It’s taken 30 years, but Machine Head finally have themselves a concept record.
Based in no small part off of creative force and founding frontman Robb Flynn‘s admitted obsession with anime, Of Kingdom And Crown is a dark and twisted tale that combines an epic blood soaked story with Machine Head‘s signature groove and shredding, buoyed by new members Vogg (of Decapitated fame) and Matt Alston joining Flynn and core member and bassist Jared MacEachern.
Flynn caught up with Metal Injection ahead of the record drop on August 26 for a deep dive into the concept and inspiration behind the album, how live stream sessions and acoustic covers rekindled his creativity, the 15th anniversary of The Blackening, and three decades since Machine Head‘s wild and rowdy debut performance.
Listening through this album a few times, I feel like I’ve been waiting for Machine Head to do a concept record all my life and I’m so pleased with it. How are you feeling about the record?
I love that you said that. That’s awesome, thank you. Yeah man, I feel the same way. I’m really, really proud of this record. I think that the craziness of the last two years, in a lot of ways, I think it allowed us to kind of tune out so much of the outside world. There was something good about lockdown that kind of just allowed us to focus on being Machine Head and just make it about the music. For me personally, I wanted to do a concept record for a couple of albums now and I actually attempted it and scrapped the idea because sometimes there’s a record label deadline and I just didn’t feel like the story was strong enough and so I was just kind of like fuck it. I’m just going to make individual songs or whatever.
With this album, we didn’t have that really looming over us because it was a lockdown and pandemic and no one knew when shit was going on. And so it just kind of gave me more time to fine tune the story. And the story did get fine tuned. When I originally started this concept it was a very American story arc. It was good guy, bad guy, good guy wins. It was good. Like there was nothing wrong with it. There was nothing bad about it. I just couldn’t connect to it. I just didn’t relate. I didn’t feel anything when I sang that. It was good lyrics, I just couldn’t get anything out of it.
I started watching some anime series with my kid. Over the pandemic, my kids start going crazy on anime. Like they’ve never given two shits about anime and all of a sudden during the pandemic they’re like fucking anime obsessed, like reading the manga and fucking the whole thing. They didn’t realize this, but when I was their age I was a fucking total anime nerd. I started off as a Star Wars nerd and then I became an anime nerd and then I became a metal nerd. But when I was into anime I was really into it. I was collecting all the action figures, I was going to the conventions, I was obsessed with Macross and Robotech and Space Battleship Yamato and Akira.
I start checking in on them and seeing what they’re watching and just hanging out with them in the room, talking to them or whatever. And I’m looking at what they’re looking at and I’m like “this is all this brand new anime shit that I’ve never heard.” I was like “oh my God, this is sick! I was like what is this? This is so brutal!” They’re like “oh yeah, it’s this.” And I’m like “dude, let’s watch this together!” So we start watching a bunch of anime series and Attack on Titan becomes one that our family really gets into. Very long series, long episodes.
Somewhere around the second or third season I’m kind of like, “who’s the fucking bad guy here? Like, who’s the fucking good guy?” They blur the lines so much, and I’m totally inspired by that. I’m just like, “holy fuck.” Like, I could do that with mine. I could do that with my story. There’s no good or bad guy. Both sides believe they’re doing good, but both sides are horrible and evil and committing atrocities. My concept is not about Attack on Titan, which some people seem to think sometimes, but it was inspired by it in that sense in that there was no good or bad guy. Both sides could be doing it.
Did you picture it kind of in storyboards? In your head do you envision it almost like a graphic novel? You can listen through the story in the songs and can kind of visualize it. Did you see it before you wrote it, if that makes sense?
Like a graphic novel is a perfect way of saying it. My kids are reading a lot of manga, so I kind of got into the manga thing too as I was kind of reading the things with them. The idea of how it’s storyboarded out, in my mind I literally started doing that, in manga top to bottom, going up and down. I just wanted it to have a lot of detail. For anybody who’s not familiar, the story is a futuristic crime ridden wasteland where the sky is always stained crimson red. It revolves around two characters. Character number one, Ares, loses the love of his life, Amethyst, and goes on a murderous rampage against the people who killed her.
Character number two is Eros, loses his mother to a drug overdose and in his downward spiral becomes radicalized by this charismatic leader and goes on his own murderous rampage and is one of the people who killed Amethyst. And so the lyrics detail how their lives intertwine. And the opening track “Slaughter of the Martyr” is basically character number one’s origin story. He has just lost the love of his life. All he wants is vengeance. And that’s the beginning of the story.
If we look at personnel here for this record, Vogg is maybe one of my favourite guitarists in all of heavy metal. I just think he’s fucking God tier. And with the addition of Matt it really feels like you guys are gelling and firing all cylinders. Did that bring a renewed energy to the recording process? Having these guys who are really world class at the top of their game… you’ve always had really talented members within the band, but Vogg is a legend.
He’s a whole other level. He’s fucking insane. And just getting to tour with them. We did that whole Burn My Eyes tour cycle prior to the pandemic and just getting to gel with the band and play every night. You start to be able to read each other’s minds when you’ve got that many tour dates under your belt. I think that that’s an important thing. It was a shame because when the pandemic hit we were just killing it so hard. And then obviously we’re locked down.
Jared lives by me, even though he wasn’t allowed to come down for the first six or seven months. My building owner would only let me in because it was my studio. And so that’s just the way it was for a while. I would just write riffs and demo shit and send it to them. I would just email it to them. I know a bunch of young death metal bands and that’s how they write their whole records. They email riffs around, they email the drum beat and then they email to the guitar player and then they email to the singer. I was like “alright, fuck, I could do that.” So I started doing it and I’d just be like “hey finish this riff. Like, I don’t know where to go from here, I emailed you this riff. Jam along to it and send something back to me.”
A lot of it happened like that, just bringing cool fucking ideas. Or even with Vogg, I forget what song it was, but he was just like “dude, that bridge man, like I don’t know. It just sounds too fucking this, that or the other thing.” And I was like “okay, I’ll change it around,” shit like that. Just having that element and I got to give it up for Jared too. Jared brought a ton of great riffs, great melodies, great lyrics. He’s definitely the unsung hero of the record.
One thing I like that you guys did were livestream sessions. You had a chance to play through some records like The Burning Red and some records you might not necessarily roll out on a full tour. Was that a cool exercise? Whether it was just the two of you guys or doing something solo?
I’ll tell you dude, it was amazing. I couldn’t overstate how much it shaped how this record became. Most people don’t realize this, we did 130 shows. We did 130 live streams over the pandemic. Like you said, we did full album play throughs, something we never do. Supercharger 20th anniversary album, like we never would have done that. Even like Locust. Locust is a fucking hard record to play man. I don’t know if we would have done that. Just to have those things. We tried to learn four new songs a week, whether it be cover songs or older Machine Head songs. We never made a setlist. So it was just drink beer and call fucking metal songs off the top of my head or Machine Head songs off the top of my head.
From a creative standpoint, it was so much fun. Like it was totally spontaneous. Our shows prior to then were pretty structured. The whole thing started out because of acoustic happy hour. So right when the pandemic hit we had been touring. The pandemic hit and like oh my God, we’re not doing nothing! And I was like, I need to just fucking play. I got to just play fucking music or I’m going to lose my mind and my wife’s going to kill me. I just go down in my studio every Friday and I’m like “hey, I want to drink beer and play acoustic songs and if you wanna fucking hang out, hang out.” You’re locked down, I’m locked down. It’s not going to be great because everybody, I’m sure you’re familiar, like clean singing is not my forte, but I just want to do this and it’ll be fun. And they were loose and very punk rock and just kind of a beautiful mess most of the time. But there’d be moments, like cool moments.
And then probably like the sixth, or make the seventh happy hour I just had a magical acoustic show. I sang for two hours. My voice did everything that I wanted to and I was just like holy shit, I just think I had a big fucking breakthrough. I was super stoked, because I was pretty insecure about it. I’m not that great of a clean singer. I can emote a lot with it, but consistently singing for two hours clean was hard.
So I was like fuck, I had this big breakthrough and the next happy hour comes up and I’m all stoked and like this is going to be killer, and it was horrible. I was just like “what the fuck, man?” But then I got super pissed because I know I can do this. I just did it. Why can’t I do this again? And so I called up Melissa Cross, who I had taken lessons from probably ten years prior, but I took really for my heavy voice just for stamina, tour stamina. And I start taking lessons exclusively for her just to focus on my clean vocals. I’m basically self-taught, so I was like unlearning 30 years of bad habits. And it was hard. It was really like a mind fuck for a while. But then I started making progress.
I’m not thinking “oh my God, I’m going to do this for the fucking record.” I’m just doing this because I don’t want to embarrass myself at fucking acoustic happy hour. Pretty soon Jared comes in and restrictions lighten up. We’re still doing the acoustic happy hour and now we’re doing Fleetwood Mac songs and we’re doing Stevie Nicks songs and we’re doing Bob Marley songs and we’re doing Eagles songs and shit that’s way outside of our wheelhouse. But we want to do it well, we want to do it justice. These are songs we love. We want to play them well. And after a couple months of that, three months of that, pretty soon it’s like I know what harmony he’s going to go to. He knows what harmony I’m going to go to.
And all this time we’re working on the record still. So in between rehearsing for that, Tuesday we’d work on the record, Thursday we’d work on the record and it’s like hey, “why don’t we take that Stevie Nicks thing that we did and try that out on this part right here?” And then we try it and be like “oh shit, that was fuckin killer!” Just try ideas like that and then all these little things along the way that just kind of made the record turn into something else, man. Honestly, if the pandemic didn’t hit this record would have been something totally different.
Going back through everything in Machine Head discography, the fact that The Blackening turns 15 years old this year really fucks with me, because that was such a seminal record for me. Does that kind of take you back when you have a record like The Blackening, which was obviously so big for you? Can you look at it through the lens of 15 years? Or does it not feel that way?
It doesn’t feel like 15 years, I can tell you that. I mean, when we do the play throughs, that’s probably the most… I don’t listen to The Blackening, you know what I mean? Maybe once a year, twice a year, maybe a song or two. I don’t listen to any of our records. I rarely go and revisit it. Not for any reason, it’s just because I listened to it a lot while I was making it, and then I do play the songs live.
But it’s really like the playthroughs, that’s really when it’s like I’m learning all the songs, I’ve got to get all my everything down and it really takes you back to just where you were. All those lyrics and where I was in my headspace when I wrote the record. Like that’s when all the memories come back. The smell of the rehearsal room, that’s what I remember a lot. The smell of the rehearsal room and the lighting… shit like that. Those are the details I remember.
And going back another 15 years from that, I just saw today getting ready for this that it’s the 30th anniversary of the first Machine Head show and the infamous house party. You had that fantastic post and I thought “what are the odds that this is today? That’s such a trip and such a great photo and story. Does that transport you back there to that time?
I mean, it was a wild time for the Bay Area because so much of the thrash scene had really died and died a slow and horrible death. All these bands had just started copying Metallica‘s Black Album or Chili Peppers, Faith No More funk. So then there was a whole thrash funk thing, which was horrible. We just wanted to play heavy, we just wanted to be fucking heavy. I wasn’t even really listening to that much metal then. I was listening to a lot of punk, a lot of hardcore, industrial.
That photo, there’s so many memories for me in that one fucking photo. Like, it’s just crazy. And I got a friend, the guy in the back is Toby Rage. Toby Rage was one of the first people, like infamous Exodus slay team crew member. He’s the guy who fuckin invented head walking on people’s heads on all those early thrash shows. I mean, it was crazy. Phil Demmel was there, a bunch of my friends were there. That girl in the front, Deanna, is this girl that dated my friend Eric for a while.
For me, we probably could have played a club show. We probably could have gotten into some small like 100, 200 thing. But like I said in the post, Adam and Logan had never been in a band. Machine Head was their first band. They had never even played a fucking bar. So I was like you know what? You need to go back to the start here. We need to do something like this! And it was just the perfect storm because our friend Mike‘s getting evicted. He’s like, “Fuck my landlord, let’s tear this house apart and you guys are the soundtrack!” I was all, that sounds awesome! Who cares about your landlord? I think about it now like, poor landlord.
Dude, it was fucking thrashed. I remember he got in a lot of trouble for it, but I made for an awesome first Machine Head show. It wasn’t just that, like quite a few shows we did back then. We did like some backyard parties, we did some warehouse parties. There weren’t a lot of places to play. There weren’t a lot of options.
I was never using whatever name I had from Vio-lence or whatever name I had from Forbidden. I never put Machine Head featuring Robb Flynn of blah. I didn’t want to do that. Like I wanted Machine Head. From day one I said I’m never going to do that. I want this band to succeed or fail based on its own merits. And so there wasn’t some big demand. I was never like the dude all up in the clubs. I’d be at the club, but I wasn’t talking to everybody, so I didn’t have a bunch of connections. There was a bit of a struggle there and all those memories kind of come back.
I was out of my fucking mind, dude. Like, I was so fucking violent and just getting in fights every week and dating fucking three and four strippers and dealing drugs. I look back on the person and I’m just like, I was fucking insane. I don’t even know how I survived it. But it was really a crazy time.