In 2003, Machine Head was metal's most compelling comeback. It's still touring in support of that year's Through the Ashes of Empires, perhaps because doubting disciples needed time to verify its miraculous resurrection. The San Francisco-based band's 1994 debut disc, Burn My Eyes, fused intense clenched-teeth vocals and riff-and-recoil guitars with tribal rhythms and political outrage. Its blistering follow-up, The More Things Change... , stuck to the script as its title suggests, but in 1999 Machine Head lost its way in spectacular fashion with a nü-metal-damaged rap-rock record. Burning Red earned a spot in the annals of infamy next to Cold Lake, death-metal stalwart Celtic Frost's aerosol-addled bid for hair-band stardom.
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Through the Ashes of Empires not only recalls the group's glory years but it also surpasses them in terms of compositional complexity. "Imperium" runs through psychedelic haze, blinding thrash, crushing sludge and hardcore breakdowns within an insanely invigorating six-minute span. "Descend the Shades of Night," a truly powerful ballad, evolves from frosty acoustic tones to gorgeous Iron Maiden-style dual-ax harmonies. Ashes preserves its finest elements (guitar leads that zip like shooting stars, Robert Flynn's muted slow-burn verses and fiery choruses) while adding ambitious experimental flourishes (sharp signature changes, stark silhouette segments that isolate melodies). Such subtleties might escape scrutiny live, because Machine Head's manic mosh pits are perhaps second only to Slayer's.