DEEP PURPLE — Machine Head (review)

DEEP PURPLE — Machine Head album cover Album · 1972 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
How do you review the best-ever album by one of your favourite bands of all time? By saying perhaps that the album deserves six stars instead of five, gushing extravagant praise and ending with a wholehearted recommendation? Or rather, by trying to be as objective as you can, even going to the lengths of trying to find flaws which are not there? Difficult indeed, when you are confronted by about 40 minutes of absolute musical bliss - soaring vocals, fiery, crystal-clear guitar, rumbling Hammond organ, and one of the tightest rhythm sections on the market. Not to mention songs that other bands can only dream of writing, each and every one a classic.

"Machine Head" is one of those records that cannot be ignored. Even more so than "In Rock", it is the album that launched a thousand bands, the blueprint every fledgling hard rocker had to take into account, the monumental landmark dwarfing everything else around. The sheer chemistry made evident by its predecessors - notably the incendiary live "Made in Japan", released just a few months earlier - comes to full fruition here, showing a band who, though on the verge of being pulled apart by tensions and freewheeling egos, have reached the absolute peak of their musical condition. The songs are crafted with skill and feeling, so that they never give the impression of being mere showcases of technical ability, but rather the result of an ongoing process involving the contribution of every member of the band.

Even if the songs, at a first glance, appear to be rather straightforward, their structure is more complex than it seems, the interplay between the instruments flawless and at the same time so spontaneous as to seem almost casual - you never get that contrived feeling that is so common in the output of many 'real' metal bands. The main feature, as in the case of "In Rock", but here at an even more advanced level, are the duels between Jon Lord's powerful, brooding Hammond and Ritchie Blackmore's dazzling, diamond-sharp guitar. "Machine Head" is actually one of the great guitar albums of all time - not only because it contains the mother of all riffs in the immortal "Smoke on the Water". Blackmore's performance is textbook-perfect throughout, the notes cascading with effortless elegance from his Stratocaster - so deceptively simple, so difficult to imitate. Ian Gillan's supercharged vocals are the perfect foil for those two masters of their instruments, almost hysterical on classic concert opener "Highway Star" (the archetypal speed metal song) and in album closer "Space Truckin'" (definitely the most progressive track on the disc), more restrained and almost wistful in "Maybe I'm a Leo" and "Pictures of Home", with an experimental feel in the jazzy "Lazy" - another song which deviates quite sharply from traditional hard rock/blues standards.

A masterpiece? Without any doubt. A masterpiece of metal music? Though "Machine Head" is quite far from being a bludgeon-fest, it was an extremely heavy effort for its times, and its influence on the development of the genre cannot be understated. This is rock music at its very best - legendary is the only word that can do it justice.
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