Machine Head's 2007 album "The Blackening" was the group's highest charting effort so far and earned the Oakland, Calif., headbangers their first Grammy Award nomination.
Suffice to say that a high bar was set for "Unto the Locust," which came out in September.
Nevertheless, guitarist Phil Demmel says that "I don't think we feel pressure" -- and, indeed, "Unto the Locust" debuted at No. 22 on the Billboard 200 chart, 32 places better than its predecessor. "We write for ourselves, and whatever comes out we have to be happy with it first before we think about anybody else. We scrutinize ourselves so much and put every little thing under a microscope, so if we don't like it, we don't put it on (the album).
"And we were so frickin' stoked to do this record that pressure wasn't part of it."
Demmel, 44, says Machine Head -- which recorded "Unto the Locust" at Green Day's Jingletown Studios in Oakland -- "pushed ourselves further than ever performance-wise and even songwriting wise" on the new album. Nowhere is that more true than on "I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)," an eight-and-a-half-minute, three-part suite which opens the album. But the biggest change-up for fans may be "Darkness Within," the most melodic, ballad-style song Machine Head has ever put on an album.
"I had the riff for about the past five years and played it off and on and it didn't go anywhere," recalls Demmel, who co-wrote the song with frontman Robb [cq] Flynn and drummer Dave McClain. "The one gloomy day in the Bay Area Robb got into a headspace and wrote lyrics over this piece I had and called us on a Saturday. We don't usually practice on Saturday, but he played it over the phone and we all said, 'Let's get down to the studio and try to work this out.'
"It's probably the most beautiful piece of music I've been a part of in this band, as far as melody and emotion. It's the kind of thing I could see Gordon Lightfoot or James Taylor singing back in the day; it's just a little bit darker than that. It surprised a lot of people, but I'm really jacked we did it."
Machine Head, Suicide Silence and Darkest Hour perform Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 day of show. Call (248) 399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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