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November 8, 2013, posted by Crumbs

The General Journals: "Through the Ashes" Turns 10 - Part 5

Machine Head

In early August of 2003 I boarded a plane for London Heathrow to start the mixing our fifth album with Colin Richardson. Colin was already set up at The Chapel recording studios in the remote village of Lincolnshire (population 60!!) The plan was for me to land at typically-rainy-London Heathrow Airport and take a cab (that Roadrunner UK had arranged) the remaining 4 hour drive out to the studio. When I landed, to my absolute shock the typically-rainy-London wasn't typically-rainy or overcast at all. Instead, it was un-typically-sunny and 95 degrees! Shit, it was hotter than California! All of Europe was going thru some nutty heat wave and man I was fuckin' STOKED!!

It was a good sign.

So sunny and hot or not, I still had a 4 hour drive ahead of me. I arrived at The Chapel where I'd be living for the next few weeks. Now, The Chapel is literally in the middle of nowhere and as much as Colin had prepared me for this, it was still a bit of a (in Keanu Reeves voice) “hwhoa!”. But what he didn’t prep me for was…it was beautiful. The English countryside, open fields, slow-running brooks, rabbits; it was like being in a goddamn Led Zeppelin song! Thankfully, per English-tradition, even a little po-dunk village like Lincolnshire with a population of 60 needs to have a pub every half mile. We headed down to get some beers and watched some local cover bands jam the English hits of the 60's and 70's.

For the first few days the engineers had a lot of setting up to do. Now, because the crazy heat wave, the weather was getting up in the 100's so Colin and I went on long walks. He and I talked about life and work and everything under the sun. We’d kick around a soccer ball and then go and pick up fresh eggs from the local farms. Colin is awesome. I fuckin love that dude. It was a much needed change of pace and shook off some of the depression I was sinking into. The nearest grocery store was a 10 mile drive, so about once a week we’d go into town and stock up food and vodka.

There was mind-numbingly slow dial-up internet, but the head groundskeeper was cool enough to let me jump on his laptop when I needed. There was also cable TV and Kerrang! TV was playing the shit out of a new band called Muse whose latest record, "Absolution" had just come out and was starting to hit. I fell in love with the song "Time Is Running Out," and would soon come to worship this album and this band.

Amazingly, several of the songs were still un-titled at this point, including "Vim" (called "Devil Beat") and "Imperium" (still called "Buh-Duh-Duh-Duh") even as we began mixing. The label was freaking out for titles, final lyrics, the thanks list, etc... Fuck, I needed to get a title for the song and fast; I mean it’s only the lead track off the album, right? So I took to the internet for inspiration and 2 days later, after stumbling upon an online thesaurus I looked up alternate words for "power" I fell upon the word "Imperium.” Hmmm..., Imperium = command; supreme power". I knew that was it so I ran it past Dave and BOOM!

The first song finished for mixing was "Bite The Bullet" and it sounded crushing! For "Left Unfinished," in my head I heard an intro that sounded like a music box you might hear in a baby crib or carriage. During the recording I had Mark Keaton transcribe the chorus melody (since I can't read or write music, shit, I can barely read tabs!) for the guitar and vocal. He and I found a company in China that if you supply the music they turn it into a real-deal music box. It was exactly what I was hearing in my head so we ordered. It arrived so close to the deadline I actually had the Asian fellow meet me at the airport and do the transaction! It was so drug-deal-like it was awesome! I still have a few, they were cool. For all the collectors out there Roadrunner made an additional 100 music boxes for promo. We set up mics and recorded while I spun the music box handle, and soon "Left Unfinished" was mixed.

Colin had just finished mixing the first Bullet For My Valentine album, and after-hours we'd drink vodka and play the first 3 songs a lot, but I didn't like the rest of the album, too poppy. Apparently they A/B’d their mixes to "The More Things Change" constantly. They should probably start doing that again!

Nevertheless things were running smoothly and Kerrang! asked for a new song we could put out on a CD sampler. It was decided that "Imperium" should be the track and the only reason this is of note (collectors) is that it wasn't the final mix. It also didn't have the clincher last line "and we won't lose!" In its place was one of my Tom G. Warrior death-grunts, "UGH!" In fact that line wouldn't be added until I went to Andy Sneap's old studio to do a test mastering with him and I decided try out the phrase "and I won't lose." Ultimately settling on the final version, the one you’ve been listening to for 10 years, "and we won't lose."

**Collectors, if you find the Kerrang! version, please send it me in hi rez!!! It's one of the few MH items I do not have!!**

Kerrang! Magazine had begun an Awards show in London and Roadrunner thought it would be good if I went. I was ambivalent. They had been shredding us pretty brutally lately and the last face to face interview they did with me was quite hostile. I was so ready to tell them to "fuck off" but my ever-awesome press girl and voice of reason, Michele Kerr calmed me down. She said it be fun, "we'll get hammered!" I said "OK." Such a pushover!

Maybe it was in my head but when I arrived at the awards show it felt like walking into the lion’s den. Something about just seemed all hoity toity and fancy schmancy, that I felt not welcome. It totally felt like I was not a part of this world. These didn’t feel like “my people.” The RR US thing had sapped me of some of my confidence. So as I got ready to go, in my hotel I had to give myself a stern talking-to in the mirror. I looked at myself and said "dude, go out there and fucking rule this shit!" "LION HEART MOTHERFUCKER!" Stop being such a pussy!! You're Robb Fuckin' Flynn, go out there and walk the god damn walk!!!"

It worked.

I threw on my cut off camo shorts, metal shirt, and a backwards trucker hat and said "fuck these hoity toity motherfuckers!"

I got there, and the first music-bizness-cock-face I saw, walked up to me and said:

"Hey Robb, it's nice to meet you, shame your band never made it..."

Me: "FUCK YOU!"

I walked right up to the journalist who had shredded me, got 6 inches from his face and said "oh hey, what's up dude?" He practically stumbled over himself backing away. I took a shit in the bathroom, didn't flush it, didn't wash my hands, walked up to another journalist who had recently ripped us and shook his hand just to be an asshole.

Despite all this, I had a lot of friends there. Christian and Laz from Ill Nino hung with me all night. Nick Barker from Cradle/Dimmu got hammered with the singer for The Used (who I'd just met) and also a bunch of the Funeral for a Friend guys. I rapped with Lars for a few minutes too, which I'd never really done before, and was very cool.

I'd brought along a CD of the latest mixes and a CD Walkman and headphones. I basically cornered as many people as I could with one request, "motherfucker, check this new shit out!!" I got about 20 people to listen, all-in-all including one of the coolest Kerrang! journos and future-Kerrang-editor, Paul Brannigan. Most people I played it for were pretty into it, either that or just telling this drunken madman they approved so he'd leave them alone. When the evening was over I felt good. Sure even after a great night I still didn’t feel like I “belonged,” but I knew the next time I went to one of these things I’d fucking own the place! The next night we had a playback session in London at the Intrepid Fox and fans seemed really into it.

I went back to Lincolnshire to finish mixing and after a week I started getting cabin-fever. Being out in the middle of nowhere, away from home, I started to second guess the mixes. In fact, truth is I lost it a little. I had a meltdown, then realized I was trippin out and that I had to trust Colin. I’d find myself saying “He knows what he's doing” in my head. It would actually be the last time I ever attended a mix. I can't be there. I need to hear things as a whole. I learned I'm a big-picture-guy. The hyper-focused-attention-to-detail that’s needed for mixing? Nope, I can't do it. My brain just doesn't work like that. Colin is the king when it comes to mixing.

With mixing complete I went straight into a press tour and the excitement on both ends was high. They wanted to hear it and I wanted to play it for them. People were saying it's the best thing we'd done and as soon as the European press got their advance copies, the album leaked. DOH! Now, I ain't saying that a journalist leaked it, but a journalist leaked it!! Yep, 2 months before the album hit, it was on every torrent site on the face of the earth. But unlike what we'd been told by the record company it didn't hurt a damn thing, in fact it got our fanbase really fucking stoked! And because our American fans knew there was no imminent release date, they were even more stoked!

As soon as I got back from the press tour we started rehearsing for our upcoming tour which was set to start in Dublin, Ireland on Halloween night. Dave and Phil had practiced a few times while I'd been gone but honestly we were sounding rough. The record came out on Oct 28th and 3 days later we were playing the tunes to a bunch of crazed Dublinites with all of us dressed up for Halloween and hammered. It was magical! It was our first night of the ‘Through The Ashes of Europe’ tour and it sure didn’t feel like we were “done.” The sing-a-longs were insane, something was happening.

The album reviews had started to come in and were across the board stunning. Metal Hammer Germany gave the highest combined rating that had ever been awarded to a record!!! Rock Hard praised it, Metal Hammer UK praised it as a masterpiece. Even Kerrang! Australia scribe Dom Lawson gave it a staggering 5K review. But some of the UK press still wanted to "have a go at us," and in particular Kerrang! UK journalist Daniel Lukes, (the same douche who had reviewed the Ten Ton Hammer show), decided that this would be the album review to crush Machine Head into the dust. That this would be his big chance to make his mark in music history, he was going for it.

With a frankly admirable amount of belligerence and gusto, Lukes took the biggest shots he could swing at us and out and out attacked the band. Giving it a lowly 2K review and calling 'Through The Ashes Of Empires' (and I quote), "a directionless mess of an album,” “chock full of widdlesome solos and moments of musical 'complexity' that actually get in the way." He ended his pissy tirade declaring it, "the sonic equivalent of eating last night’s delivery pizza, reheated today."

WHOA!!!!!

When I read this, to say I "hit the fuckin’ roof" would be the understatement of the year.

My aforementioned press girl Michelle begged me not to do anything stupid. She told me amongst other things, "Kerrang! is sponsoring your UK dates!" But there was no going back. It was the final straw. After all we'd been through there was no taking this kind of fuckin bullshit from anyone, anymore. Not Kerrang!, not Revolver, no one. This motherfucker thinks he's gonna bury us, from behind a fucking computer?! NOT A CHANCE IN HELL!! We drafted up a press release and once-again took to the internet. Dave McClain said his review was "gutter journalism" and I simply added that Daniel Lukes could "SUCK OUR FUCKIN DICKS!"

It was "fuck everyone" from here on out.

Lukes "made history" all right...

The tour on the other hand went fucking ridiculous. People came out in droves, the shows sold out left and right and merch sales were almost shockingly great. As we knocked out gig after gig Machine Head, as a unit, hit a rare state of musicianship that we may not have ever had. All four of us were really clicking on stage, even Adam with his lengthy absence during the writing/recording process was totally locked in with the three of us. People were still not sure of Phil though and in Madrid, Spain a small group of jerks spit on him all night. All-fucking-night, so at the end of the show he jumped in and pummeled them! We followed suit, jumped in, pummeled more, and after that, the word spread. Yep, same ol' Machine Head and there were no more incidents. In Hamburg at the MarketHalle, Phil started jamming a riff at soundcheck that was pretty awesome. It would soon morph into a new song called "Seasons Wither."

And now that the record was a bonafide European success, all those labels that had passed on us in the U.S. suddenly came back around. These labels wanted to talk and they wanted to sign us. Of all the labels now calling us I’d say the most surprising was Roadrunner U.S. They approached us and said they'd like to release the record now...?

Huh...?

Really...?

“You mean the record you just passed on?”

Yes.

Hmmm...

Truthfully, there was A LOT of genuine resentment towards Roadrunner at this point. That's the reason we wanted off the label in the first place. Then after the last round of demos and the back and forth bullshit...how could there not be? We debated and argued about it fiercely. Some folks felt it was a no-brainer to re-sign, some were dead set against it.

Since the time of my press release saying RR US had passed, we actually had more than a few other options. Both Nuclear Blast and Century Media were extremely hot to get the record and made it a priority to tell us so. As the tour winded down we set about narrowing our best choice.

Regardless of who released it though, the best case scenario for a U.S. release would not happen until at least April of 2004. That meant the record was going to be available on any torrent site for 8 months in between release dates. Anyone who wasn't into illegal downloading could buy it via import, and fuck, at that point how many people in the states would even want to buy something they’ve listened to for over half a year?

At the end of December of 2003 we returned home from Europe for the Holidays and to ponder our future…


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