Machine Head's The Blackening was not just a landmark point of the band's career, but of 21st century metal as well. How do you go about writing and recording a follow-up to that? We sent Joel McIver to find out from Machine Head's Dave McClain.
Are you feeling the pressure to follow up The Blackening with an equally epic album?
"There's always pressure, especially after everything that came along with The Blackening for us. After the tour, which I think was three years, we were just so ready. As much as we loved everything that happened with The Blackening, we were ready to put that whole thing behind us and get started. I was writing a little bit, Robb [Flynn, singer] had written some stuff, Phil [Demmel, guitarist] was writing, but we were all not showing each other anything! Once we got back home I set my drums back up that week and started playing again and waited around for everyone to come around. Robb was the first one to call, and we were more just excited than feeling any pressure about anything that point. It was good: we were ready to get back in, although we didn't have to get back in. We were ready to start writing and it was really cool."
"There's also a song that I wrote the music for, and when I gave it to Robb. I said to him 'I've always wanted to hear a song that's just you and a piano, kind of like 'Changes' by Black Sabbath'."
Is your kit different this time?
"I added a little 8" tom to my kit for this album. I'd go down to the practice room and go back to being a kid, putting my iPod on and playing along to Rush! I thought, I really need another tom to play along to this Rush stuff, so I went over to our storage, where I had a little 8" tom, and when we started rocking I said to Robb 'What do you think about this tom?' and he said 'Dude, that sounds killer!' and he started adding all these rolls on songs that he was working on. It was fun. I'm going 8", 10", 12", 16", 18" with toms, and I put the 8" in a really weird spot – because my kit is super spread out and super flat. I've got this weird OCD thing with everything being flat. The hi-hat is to my left, and the tom is a little bit to the left of that and underneath it, so when I do the big Neil Peart rolls my aim has to be perfect."
So when you do a descending tom roll, you actually have to start beneath the hi-hat?
"Yeah! Right beneath it. It's in a really weird spot, but it was the only place I could put it on my kit that made it still look the way it does. I wish I'd done it on the last record, because there were a lot of places on there where the sound of that 8" tom would really have opened the rolls up. I added a couple of cowbells too. I barely use them but they're really cool."
"There's always pressure, especially after everything that came along with The Blackening for us. After the tour, which I think was three years, we were just so ready."
We heard that the song 'Darkness Within' is a new direction for Machine Head.
"Yeah. There's elements to it that are really rock, but it's really dark too. Super dark. It totally sounds like Machine Head, though. We had a four-piece orchestra come in and do stuff on it. There's also a song that I wrote the music for, and when I gave it to Robb. I said to him 'I've always wanted to hear a song that's just you and a piano, kind of like 'Changes' by Black Sabbath'. I wrote the whole thing on the guitar with a melody-line lead, and he liked it and put piano on it. If it turns out right, it'll be one of those pieces that makes the album completely different to anything we've ever done, ever. It's a big stretch because it's something that we've never done before, bringing in piano and everything."
For more on Machine Head hitting the studio pick up the latest issue of Rhythm.