MACHINE HEAD’s Robb Flynn continues his ongoing saga of the professional and personal turmoil that birthed their 2003 album “Through The Ashes Of Empires” via the below sixth installment. Written as a part of Flynn‘s ongoing ‘General Journals’ via the groups Facebook, this series looks back at the album as it has reached its ten year anniversary this year. Another part is still forthcoming. If you missed the previous entries, they are available as follows:#1; #2; #3; #4; #5.
“In September of 2003 Dave McClain got married.
At the wedding reception in Arizona, when festivities were over, my wife and I went back to our room and had wild, drunken, slobbery sex. In October, right before the record came out in Europe we found out she was pregnant.
It was good news.
We had been trying for about 5 months, though we had taken a break over the summer so we could wakeboard (Genevra is a ridiculously good wakeboarder). But as soon as the Summer was over we started “trying” again (basically not using the “pull out” method) and at the reception it worked!
Like so many other couples, we had put off having kids for a while, waiting til “the time was right,” til we had “enough money,” and all the typical excuses people say why they wait to have kids. But we weren’t going to wait anymore. Whether we had money or not, if Machine Head was signed or not, we weren’t going to plan anymore, however the cards fell we would make it work.
I told the guys in the band and while I think there was some apprehension and concern if I could still commit, most were congratulatory.
**Little did I realize that that would be the last wild, drunken, slobbery sex I had for years, AGH!!**
The record came out in Europe right as we began a European tour and seeing the success of the album was almost instantaneous. A lot of the labels that passed on us 6 months before had come back to us offering deals. Roadrunner U.S. was one of the labels. It was a real surprise and complete thorn all at the same time.
There was A LOT of arguing over whether we should sign with them again or not. Some people felt betrayed, others were more forgiving. Me personally? I felt that from the outside it looked like business as usual. Our “public” status was solid, with our decision we didn’t go down a notch, we didn’t go up a notch, and we held our ground.
So, in the end, for the second time in the bands career we decided to go with Monte Conner and Co. There were a lot of people at the company that had our backs, people that really believed in us and while there would always be challenges ahead, they grew up with us and us with them. It meant a lot to have people that had been with us our whole career on our side.
We are in fact the only band on that label to ever be released from our contract and taken back. However this time it was under a completely new and far fairer deal.
All the US labels we had been talking with knew full well that the record would have been out for 6 months before “their” version hit the stores wanted “bonus tracks” to add to the U.S. version of the album. Roadrunner was also of this mindset. So in January of 2004 I started putting together the main and verse-riff that Phil had started playing in Hamburg at sound check, with a kinda-Biohazard-y riff I had for a chorus, this complicated-slurry-riff I had for the middle, a really cool riff for a mellow breakdown, and then a heavy breakdown at the end.
Soon I had, what I felt was an interesting vocal hook for the mellow part in the middle. We got together an jammed it a few times and in February we went back to Sharkbite Studios with Mark Keaton to cut what would become “Seasons Wither.”
I banged my head up against a wall for a while about what to write the song about. The melodic middle section had taken on a Morrisey-esque tone, with a beautiful almost-pop melody with really fucked up lyrics, something which always intrigued me, how Morrisey worked in so cleverly. Inspired I wrote “We pray you die, we pray you suffocate, in pain you’ll writhe, this day we celebrate.”
One night during the middle of all this I had been talking with a friend of Genevra’s and she told me a horrifying story about how when she was 14 she was raped by 4 guys. When she told her mother, she didn’t believe her and called her a slut. She had fantasies of getting back at them, of killing them.
It was brutal and sickening.
So with that in my head, I sat down to write “Seasons Wither.” A rape-victim-revenge-fantasy, told thru a women’s eyes, (though it could have just as easily applied to what happened to me when I was a kid).
In many ways musically, this song would serve as a template for what came later with “The Blackening.” We were starting to write longer songs with more diverse arrangements, all-over-the-neck-riffs, and visceral lyrics.
“Through The Ashes of Empires,” the U.S. version was now ready to go with “Seasons Wither” inserted “into the album” rather than as an extra “bonus track”, becoming the new track 8.
We booked a U.S. headlining tour and RR US scheduled the album for 4-20-2004 release date (4-20 KID!!!!). Excitement was high and I took to the internet and let our fans know and folks were indeed stoked. I knew even before the record came out that the tides were beginning to change in the US. I’d go to Bay Area shows and run into people who had torrent-ed the record and dudes were like “HOLY SHIT DUDE, NEW ALBUM IS SICK!”
But not everyone in the US was stoked. The vast majority of the metal media of the time was obsessed with “name-your-stupid-band-that-everyone-has-forgotten-about.” In particular Revolver‘s editor was frankly a cock. Upon its release they gave “…Ashes” a smarmy review. Taking it one step further they also refused to give us even a small story and told us that, “they wouldn’t give us any coverage until we got 50,000 copies.” when we got to 50,000 copies they said, “get to 70,000 copies”… when we got to 70,000, they said “no thanks”. Almost every US and Canadian magazine slagged us off with the Canadian press in particular having a hard-on for us.
The record dropped in America on April 20th and it certainly wasn’t without it’s hiccups. Because we had been signed with Roadrunner so close to the release date, we missed all the magazine deadlines to place ads in, only one would appear before April 20th. The major video channels of the time, all accepted, then rejected the “Imperium” video. Word was apparently our censored version wasn’t censored enough, so they wouldn’t play it til we re-censored it again. Remember this was pre-YouTube, pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook, pre-everything.
But in the end word of mouth prevailed and at Philadelphia show on the “Weapons Of Mass Destruction Tour” we came in at #88 with 11,000 plus records sold. We beat out the “Supercharger” first week and tied our highest ever chart position with “The Burning Red.” Considering it was available for 8 months on the internet and 6 months via import, while hardly earth-shattering numbers, “Through The Ashes…” did damn respectable on the Billboard charts.
With our friends God Forbid and 36 Crazyfists in tow the “Weapons” tour did well, though surprisingly did draw about 25% less across the board than the “Supercharger” headline run, with a couple shows only drawing about 150 people.
5 albums deep, it was a tough pill to swallow.
The tour was fairly un-eventful except for the fact Phil and Dave were often too hungover to play well, and that Arch Enemy missed the first 2 shows, then showed up for the New England Metalfest, then dropped off the tour the next day. We got in to a public pissing-match with them and wrote a fairly hilarious parody press release about why they dropped off.
We hated each other for a few years but eventually squashed it, and in 2007 toured the whole world together. They’re great people.
Speaking of the New England Metalfest. Not all the metalheads of America were stoked about Machine Head in 2004. New England and Massachusetts at the time was the center of the then-wildly-popular “metalcore” movement. With bands like Shadow’s Fall and NE Metalfest headliner Killswitch Engage selling gangbusters at the time.
The promoter didn’t want Machine Head to play the fest. The only reason we were on the bill was because of Arch Enemy was on tour with us. He finally said we could play, but only if Arch Enemy was billed above us (we were closing all the dates on that run). His reluctancy gave way to a rant, finishing his rant with “and they’d better bring it!”
To say that we went in with a fairly hostile attitude would be understating it.
Unfortunately things deteriorated rapidly when our very-inexperienced-new-crew (unbeknownst to us) took almost a half hour to get us onstage. We played, and I can guarantee we “brought it,” but most folks were not interested. What we didn’t know is that our crew snafu getting us on stage 30 minutes late this affected the headliners. Killswitch Engage had to cut their set short by 30 minutes. We had no idea this was even a possibility. But when that was announced and apparently blamed on us, the entire Palladium crowd started a “FUCK MACHINE HEAD!” chant.
Boy, I caught an earful about it the next day.
We ended the tour in Hollywood with a sold-out House Of Blues show that was stunningly awesome, violent, and gloriously brutal. We had to stop our set several times for fights and at one point to save a fan that shattered his leg in the pit.
Once the US ”Weapons” tour wrapped up it was home for maybe 3 or 4 days and then off to Europe for festivals. It was a great run, though Adam was already sick of touring, and despite all evidence to the contrary, had convinced himself the band was making him go broke. That combined with a chaotic flight schedule resulting in no sleep, tensions ran high during this run.
But the highlight had to have been Download. Slayer was on the bill and the beef was already in full swing between Kerry and I and the Download folks figured they play that up to the hilt by pitting us right next to each other on the bill. Slayer’s bus broke down at the last minute and they wouldn’t arrive until the evening, so Slayer took Damageplan‘s place headlining the side stage. Machine Head moved up to the Slayer spot, and DP took our spot on the main stage, though not before valiantly trying to take Slayer‘s spot. They took our spot.
The hilarious part in all this is that Dimebag, ever the rager, had done the math, and realized “hey, I’m not playing til 9PM tonight.” So when they got on the 6 AM ferry boat over from Europe to the UK, he decided it was time to get wasted and he could sleep it off for 10 hours. Unfortunately for him, while passed out, the stage switch happened and he was rudely awoken a mere 3 hours later and told he had to get up and play.
As the Damageplan “bus” (more like airport van with bunks) pulled up, a fantastically HAGGARD Dimebag stumbled off with an equally haggard Vinnie Paul behind him and they were due to be onstage in 20 minutes. Dime took his lay of the festival dressing room world (where we were conveniently placed next to Slayer‘s room) saw me, and stumbled over and said, “hey brother, can I warm up on your Flying-V… and get a shot?” I howled with laughter! It was so fuckin’ classic! Me: “dude, of course, it would be my honor, hopefully you’ll leave a little of that “Dime Magic” on there for me.” He laughed.
We chatted for a while and he told me the story of his ill-planned drinking trip aboard the ferry. Because I let him warm up on my guitar he promised me that he’d send me another case of vodka (Dime used to buy cases of Ketel One vodka and randomly send them to my hotel rooms on days off; I’d open the door and a delivery guy would hand me a box of vodka with an often-hilarious note from Dime… fuckin’ guy). I told him he’d better not “waste the fuckin’ money sending me anymore fucking vodka, fucker!” We laughed and he went out and unsurprisingly killed Download with his one-two punch of over-the-top guitar pyrotechnics and larger-than-life presence. You’d never even know he felt like utter dogshit!
We hung for a little after our set but we had insanely early flights back home and had to leave. Of note: this was the show were Lars missed the Metallica show and Lombardo and Joey Jordinson filled in for Metallica. Dave was asked to rehearse with them, but it didn’t happen for some reason.
We arrived home on June 8th and my son’s arrival date was June 21st so we were cutting it close and I absolutely wanted to be there for his birth.
I thought a lot about Dimebag when I got home.
I thought about the 2 tours Pantera and Machine Head had done (Ozzfest 97 and the “Live 101” tour) and about his influence on me as a guitarist. From his playing to his devastating guitar tone, he’d left his mark on me. I realized that in all the years I’d known him I’d never let him know any of that. Maybe I was too insecure, or maybe I was just too busy playing it “cool”, but I had never told him how much he influenced me.
So the day after getting home, I wrote him an email and said “all of that” to him. I added that I was “too insecure” or “too cool” to say those words before, and that “I really wanted him to know these things.” I told him what a blast it was hanging with him all those years, and reminded him NOT to send me anymore vodka!
I ended the email by wishing him and Vinnie the best in their new band Damageplan.
I printed it up and “faxed it” to the London Astoria where Damageplan was doing their first headline show that night.
I still have the letter.
I’m glad I sent it.
I’m grateful he read it.
For the next 2 weeks Genevra and I waited for what seemed like an eternity… for our lives to change.”
Source: The PRP