off with the Canadian press in particular having a hard-on for us.
The record dropped in America on April 20th and it certainly wasn't without it's hiccups. Because we had been signed with Roadrunner so close to the release date, we missed all the magazine deadlines to place ads in, only one would appear before April 20th. The major video channels of the time, all accepted, then rejected the “Imperium” video. Word was apparently our censored version wasn't censored enough, so they wouldn't play it til we re-censored it again. Remember this was pre-YouTube, pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook, pre-everything.
But in the end word of mouth prevailed and at Philadelphia show on the "Weapons Of Mass Destruction Tour" we came in at #88 with 11,000 plus records sold. We beat out the “Supercharger” first week and tied our highest ever chart position with “The Burning Red.” Considering it was available for 8 months on the internet and 6 months via import, while hardly earth-shattering numbers, “Through The Ashes...” did damn respectable on the Billboard charts.
With our friends God Forbid and 36 Crazyfists in tow the "Weapons" tour did well, though surprisingly did draw about 25% less across the board than the “Supercharger” headline run, with a couple shows only drawing about 150 people.
5 albums deep, it was a tough pill to swallow.
The tour was fairly un-eventful except for the fact Phil and Dave were often too hungover to play well, and that Arch Enemy missed the first 2 shows, then showed up for the New England Metalfest, then dropped off the tour the next day. We got in to a public pissing-match with them and wrote a fairly hilarious parody press release about why they dropped off.
We hated each other for a few years but eventually squashed it, and in 2007 toured the whole world together. They’re great people.
Speaking of the New England Metalfest. Not all the metalheads of America were stoked about Machine Head in 2004. New England and Massachusetts at the time was the center of the then-wildly-popular "metalcore" movement. With bands like Shadow's Fall and NE Metalfest headliner Killswitch Engage selling gangbusters at the time.
The promoter didn’t want Machine Head to play the fest. The only reason we were on the bill was because of Arch Enemy was on tour with us. He finally said we could play, but only if Arch Enemy was billed above us (we were closing all the dates on that run). His reluctancy gave way to a rant, finishing his rant with "and they'd better bring it!"
To say that we went in with a fairly hostile attitude would be understating it.
Unfortunately things deteriorated rapidly when our very-inexperienced-new-crew (unbeknownst to us) took almost a half hour to get us onstage. We played, and I can guarantee we "brought it,” but most folks were not interested. What we didn't know is that our crew snafu getting us on stage 30 minutes late this affected the headliners. Killswitch Engage had to cut their set short by 30 minutes. We had no idea this was even a possibility. But when that was announced and apparently blamed on us, the entire Palladium crowd started a "FUCK MACHINE HEAD!" chant.
Boy, I caught an earful about it the next day.
We ended the tour in Hollywood with a sold-out House Of Blues show that was stunningly awesome, violent, and gloriously brutal. We had to stop our set several times for fights and at one point to save a fan that shattered his leg in the pit.
Once the US ”Weapons” tour wrapped up it was home for maybe 3 or 4 days and then off to Europe for festivals. It was a great run, though Adam was already sick of touring, and despite all evidence to the contrary, had convinced himself the band was making him go broke. That combined with a chaotic flight schedule resulting in no sleep, tensions ran high during this run.
But the highlight had to have been Download. Slayer was on the bill and the beef was already in full swing between Kerry and I and the Download folks figured they play that up to the hilt by pitting us right next to each other on the bill. Slayer’s bus broke down at the last minute and they wouldn't arrive until the evening, so Slayer took Damageplan's place headlining the side stage. Machine Head moved up to the Slayer spot, and DP took our spot on the main stage, though not before valiantly trying to take Slayer's spot. They took our spot.
The hilarious part in all this is that Dimebag, ever the rager, had done the math, and realized "hey, I'm not playing til 9PM tonight." So when they got on the 6 AM ferry boat over from Europe to the UK, he decided it was time to get wasted and he could sleep it off for 10 hours. Unfortunately for him, while passed out, the stage switch happened and he was rudely awoken a mere 3 hours later and told he had to get up and play.
As the Damageplan "bus" (more like airport van with bunks) pulled up, a fantastically HAGGARD Dimebag stumbled off with an equally haggard Vinnie Paul behind him and they were due to be onstage in 20 minutes. Dime took his lay of the festival dressing room world (where we were conveniently placed next to Slayer's room) saw me, and stumbled over and said, "hey brother, can I warm up on your Flying-V... and get a shot?" I howled with laughter! It was so fuckin' classic! Me: "dude, of course, it would be my honor, hopefully you'll leave a little of that "Dime Magic" on there for me." He laughed.
We chatted for a while and he told me the story of his ill-planned drinking trip aboard the ferry. Because I let him warm up on my guitar he promised me that he'd send me another case of vodka (Dime used to buy cases of Ketel One vodka and randomly send them to my hotel rooms on days off; I'd open the door and a delivery guy would hand me a box of vodka with an often-hilarious note from Dime... fuckin' guy). I told him he'd better not "waste the fuckin' money sending me anymore fucking vodka, fucker!" We laughed and he went out and unsurprisingly killed Download with his one-two punch of over-the-top guitar pyrotechnics and larger-than-life presence. You'd never even know he felt like utter dogshit!
We hung for a little after our set but we had insanely early flights back home and had to leave. Of note: this was the show were Lars missed the Metallica show and Lombardo and Joey Jordinson filled in for Metallica. Dave was asked to rehearse with them, but it didn't happen for some reason.
We arrived home on June 8th and my son's arrival date was June 21st so we were cutting it close and I absolutely wanted to be there for his birth.
I thought a lot about Dimebag when I got home.
I thought about the 2 tours Pantera and Machine Head had done (Ozzfest 97 and the "Live 101" tour) and about his influence on me as a guitarist. From his playing to his devastating guitar tone, he’d left his mark on me. I realized that in all the years I'd known him I'd never let him know any of that. Maybe I was too insecure, or maybe I was just too busy playing it "cool", but I had never told him how much he influenced me.
So the day after getting home, I wrote him an email and said "all of that" to him. I added that I was "too insecure" or "too cool" to say those words before, and that "I really wanted him to know these things." I told him what a blast it was hanging with him all those years, and reminded him NOT to send me anymore vodka!
I ended the email by wishing him and Vinnie the best in their new band Damageplan.
I printed it up and "faxed it" to the London Astoria where Damageplan was doing their first headline show that night.
I still have the letter.
I'm glad I sent it.
I'm grateful he read it.
For the next 2 weeks Genevra and I waited for what seemed like an eternity... for our lives to change.
10) Amon Amarth - Deciever of the Gods
Bonus Disc. 'Nuff said.
9) Sevendust - Black Out The Sun
8) Evan Brewer - Your Itinerary
Rad solo bass record.
7) Intronaut - Habitual Levitations
I dig the low-fi, dirty, ambient nature of this heavy prog rock/metal.
6) Butcher Babies - Goliath
Don't think for a minute that the Butcher Babies dual-hot-frontwomen are a gimmick. These guys and gals are the real deal, and deliver a solid and catchy effort.
5) Daft Punk - Random Access Memory
I'm pretty sure this is the one I'm gonna get shit for. I just have one thing to say: I dare you not to move to the music.
4) Killswitch Engage - Disarm The Descent
Killswitch is part of the unofficial soundtrack to my "professional" music career. Props to a band that can still make it soooo hard to keep from singing.
3) Darkane - The Sinister Supremacy
I really dig their version of Swedish metal: sick ass guitar work, tight and technical drumming, multiple vocal styles, and hooks!
2) Carcass - Surgical Steel
I intentionally didn't listen to previous albums because I wanted to listen to this record with fresh ears, and its an excellent record, considering the timing. Carcass pulled off a great job, remaining true to their sound without sounding dated.
1) Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Conciousness
This one gets my inner hyper-kid excited the same way that Kill 'Em All did when I first heard it. From the first track "Awaken The Serpent" it evokes head banging and severe scowling aka metal face!
Sevendust - Black Out the Sun
Winery Dogs - S/T
Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies
Alter Bridge - Fortress
Byzantine - S/T
Killswitch Engage - Disarm the Descent
Black Sabbath - 13
Hatriot - Heroes of Origin
Stone Sour - House of Gold and Bones Pt. 2
In celebration of the 10 year anniversary of through The Ashes of Empires (yes, it's been 10 years!), I have been telling a multi-part General Journals of the story of the record. If you’re on our Facebook page, just scroll down, or go to MachineHead1.com and check out the first 4 parts. I know I said that Part 5 would be the last part, but dammit, there's gonna have be one more early next week where I'll share some more rarities from the vault!
In early August of 2003 I boarded a plane for London Heathrow to start the mixing our fifth album with Colin Richardson. Colin was already set up at The Chapel recording studios in the remote village of Lincolnshire (population 60!!) The plan was for me to land at typically-rainy-London Heathrow Airport and take a cab (that Roadrunner UK had arranged) the remaining 4 hour drive out to the studio. When I landed, to my absolute shock the typically-rainy-London wasn't typically-rainy or overcast at all. Instead, it was un-typically-sunny and 95 degrees! Shit, it was hotter than California! All of Europe was going thru some nutty heat wave and man I was fuckin' STOKED!!
It was a good sign.
So sunny and hot or not, I still had a 4 hour drive ahead of me. I arrived at The Chapel where I'd be living for the next few weeks. Now, The Chapel is literally in the middle of nowhere and as much as Colin had prepared me for this, it was still a bit of a (in Keanu Reeves voice) “hwhoa!”. But what he didn’t prep me for was…it was beautiful. The English countryside, open fields, slow-running brooks, rabbits; it was like being in a goddamn Led Zeppelin song! Thankfully, per English-tradition, even a little po-dunk village like Lincolnshire with a population of 60 needs to have a pub every half mile. We headed down to get some beers and watched some local cover bands jam the English hits of the 60's and 70's.
For the first few days the engineers had a lot of setting up to do. Now, because the crazy heat wave, the weather was getting up in the 100's so Colin and I went on long walks. He and I talked about life and work and everything under the sun. We’d kick around a soccer ball and then go and pick up fresh eggs from the local farms. Colin is awesome. I fuckin love that dude. It was a much needed change of pace and shook off some of the depression I was sinking into. The nearest grocery store was a 10 mile drive, so about once a week we’d go into town and stock up food and vodka.
There was mind-numbingly slow dial-up internet, but the head groundskeeper was cool enough to let me jump on his laptop when I needed. There was also cable TV and Kerrang! TV was playing the shit out of a new band called Muse whose latest record, "Absolution" had just come out and was starting to hit. I fell in love with the song "Time Is Running Out," and would soon come to worship this album and this band.
Amazingly, several of the songs were still un-titled at this point, including "Vim" (called "Devil Beat") and "Imperium" (still called "Buh-Duh-Duh-Duh") even as we began mixing. The label was freaking out for titles, final lyrics, the thanks list, etc... Fuck, I needed to get a title for the song and fast; I mean it’s only the lead track off the album, right? So I took to the internet for inspiration and 2 days later, after stumbling upon an online thesaurus I looked up alternate words for "power" I fell upon the word "Imperium.” Hmmm..., Imperium = command; supreme power". I knew that was it so I ran it past Dave and BOOM!
The first song finished for mixing was "Bite The Bullet" and it sounded crushing! For "Left Unfinished," in my head I heard an intro that sounded like a music box you might hear in a baby crib or carriage. During the recording I had Mark Keaton transcribe the chorus melody (since I can't read or write music, shit, I can barely read tabs!) for the guitar and vocal. He and I found a company in China that if you supply the music they turn it into a real-deal music box. It was exactly what I was hearing in my head so we ordered. It arrived so close to the deadline I actually had the Asian fellow meet me at the airport and do the transaction! It was so drug-deal-like it was awesome! I still have a few, they were cool. For all the collectors out there Roadrunner made an additional 100 music boxes for promo. We set up mics and recorded while I spun the music box handle, and soon "Left Unfinished" was mixed.
Colin had just finished mixing the first Bullet For My Valentine album, and after-hours we'd drink vodka and play the first 3 songs a lot, but I didn't like the rest of the album, too poppy. Apparently they A/B’d their mixes to "The More Things Change" constantly. They should probably start doing that again!
Nevertheless things were running smoothly and Kerrang! asked for a new song we could put out on a CD sampler. It was decided that "Imperium" should be the track and the only reason this is of note (collectors) is that it wasn't the final mix. It also didn't have the clincher last line "and we won't lose!" In its place was one of my Tom G. Warrior death-grunts, "UGH!" In fact that line wouldn't be added until I went to Andy Sneap's old studio to do a test mastering with him and I decided try out the phrase "and I won't lose." Ultimately settling on the final version, the one you’ve been listening to for 10 years, "and we won't lose."
**Collectors, if you find the Kerrang! version, please send it me in hi rez!!! It's one of the few MH items I do not have!!**
Kerrang! Magazine had begun an Awards show in London and Roadrunner thought it would be good if I went. I was ambivalent. They had been shredding us pretty brutally lately and the last face to face interview they did with me was quite hostile. I was so ready to tell them to "fuck off" but my ever-awesome press girl and voice of reason, Michele Kerr calmed me down. She said it be fun, "we'll get hammered!" I said "OK." Such a pushover!
Maybe it was in my head but when I arrived at the awards show it felt like walking into the lion’s den. Something about just seemed all hoity toity and fancy schmancy, that I felt not welcome. It totally felt like I was not a part of this world. These didn’t feel like “my people.” The RR US thing had sapped me of some of my confidence. So as I got ready to go, in my hotel I had to give myself a stern talking-to in the mirror. I looked at myself and said "dude, go out there and fucking rule this shit!" "LION HEART MOTHERFUCKER!" Stop being such a pussy!! You're Robb Fuckin' Flynn, go out there and walk the god damn walk!!!"
I threw on my cut off camo shorts, metal shirt, and a backwards trucker hat and said "fuck these hoity toity motherfuckers!"
I got there, and the first music-bizness-cock-face I saw, walked up to me and said:
"Hey Robb, it's nice to meet you, shame your band never made it..."
Me: "FUCK YOU!"
I walked right up to the journalist who had shredded me, got 6 inches from his face and said "oh hey, what's up dude?" He practically stumbled over himself backing away. I took a shit in the bathroom, didn't flush it, didn't wash my hands, walked up to another journalist who had recently ripped us and shook his hand just to be an asshole.
Despite all this, I had a lot of friends there. Christian and Laz from Ill Nino hung with me all night. Nick Barker from Cradle/Dimmu got hammered with the singer for The Used (who I'd just met) and also a bunch of the Funeral for a Friend guys. I rapped with Lars for a few minutes too, which I'd never really done before, and was very cool.
I'd brought along a CD of the latest mixes and a CD Walkman and headphones. I basically cornered as many people as I could with one request, "motherfucker, check this new shit out!!" I got about 20 people to listen, all-in-all including one of the coolest Kerrang! journos and future-Kerrang-editor, Paul Brannigan. Most people I played it for were pretty into it, either that or just telling this drunken madman they approved so he'd leave them alone. When the evening was over I felt good. Sure even after a great night I still didn’t feel like I “belonged,” but I knew the next time I went to one of these things I’d fucking own the place! The next night we had a playback session in London at the Intrepid Fox and fans seemed really into it.
I went back to Lincolnshire to finish mixing and after a week I started getting cabin-fever. Being out in the middle of nowhere, away from home, I started to second guess the mixes. In fact, truth is I lost it a little. I had a meltdown, then realized I was trippin out and that I had to trust Colin. I’d find myself saying “He knows what he's doing” in my head. It would actually be the last time I ever attended a mix. I can't be there. I need to hear things as a whole. I learned I'm a big-picture-guy. The hyper-focused-attention-to-detail that’s needed for mixing? Nope, I can't do it. My brain just doesn't work like that. Colin is the king when it comes to mixing.
With mixing complete I went straight into a press tour and the excitement on both ends was high. They wanted to hear it and I wanted to play it for them. People were saying it's the best thing we'd done and as soon as the European press got their advance copies, the album leaked. DOH! Now, I ain't saying that a journalist leaked it, but a journalist leaked it!! Yep, 2 months before the album hit, it was on every torrent site on the face of the earth. But unlike what we'd been told by the record company it didn't hurt a damn thing, in fact it got our fanbase really fucking stoked! And because our American fans knew there was no imminent release date, they were even more stoked!
As soon as I got back from the press tour we started rehearsing for our upcoming tour which was set to start in Dublin, Ireland on Halloween night. Dave and Phil had practiced a few times while I'd been gone but honestly we were sounding rough. The record came out on Oct 28th and 3 days later we were playing the tunes to a bunch of crazed Dublinites with all of us dressed up for Halloween and hammered. It was magical! It was our first night of the ‘Through The Ashes of Europe’ tour and it sure didn’t feel like we were “done.” The sing-a-longs were insane, something was happening.
The album reviews had started to come in and were across the board stunning. Metal Hammer Germany gave the highest combined rating that had ever been awarded to a record!!! Rock Hard praised it, Metal Hammer UK praised it as a masterpiece. Even Kerrang! Australia scribe Dom Lawson gave it a staggering 5K review. But some of the UK press still wanted to "have a go at us," and in particular Kerrang! UK journalist Daniel Lukes, (the same douche who had reviewed the Ten Ton Hammer show), decided that this would be the album review to crush Machine Head into the dust. That this would be his big chance to make his mark in music history, he was going for it.
With a frankly admirable amount of belligerence and gusto, Lukes took the biggest shots he could swing at us and out and out attacked the band. Giving it a lowly 2K review and calling 'Through The Ashes Of Empires' (and I quote), "a directionless mess of an album,” “chock full of widdlesome solos and moments of musical 'complexity' that actually get in the way." He ended his pissy tirade declaring it, "the sonic equivalent of eating last night’s delivery pizza, reheated today."
When I read this, to say I "hit the fuckin’ roof" would be the understatement of the year.
My aforementioned press girl Michelle begged me not to do anything stupid. She told me amongst other things, "Kerrang! is sponsoring your UK dates!" But there was no going back. It was the final straw. After all we'd been through there was no taking this kind of fuckin bullshit from anyone, anymore. Not Kerrang!, not Revolver, no one. This motherfucker thinks he's gonna bury us, from behind a fucking computer?! NOT A CHANCE IN HELL!! We drafted up a press release and once-again took to the internet. Dave McClain said his review was "gutter journalism" and I simply added that Daniel Lukes could "SUCK OUR FUCKIN DICKS!"
It was "fuck everyone" from here on out.
Lukes "made history" all right...
The tour on the other hand went fucking ridiculous. People came out in droves, the shows sold out left and right and merch sales were almost shockingly great. As we knocked out gig after gig Machine Head, as a unit, hit a rare state of musicianship that we may not have ever had. All four of us were really clicking on stage, even Adam with his lengthy absence during the writing/recording process was totally locked in with the three of us. People were still not sure of Phil though and in Madrid, Spain a small group of jerks spit on him all night. All-fucking-night, so at the end of the show he jumped in and pummeled them! We followed suit, jumped in, pummeled more, and after that, the word spread. Yep, same ol' Machine Head and there were no more incidents. In Hamburg at the MarketHalle, Phil started jamming a riff at soundcheck that was pretty awesome. It would soon morph into a new song called "Seasons Wither."
And now that the record was a bonafide European success, all those labels that had passed on us in the U.S. suddenly came back around. These labels wanted to talk and they wanted to sign us. Of all the labels now calling us I’d say the most surprising was Roadrunner U.S. They approached us and said they'd like to release the record now...?
“You mean the record you just passed on?”
Truthfully, there was A LOT of genuine resentment towards Roadrunner at this point. That's the reason we wanted off the label in the first place. Then after the last round of demos and the back and forth bullshit...how could there not be? We debated and argued about it fiercely. Some folks felt it was a no-brainer to re-sign, some were dead set against it.
Since the time of my press release saying RR US had passed, we actually had more than a few other options. Both Nuclear Blast and Century Media were extremely hot to get the record and made it a priority to tell us so. As the tour winded down we set about narrowing our best choice.
Regardless of who released it though, the best case scenario for a U.S. release would not happen until at least April of 2004. That meant the record was going to be available on any torrent site for 8 months in between release dates. Anyone who wasn't into illegal downloading could buy it via import, and fuck, at that point how many people in the states would even want to buy something they’ve listened to for over half a year?
At the end of December of 2003 we returned home from Europe for the Holidays and to ponder our future…
Subscribe to The General Journals: Diary Of A Frontman... And Other Ramblings
In July of 2003 Machine Head entered Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, CA to record our fifth album. We had just signed a deal with Roadrunner Records International that excluded a North American release, and we decided it best not to announce that until we had an American deal in place. In doing so, we had surely peaked the interest of Roadrunner America. Proof of this was their request that we make a demo of some new music for them. Since we were already in the studio recording we put something together quickly with the existing drum tracks and sent it off in hopes that they would re-sign us, and we could have a simultaneous album release (sounds so sexual!). We were confident in the new material and continued recording the album, our first with new / old guitarist Phil Demmel.
Things happened very fast with the new Roadrunner deal, I mean literally we were signing the deal as Mark Keaton was giving us a studio tour! One of the side effects of the quickness of the deal was a few songs were still getting written lyrically / vocally in the studio. Roadrunner needed the record out in their "third quarter" (October) and it was already July. Because things happened so fast the producers we would normally have chosen were all busy or soon to be busy and we then started looking at other “strange” guys to produce. After much discussion no one felt that paying some of these guys $20,000 plus "points" made a whole lot of sense.
We knew our long time producer Colin Richardson would be mixing the album, so in June I decided to throw-my-hat-in-the-ring as producer. I figured anything I fucked up, Colin could fix. This was to come as a surprise to some, even though I'd been producing our demos since 1996, first on 4-track cassette, then an 8-track cassette recorders, then digital, and I had learned a lot from Colin about tones and Ross Robinson about capturing "vibe." The band usually loved my demos so it wasn't that big of a stretch. But this wasn’t just a demo and I was well aware of what was at stake. Because of this it seemed dangerous.
The band was a little apprehensive at first, but eventually got on board. My old buddy Andy Sneap who had engineered / saved the 3rd and final remix of ‘The More Things Change’ (and had since launched a successful production career) was in town recording Exodus's "Tempo Of The Damned," and would come down on the first day to help set up tones. Our gear was pretty shot, Dave didn't have new drum heads and my old Marshall 1960 BV cabinet didn't even have handles on the sides and barely had any low end coming out of it. There was also the input jack on Adam's bass that had been broken for the last year and worked maybe 50% of the time. Five albums in and we were total pros!
Somehow we made it all work. We began recording drum tracks as a 4 piece and this process was fairly uneventful other than Adam who was constantly an hour or two late, barely knew the songs, and goofed off the whole time. Dave was annoyed and often furious with him, and he and I got into it more than a few times because of it. Historically speaking, and because of this, ‘Through The Ashes of Empires’ would be the last time we ever recorded as a full band. This honestly wasn’t all that unusual as it was Dave and I doing the demoing and half our practices were just him and I, until Phil joined.
As I briefly touched upon in an earlier, despite the band being nearly broke, Adam had recently bought a house (which he got for a good deal; he always was a good negotiator), completely gutted the insides down to the framework, and borrowed a large amount of money to expand it. But his plans stalled and for 14 months he would be totally consumed with re-building it. We barely saw him. He had started contributing lyrics on ‘Supercharger’ ("White Knuckle Blackout", "Nausea", "Supercharger") and now that I was producing the album, my already full plate, was very fuckin' full and I needed help with lyrics. I needed ideas or at the least another point of view. I drafted everyone, McClain even chipped in a few lyrics. From time to time Adam would fax me a paragraph or two, and I worked them in (most notably the entire middle section of "Vim" and "Wipe The Tears"), but usually the lyrics would show up a week after I had already recorded the song. After a slew of arguments with him, I finally just gave up.
It was all on me.
Even with all that surrounding us we were optimistic. Mark Keaton was a great engineer, and recording was going smooth. We had a batch of really strong songs, Phil was writing some awesome leads ("In The Presence Of My Enemies" is still one of my favorite leads by him, and one of the best leads, well, EVER!) and even though some songs were still in their final stages, we knew we had something special.
Some songs were extremely cathartic for me. As I mentioned in Part 2, "Days…" was about Genevra's heroin addict / alcoholic father who had recently passed away. Despite the urging of his doctor to quit drinking, he wouldn't. The doctor told him in no uncertain terms that if he "didn't stop drinking alcohol, his esophagus would separate from his stomach lining and he would die." His family urged him, his daughter urged him, but he wouldn't. Eventually, his esophagus separated from his stomach and he died. He was barely in her life and even when he was it was useless. I’ve told this before but it’s worth repeating, he called her the day after her birthday one time, not to wish her happy birthday, but to ask if "any of her friends were diabetics, so he could get 'some needles'." Somehow, somewhere, he was supposed to stop, he was supposed to make amends, he was supposed to change, there was supposed to be a happy ending.
It was a tough time.
The song "Left Unfinished" tackled my feeling about being adopted and never feeling like I fit in, never "knowing" anything about my history, and was basically was a "fuck you" to my birth parents. Don't come looking for me, don't try to reach out to me, just fucking die. In that song I admitted for the first time publicly my birth name "Lawrence Mathew Cardine," which my adopted mom had informed me of a few years before. It was a bit of head-fuck. I needed to get it out.
But the constant theme that came up lyrically was death, rebirth, and overcoming struggle. From that came the idea for the title of the album. I wanted something epic, something truly timeless. I was fascinated with the word "Empires", even though I hadn't used it in lyrics. We had survived a lot, and in many ways we had "died," and from it a new Machine Head was being born. We had watched two musical movements come and go and we were still here, and I firmly believed, about to be stronger than ever. I typed "Machine Head - Through The Ashes Of Empires" in an email and sent it to the guys.
Everyone liked it except Adam. He was still mad at me because I had shot down his idea to name our 2003 live album "Let's Roll." (Titled after the Flight 93 passengers who supposedly, right before they attacked their 9-11 hijackers, all said, "LET'S ROLL!" and still-makes-no-sense-to-me-what-so-fucking-ever-for-a-live-album-title!!). Instead, we named it the equally idiotic "HellaLive,"which means I-have-no-fucking-idea-what?-other-than I guess "A lot of live." "Hella," for our Northern California slang, and "live" for well, live! In Nor-Cal you might say, "dude, that band is hella sick!", or, "dude, that band is hella brutal!", or maybe, "dude, that chicks ass is hella bootylicious!" but you WOULDN'T say, "dude, that band is hella live"!?! **smacks hand to forehead** It's like one of those bizarre t-shirts you see Japanese tourists wearing with giant, random American words, "SUPER MARSHMALLOW HURRAY!!" But that's what happens when you have a contest to name your live album, and let your drummer and manager pick the winning title!!!!!
We enlisted "Supercharger" and "HELLALIVE" artist P. R. Brown at Bau-Da Design to come up with the album package. We wanted an angel in a graveyard, and Dave had a photograph of an angel statue he and his then-wife Shelli had taken at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France (where Jim Morrison is buried) that we used as a reference point.
Paul delivered in spades. The cover was breathtaking. Most of the gravestone photographs he used, he had taken at the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. The last piece came from our web-master Mike Parkers' wife Ariel. She had some photos displayed in an art show at an "herbal-cafe" in Oakland that I attended, she had one picture that stopped me dead in my tracks. A lonely battered gravestone with the words "They That Sow In Tears Shall Reap In Joy" carved into it. I later begged her to let me use it (thru Mike), she agreed, and the package was complete. Our "blue" album.
Upon this important piece now complete the excitement was high. Vibes were good, we had enacted a "Hawaiian shirt Saturdays rule" during the recording. Saturday night was also "Brown Eye Saturday", with usually Mark, our video guy Shawn Sparks (aka: Sparkles!) our manager Joseph and myself libating ourselves with vodka and cokes a few hours before the session was over, and then well into the night playing music loud on the giant studio speakers.
We had begun a series of internet video web-isodes documenting the making of the album. The internet had come along nicely and since no magazines were covering us, in early 2002 I began writing a series of "internet diaries" to keep our fans up-to-date with where things were in Machine Head world. During recording I stepped it up to almost daily updates, these updates were far more regular and in-depth than any magazine could get and were un-filtered from the band. There was a buzz happening.
Around that same time, a new type of metal news website cropped up that were extremely supportive of Machine Head. Websites like Blabbermouth and the The Pimp Rock Palace (later-The PRP) would often would re-post my internet diaries, and soon go on to pioneer a new model of web-magazine that would revolutionize the music and magazine industry. It sounds a bit absurd to say nowadays, but this was uncharted territory, no one was doing it and it wasn't done to be on the vanguard of some new tech bullshit, this was done purely out of necessity. It worked. We embraced it.
I was set to fly to Lincolnshire, England (population 60) to mix the album with Colin Richardson at The Chapel. The Chapel recording studios is located inside a beautiful 900 year old chapel in the middle of the English countryside, four hours drive outside London. Things were looking up as we wrapped up recording, and on the last day of recording, the night of July 29th, I received an email from my long-time A&R guru, Monte Conner. The contents of the email were basically informing me / us that Cees Wessels, the owner of Roadrunner Records, would not be re-signing Machine Head in the U.S. Monte loved the songs, the other A&R guy Mike Gitter was nuts about them, but they didn't see a future in the band and didn't feel they could give us the support we needed. The label had changed and they were signing a lot of radio-rock bands and they wanted hits. With regret, Monte ended the email by wishing us the best.
I was crushed.
I felt like a failure.
The songs were good. Really good. What the fuck?
I got wasted.
The next day, hung-over as all hell, I drove down to Sharkbite to grab the back-up hard drives, and broke the news to Mark. I cried some more.
Now we had to do what we had hoped to avoid and that was to let the world know that we would not be releasing the record in the U.S.A. Our fans would now find out that we'd been unsigned. Let me tell you, it’s tough admitting your failures, but then to have to do it in public? It feels 100 times tougher. It validates your enemies; it causes confusion with your fans. But it had to be done, so I took to the internet, and with as much class and confidence as I could muster, in no uncertain terms, I spelled it all out. That we had been unsigned for the last 16 months, that the record would only be coming out in Europe, Japan and Australia, that we did not know when it would be released in our home country, but were confident it would. I thanked Roadrunner U.S. for their years of support.
You can read it here: http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/machine-head-seek-new-american-label-remain-with-roadrunner-in-europe/
I made it sound like we had other options, but the reality was we didn't.
The next day I jumped on a plane bound for England, to mix a record I was now completely in doubt about. Hung-over, depressed, and angry, I now had to go face the notoriously brutal U.K. press, already in tear-down-mode, and who now had quite a bit of ammo to throw in my face to back up what they had gleefully been jeering.
"That Machine Head was over"...
And maybe they were right...
Subscribe to The General Journals: Diary Of A Frontman... And Other Ramblings
Visit The General Journals archive: