Catharsis - Machine Head

Catharsis refers to the process of releasing strong, suppressed emotions that are purged through art (like writing or music), a particular activity or an experience of an extreme change in one’s emotions, resulting in renewal and understanding the emotions better (Cambridge Dictionary).

‘Catharsis’ is also the name of the ninth studio album and its title track by the American heavy metal band Machine Head. Despite being around for a good while and having led the way in the New wave of American heavy metal movement since the 1990s, for me the band was quite unfamiliar. I had previously only heard the name but couldn’t name any of their songs, or what genre they represent.

When I first heard ‘Catharsis’, I was coming home from my dance class and had just parked my car. I was about to turn the power off, when the song started playing on the local Radio Rock station. It caught my ear, partially because I hadn’t heard it played on the radio before and partially because it sounded interesting.

The song starts quiet and calmly, with almost an orchestral-like intro and faded vocals, and slowly builds up to an epic and fast guitar riff. The lead singer, Robb Flynn, starts the song with soft and clean vocals (and I absolutely love the harmonization in this part) but breaks down to the more distinctive growly and rough voice with the line “’Cause now this changes everything” . Funny story: every single time I listen to the song, I can’t help but hearing the line as “’Cause now this cake is everything” and imagine Mr. Flynn smashing a piece of a cake as aggressively as he sings :D

Jokes aside, mishearing the lyrics points out one criticism about the song: at times, I find it hard to make sense of the lyrics, especially of the clean vocals, meaning that the vocals are not that well-articulated. It’s odd because in my mind the growly vocals would be more likely mumbled than the clean ones. But thinking about it more, maybe the lack of articulation is an artistic effect to add up to the certain, almost a dreamy kind of feeling that the clean-sung parts create.

As the first chorus starts, the song shifts back to smaller gear and re-enters the soft and calm zone. I really enjoy contrasts like this. Pairing two extremities create a certain dimension to the song and keeps the listener interested to hear more. After the first chorus, though, the softer parts are not revisited which seems like a natural choice as the song gradually builds up into a tight and heavy blast. No need to go back to soft and squishy after reaching a rock-solid top. However, the contrast is maintained with the clean vocals throughout the song in the rest of the choruses.

Even though the song is well put together in the sense that it is like a calm sea that turns into a raging storm, at first, I didn’t like the way the very last choruses were mixed. Considering the build-up factor, I thought that the song never got to the very highest top that it could have reached. Something was missing to meet the expectations that the epic beginning of the song created. In my opinion, the vocals were not as powerful and dynamic as they could have been in the last choruses. In addition, the choruses around the bridge sound the same, apart from some differences in the drums in the latter choruses. I hoped the final choruses to deliver the final wow-factor, some sort of an epiphany, to be the cherry on top. But it didn't quite happen. However, after listening to the song on repeat, I’ve gotten used to the sound and the missing cherry doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I still think that the mixing is not the best, but I’ve come to hear the different layers in the choruses that create great depth to them.

According to Flynn (Blabbermouth.net), the lines of the bridge crystallize the message that the band wanted this song to have:

                The only thing keeping me sane 
                The music in my veins
                And if these words are my fists

                This is my catharsis
 

Those lyrics accompanied by the strong feeling in Flynn’s voice (especially at 4:00) represent perfectly the strong emotions and renewal of reaching a catharsis. I mean, I suppose experiencing a catharsis doesn’t always mean expressing it through intense and growly metal music, but in the context of this song, it just makes sense. As the lyrics say, it’s his catharsis.

The lyrics of this bridge apply to me as well. Many times, music has indeed been the thing keeping me sane. And here I am, using my words as my fists to beat my insecurities and reach a catharsis through writing. This blog is the channel for me to purge my suppressed emotions both through the music that I listen to and through writing about those emotions, and that way understand myself better. It’s a double catharsis for me!

Despite some minor inadequacies, ‘Catharsis’ is a damn good song. As I was sitting in my car listening to it for the first time, I actually said out loud “damn, that’s tight”, which sums up my opinion. Considering the background of this blog (of which you can read here), 'Catharsis' is also a perfect start for this blog.

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