We still remember the sheer exhilaration of Machine Head’s first foray into UK headlining arenas. It was winter 2007 and the band had released the masterpiece Blackening earlier that year and their first gig (in the UK) in support of the record was played at Wembley Stadium, supporting Metallica no less. 16 years as a band and Machine Head were finally at the top of the totem pole, co-headlining with rising upstarts Trivium and backed by Dragonforce, Arch Enemy and Shadows Fall.
It felt like an epic moment of triumph and while their rise never quite reached the heights of Metallica (who did?), there’s no denying that in the 15 years since Machine Head followed the path of no one but its own, turning its back on the festival circuit in favor of playing their own gigs, sprawling three-hour epic events that were pretty much unlike anything else. than anyone doing in metal.
And now here we are: Machine Head is back in the arenas for the first time in just over a decade, an incredible new album in the bank and joined by phenomenal billing from Amon Amarth and The Halo Effect. The expectations for this tour are, frankly, very high and we are happy to report: this bill is fucking fantastic.
Openers The Halo Effect might be a new name for most, but its members certainly shouldn’t be. Having all served tenures in Gothenburg icons In Flames at one time or another – and with Dark Tranquility’s Mikael Stanne up front – The Halo Effect makes the colossal ambition of Gothenburg’s melodeath scene seem like materialized.
Guitar solos that could come straight from Iron Maiden mingle with the rumbles and howls of the innards of hell, but it’s in the enormity of their choruses that The Halo Effect shines the most. Their first album days of loss has only been out for a few weeks, but the songs bypass the rating to demand full attention, making the band a perfect warm-up for a night of enthusiastic crowd participation.
“Pagans of Nottingham, we want to have a massive battle with you!” Amon Amarth needs no introduction, but singer Johan Hegg’s opening statement is enough to get the crowd excited. A massive explosion marks their entrance on stage and of course, before the first chorus of Guardians of Asgaard shots, we are treated to a barrage of eyebrow-raising pyro.
Flanked by gigantic inflatable Viking warriors, Amon Amarth has one of the most intricate stage setups this side of Iron Maiden and all the tricks are out for their time in the arena: stage battles, a Loki eyed shiny, a Viking ship, a gigantic sea serpent (whose ever-loving shit Johan beats with a huge Mjolnir).
Even if you’ve seen Amon Amarth a million times before, this feels like a wonderful highlight reel of all things brilliant about Sweden’s Viking obsessives. Hegg takes the stage with a confidence that makes it inconceivable the band could ever fit in a smaller room.
For all the jaw-dropping theater on stage – and there’s plenty to drink – the simple fact is that Amon Amarth has gotten where he is with an incredible arsenal of anthems. Get in the ring, First murder, protective wall and Raise your horns are legit chants, sidestepping extreme metal’s usual tendency to eschew anything resembling melody in favor of crafting songs that have hooks you could roll up the Titanic with, but also the weight and nastiness of the ax of an executioner.
Admittedly, Hegg doesn’t seem to understand that crowd participation is best kept simple. His order for the crowd to sing an entire verse of Pursuit of the Vikings soon drops into a confused (and hilarious) mumble after the first line, but the fact that thousands of fans are even willing to give it a try is a testament to Amon Amarth’s passion and excitement.
The live debut of Heidrun and Put your back in rowing proving that Amon Amarth isn’t done creating massive anthems in his set either. The first ends with a spray of yellow confetti blanketing the crowd, while the second prompts one of the most beloved traditions of any Amon Amarth show: the crowd ducks and begins rowing to the beat of the song. With a suitably apocalyptic Twilight of the Thunder God wrapping up their set, Amon Amarth departs as the heavy metal conquerors we’ve always known them to be, more than worthy to leap into arena-sized venues.
After Amon Amarth’s breathtaking show, it’s hard to imagine how Machine Head can match them. But Robb Flynn and co. have not spent 30 years in this industry for nothing, and of course, as soon as they hit the stage, they deliver a master class in high level metal.
It doesn’t hurt that Machine Head has some of the greatest grooves and choruses in metal anyway, but the band aren’t taking any prisoners for the opening night of the tour. Become the firestorm is a totally incendiary way to kick off the shoot, Robb’s almost catchy line “are you ready for a quickie?” more of a promise than a rhetorical question as the band takes off like a nitro rocket.
If there was a question about how this new line of Machine Heads would work together, it’s quickly called off as the band absolutely annihilates the first set of Fire storm, Imperium and Now we are dying. Even without all the stage adornment that their high-end peers can provide, Machine Head can hold their own against just about any band on the planet when it comes to delivering an experience like no other.
Every element of their set is built around the idea of engaging the crowd and throwing them into a frenzy. Whether it’s Robb’s commands for circular pits, chants, headbangs or cheers, the enormity of riffs and choruses implemented or Robb’s words of encouragement to introduce songs, there is has a sense of community at the heart of a Machine Head show that makes the event feel like a stage coming together.
When the pyro starts up again, it’s a huge wall of flames that covers the stage while the band plays an explosive I Am Hell. But even then, the stuff happening offstage is just as exciting as what’s happening in front, with the ground literally opening up as a cyclone of bodies rush into a circular arena-sized pit. . Further proof – as if we needed it – that Machine Head shows are above all a shared experience, a love that is expressed in the persistent roars of “Machine Fucking Head” that punctuate each hole of the set.
Tributes to Dimebag Darrel and Vinnie Paul are paid aesthetics of hateand there are starting problems when Robb tries to get the acoustic guitar out to locust, but love for Machine Head outweighs everything and Robb’s dedication to darkness in to anyone with mental health issues betrays the true love and gratitude the metal icon has for his fans after all this time. “We know shit has been tough,” he says. “Shit for you guys too. You might have wanted to get away with it, but just know: right now you’re in a room full of people who love you.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment and a powerful declaration of triumph from a man who has had more than his fair share of setbacks and tribulations in recent years. Still, Robb Flynn persists, and heavy metal is better for the fact – the final double hit from Branch Davidian and Halo sending Nottingham off into the night with ringing in his ears and smiles that might make the Cheshire Cat look austere. Machine Fucking Head – accept no substitutes.
The Vikings and Lionhearts tour takes place in the UK and Europe from September 8 to October 22. For the full list of dates, visit Machine Head’s official site (opens in a new tab).
Machine Head are on the cover of this month metal hammer – order your copy now (opens in a new tab).
Alternately, order your copy (opens in a new tab) of Hammer Amon Amarth Bundle.
Amon Amarth’s setlist, Nottingham Motorpoint Arena 09/08/2022
Guardians of Asgaard
The flight of the crow
The Great Heathen Army
The one who betrayed the gods
Get in the ring
The pursuit of the Vikings
The Way of the Vikings
Put your back in rowing
Raise your horns
Twilight of the Thunder Gods
Machine Head Setlist, Nottingham Motorpoint Arena 09/08/2022
Become the firestorm
Now we are dying
Neither gods nor masters
I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)
aesthetics of hate