Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel gives track-by-track breakdown of Unto the Locust

Categories: Profiles

Update: Photos from Sunday's Mayhem Fest (including Machine Head) have been posted!

Brandon Marshall
This fall, Machine Head (due at Comfort Dental Amphitheater this Sunday, July 17, as part of Rockstar Mayhem Festival) will release their seventh studio album entitled, Unto The Locust, and judging from the first single, the album's title track, Machine Head appears to have stepped up with a compelling follow-up to Blackening, its 2007 album, which many hail as the band's masterpiece. We recently spoke with Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel about the new album, and he gave us a track-by-track breakdown.


"Unto the Locust" from Unto the Locust, due out 9/26/11 on Roadrunner.

Westword: With the success of Machine Head's 2007 release, The Blackening, was there extra pressure while writing and recording Unto The Locust, and did Machine Head have the mentality to bury The Blackening when going into the studio?

Phil Demmel: I don't think so. I think it was the same pressure that they felt after Supercharger, doing Thought The Ashes, or The Blackening. The band always wants to do a different record, and that's certainly been proven with the discography. I mean, no record has been the same, and that continues to trend. We've been writing for ourselves since I've been in the band. I can't speak for before then, but we write for ourselves. That's what we've been doing.

We've been growing in the music, as people, as friends, and bandmates. We've grown as brothers and in our everyday lives. So, we see the world from a different perspective now. So, that's also going to change our moods and the way we write. That's been the case, for sure. I wouldn't say there was any more pressure than the last one. You always want to write the best record that you can.

Did Machine Head take a new approach during the writing and recording process? I understand Rob [Flynn, vocals/guitar] took vocal classes.

Yeah, Rob took some vocal classes, and he's singing really low. He's trying different things, but nothing too crazy. There's a couple departures from what we've done in the past, but the writing approach is the same. We're all fans of different kinds of music, writing and creating what makes us satisfied, for whatever need or purge that is hitting us at the time.

What is your proudest achievement with Unto The Locust? Was there a personal goal you set for yourself?

A personal goal? Hmm... I think being involved with the lyrics. My contribution, lyrically, on Locust is probably what I'm proud of most. There's a lot of emotion on this record from Rob, and in that regard, I think that us working together, it came out really well. We work really well together.

So what were some of the lyrical themes you touched on?

The first thing I approached with Rob... I've always thought: Well, I come from a really descriptive writing style; Rob is more personal, more first and third person. I'm more descriptive. So, I thought of this, maybe taking the pages out of a Pyromaniac's Diary, as he's learning and the sickness is taking him over -- how it kind of grows with him, and how he becomes a murderer and maniac.

It's something we started researching a little bit. We found out that women are actually the most dangerous, because their crimes are, more often than not, crimes of passion. So, he took it from this female perspective. Taken in that vein, it's not really something Machine Head has done in the past, but it's kind of a cool story.

Will you be releasing another single from Unto the Locust before the full album is released?

Uh-huh. We had an advance mix that was done for this Mayhem Tour. There is a deal with iTunes where we could put up the song on iTunes, and they will pass out all this promotional stuff with it. So, we thought it would be a great idea to be part of that. So, we got a quick mix together of that out. It's been a hit, man. People are feeling it hard. We also wanted to have a taste of the new record out before we were on this thing to start hyping up the record a little bit.

Brandon Marshall
Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel
Can you give us a track-by-track breakdown of the album?

Well, it's not really finalized yet, but I think it's pretty close.

"I Am Hell," the opener, is actually a sonata. It's a song in three parts, and it's the pyromaniac song that I was talking about. You know, it's the most brutal song Machine Head has ever written. It's got to at least be eight minutes long. So, it starts off with... you know, I'm not going to break down the music too much. I mean its still pretty early before the record comes out, but it's a three part tune.

"Be Still in Now," which is, uh, kind of a few riffs that I threw together, that kind of got shelved for a minute, got put away, and got brought back from the dead when I came in one day and those guys were kind of jamming on it. It kind of got some chest compressions, and it got brought back to life. Epic jam. It's about struggle, and overcoming struggle, and knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is only there if that light shines inside of you.

The title was... Like my grandmother handed down all of her grandchildren bible verses in all their Easter cards and Christmas cards. She used to sign one to each, and mine was Psalm 46, which is, "Be still, and know that I'm the Lord". Basically, be steadfast. Know that you will get through, and this shall pass. It kind of fit into the tune and kind of fit into the chorus. I mean, I got it tattooed on my arm around eight years ago. So, it's been kind of my mantra through my life. So, I'm really stoked that Rob chose to title the song that.

"Locust" is a concept I came up with, based on a few people I have encountered in my life, just like everybody has: The type of person that just comes into your life under a different guise, under false pretenses, to befriend you, be your buddy, be your man, be on your team, or, you know, to be your lover or whatever. Their goal is just to soak up all your resources and just to drain you of all you've got, whatever you have to offer. Once they're discovered, they fly off into the next crop and drain that of everything. Yeah, it just feels like hell.

"This is the End" is a burner, one of the faster Machine Head songs ever [laughs]. Rob and David got together, and we took a break from everything after touring for three years. We took about a six-month break, got back together and wrote this song. It's really fast. Kind of a death metal song, but it's got the classical sound like a death metal tune. The whole record has kind of neo-classical feel to it. The song, Rob's going to have to describe the lyrics. It's basically about people kind of living and not being able to accept present times and moving on to things.

See photos from the Mayhem Festival in Denver

Photos: Women That Rock @ Mayhem Festival

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