The spoken word passage at the start of this album’s first song, ‘Dream Machine’, begins “because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well”. It’s fitting because this was the first of only two LPs that The God Machine ever made, bassist Jimmy Fernandez dying suddenly of a brain haemorrhage shortly before the release of their second, the suitably named One Last Laugh in A Place of Dying. The two remaining members went their separate ways after that. This short-lived and underrated band are little known today, yet made some of the best heavy music of the early 90s.
The overwhelming atmosphere of this album is of loss, sadness, introspection and rage. At their heaviest the guitars are driving, cyclical and mesmeric, placing the listener in a trance. At its quietest the songs are full of lament, but it can all turn in a heartbeat.
‘The Blind Man’ starts with a slowly plucked acoustic guitar with shimmering symbols and hushed vocals. It builds. “Have you ever seen something beautiful and know that it will eventually die?” asks the lyric, as the riff becomes plaintive; “I’m tired of waiting”… and then it just explodes. The drums pound, the guitar crashes in, the song moves forward like a wave.
‘The Desert Song’ sounds far off, dreamy, with voices in the distance, some spoken, some sung. The bass and cleanly picked guitar notes carry the song forward. The song has no beginning, middle or end: the rhythm is everything. After the respite of quiet ballad ‘It’s All Over’ the most metal song on the album – instrumental ‘Temptation’ – kicks in with dirty guitar and bass riff, furious and heavy, reminding you that despite quiet moments of sorrow there is anger too.
The following track, ‘Out’, is like the sun coming out after the thunderstorm of the previous song, fresh and soothing, but halfway through the sky darkens again. The singer screams ‘Let me out’ repeatedly, the riffs drive, and the hypnotic pressure of this album builds once more.
To call this album metal (which my music software says it is) restricts its breadth. It’s incredibly, wonderfully heavy, with the musical heaviness compounded by the brooding atmosphere and intensity of the lyrics. It leaves the listener dazed. It’s heavy like Swans or Neurosis are heavy, as a tool but not a guiding light. It has more in common with the likes of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’, with its intelligent lyrics and wig-out riffs, than a Machine Head record.
An essential album from a band with an all-too-short career.