Retro-spective Review: Damn the Machine – Self Titled

Damn the Machine // Damn the Machine
Websites: Nope!
Released : 1993 via A&M Records

Here’s another overlooked and underrated gem for those of you searching for new (but old) listening material of high quality. Damn the Machine was the creation of original Megadeth guitar-wiz Chris Poland following his dismissal from Camp Mustaine. Though they only managed to release this self-titled opus, the quality is such that most listeners will ardently wish they’d been more prolific. Forsaking his Megadeth-era roots, Poland steered DTM into thoughtful, progressive metal waters with hints of jazz-fusion sprinkled (sparingly) throughout. He was also wise enough to surround himself with some seriously talented musicians (including his brother Mark on drums) and the result is nothing short of phenomenal. Not overly fast nor crushingly heavy, it successfully walks a fine line between balls and brains and echoes such better known acts as Queensryche, latter day Fates Warning, Black Album-era Metallica and even Kings X.

Lead track and album single “The Mission” encapsulates what’s so interesting about the DTM sound. Its energetic and almost thrashy but so melodic and accessible it makes you do a double-take. Its also enjoyably technical as they effortlessly vault from linear playing to techy jamming, fusion and back into the main compositional structure in a flash. Poland flexes his chops, as does fellow axeman Dave Clemmons and bassist David Randi but the songs are songs, not wank-fests. On top of the rich, techy goodness, Clemmons’s vocals are unique, unusual and great (though he can be an acquired taste for some). Together, they created a sound all their own. Standouts are legion but those worth particular mention include the poignant and melancholy “Fall of Order” (where the vocals really shine),  the epic and mammoth “Lonesome God” (which has a chorus you may never forget),  and my personal favorite, the showstopping “Russians” with its endlessly addicting bass/quasi-Spanish guitar trilling (and Clemmons’s impassioned delivery). Every song is masterful and memorable and what’s more, the album hangs together so well as a whole, you almost have to let it play through. Until the new release by Voyager, no other album even came close to rivaling the feeling of cohesion and oneness this has.

Since this is Chris Poland’s baby, you know there will be plenty of interesting guitar pyrotechnics. However, this isn’t an album of hundred-mile-an-hour, string burning solos. Its far more restrained and tasteful. The solos  are always impressive to be sure, but there’s a real sense of quiet dignity and decorum that you won’t hear on many “metal” albums. They play for feel and mood, never for fury or intensity and man, it really works well. Check out the languid playing on “Silence” and see what I mean (especially at :52). Besides the great guitar-work, David Randi’s bass is all over the place and you can hear every little nuance to his playing. The man can really slappa the bass, mon! This is one tight crew and the more you hear, the more you’ll curse the Metal Gods that there’s but one album showcasing their abilities.

Perhaps nothing is as frustrating as unrealized potential and this sole release by a mega-talented band stands as a stark monument to what could have been. File this under “Thoughtful and Restrained Metal” and then track this platter down as if your life depends on it. If you do, I think you’ll join me in feeling grateful for what we got but always wishing there was just a little bit more of it. Damn the machine for not giving us more Damn the Machine! Yeah, it’s that good.

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