Machine Head have walked their own path for so long that no one should be alarmed that their ninth album has a few surprises. In truth, a 74-minute album without curve balls would be exhausting. Fortunately, Catharsis still provides plenty of the expected skull-flattening heaviness.
More importantly, nearly every last song here is among Machine Head’s best, starting with ferocious state-of-the-nation opener Volatile and the almost indecently stirring title track, which could well be the metal anthem of 2018. Kaleidoscope blends steroidal swagger and a massive chorus amid a haze of psychedelic wooziness, Heavy Lies The Crown is an insanely thrilling nine-minute metal symphony, and the snotty Razorblade Smile pays tribute to Lemmy by actually sounding like a runaway freight train.
And then there are the curveballs: Triple Beam is a fiery burst of rap-metal fury, Behind A Mask is an elegiac acoustic ballad with shades of Opeth. Best of all, thematic centrepiece Bastards marries frontman Robb Flynn’s heartfelt dismay at Trump’s America to frenzied, irresistible folk-rock, with spine-tingling (if potentially polarising) results.
Frankly, no other modern metal band have the balls or the brains to pull off an album like this. Catharsis is a brave, life-affirming masterpiece.