On a night where heavy storms were due to batter the South of England, heavy metal legends Machine Head were also due to bring another storm to Plymouth, along with metalcore bands Darkest Hour and Heart of a Coward. This was to be Machine Head’s 3rd time at the Plymouth Pavilions, having played there before in 2005 and 2010.
Milton Keynes-based Heart of a Coward got things off to a lively start, albeit with an almost-empty arena due to their early start. Their pummeling and brutal style of metalcore was a great teaser of what was to come for the headliners of the night. Despite the small numbers in the crowd, the band seemed to feed off the audience’s enthusiasm with impassioned performances across the board, every breakdown resonating within the arena. The music itself was nothing too special, but in a live setting it managed to translate very well.
Darkest Hour were perhaps withheld by the poor sound engineering on their set, all the instruments seeming to mash into each other in a rather uncomfortable wall of sound. Every now and then the audience would catch a glimpse of a lush guitar harmony or throaty scream from vocalist John Herry, but these moments would die fairly quickly after getting drowned out by the drums, which were ridiculously high in the mix. This performance was reflected by the crowd, the pinnacle of their ambivalence towards the band occurring when no one caught the CD Henry chucked across the hall. However, Henry deserves a lot of credit for managing to deliver a decent performance while in crutches due to a leg injury.
Whatever negative feelings the audience may have been holding about Darkest Hour on the night were soon washed away as soon as Machine Head drummer Dave McClain appeared on his drum set, the rest of the band following out through a misty cloud of smoke. Opening up with crowd-favourite Imperium, the Oakland quartet grabbed the night by the throat and never let go, save for the quieter moments in songs like Darkness Within and Sail Into the Black. Indeed, the mother of all circle pits appeared right from the go and didn’t seem to cease all night (walking out at the end of the night, the amount of people walking away dazed and confused, nursing open gashes on their heads was staggering).
In terms of the setlist, there wasn’t much in the way of surprise, with regular numbers such as the aforementioned Imperium, Locust, Davidian, Aesthetics of Hate and the wonderfully emotional encore, Halo. Of course, this was the Bloodstone & Diamonds tour, so a fair few songs from this record appeared too. These songs went down very well with the crowd, especially Game Over, it’s pop punk-tinged chorus sending the crowd wild.
Frontman Robb Flynn added to the crowd’s enthusiasms with his regular ‘heartfelt’ speeches, the phrase ‘Plymouth, we are few, but we are mighty!’ being a motif throughout the night, as well as a speech about how he was never raised with religion, but rather music as his salvation. Despite the inherent cheesiness of these speeches, every single word managed to carry a genuine emotional weight with them, the audience harnessing this emotional weight and using it to work themselves into a frenzy during each song.
This culminated with the universally-loved Halo. This was the most apt way to end the night, its monolithic, singalong chorus and hugely emotional solo capping off what was truly an amazing night in Plymouth. Although Machine Head’s set lasted for around two hours, the chemistry the band as a whole showed, the vibes bouncing off the audience, and the brilliant setlist choice itself ensured that this performance would be forever embedded in the memory of every single member of the crowd, young and old.
Words by Lewis Edwards