In the works on one level or another since the second half of 2013, The Machine‘s fifth album arrives in the form of the 50-minute Offblast! via Elektrohasch Schallplatten, and marks a distinct turn for the band. The delay? A mix of technical trouble during mixing and personal life, and while that could easily mean the jam-prone Dutch trio have another batch of songs in the works to follow it up, Offblast! nonetheless resonates with a maturity that even 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here) or their 2013 split with likeminded countrymen Sungrazer (review here) couldn’t claim, their songwriting process proving more cohesive as they explore the roots of stoner and desert riffing on songs like “Dry End” or “Gamma” and keeping the instrumental chemistry that even their early work — 2007’s debut, Shadow of the Machine, 2009’s Solar Corona (on Nasoni) or their first for Elektrohasch, 2011’s 80-minute jamfest Drie (review here) — housed, the lead guitar work of David Eering (also vocals and recording) as much of a calling card as the band has amid the fleshed out roll and bounce provided by bassist Hans van Heemst — whose tone has always been The Machine‘s secret weapon and is most of all on Offblast! — and drummer Davy Boogaard, who shows himself again malleable to whatever the changes in the six included tracks might require of him, be it the quick stops early in “Off Course” or the jazzy ride work in the spacious midsection of “Chrysalis (J.A.M.),” the sprawling, 16:25 opener that acts as the record’s immersive and in some ways defining statement.
With six tracks, it would just about have to be the longest of the bunch, and it is (immediate points to them for starting with their longest cut), living up to its spelled-out parenthetical with a breadth to match its runtime, shifting between its raucous first half and more swinging second fluidly, launching its later movement with a quiet break with some choice, naturally-toned wah from Eering. His affinity for Hendrix shows itself early and often on Offblast! as it has throughout The Machine‘s five LPs, but the influence seems more like an afterthought to the band’s identity here than it ever has. By the time “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” is over, one feels as though they’ve listened to an entire album, and in a way, it’s true, but that’s only the beginning of the tale, and before the Rotterdam natives bookend their latest with the similarly-directed but noisier-finishing 12-minute closer “Come to Light” (the name of the song submitted by yours truly), they dance with sandy demons on “Dry End,” “Coda Sun,” “Gamma” and “Off Course,” which don’t add up to the two extended pieces time-wise, but still provide some of Offblast!‘s most lasting impressions in their hooks, fuzzy drive, and flourishes like sitar in “Dry End” and Boogaard‘s snare work in “Coda Sun” — not to mention vocals, which neither the opener nor the closer has. It’s not so outlandish a scope for a band to have, with two bigger jams and more straightforward material to complement each other, but it’s much to The Machine‘s credit in how they’ve structured the album that it not only flows front-to-back, but is so hypnotic at the start and still so memorable by the end. If you’re looking for evidence of the band’s maturity, it’s right there.
“Dry End” (3:06) and the winding “Coda Sun” (5:34), Eering‘s vocals compressed and watery for use as another element in the psychedelic overtones, are met by “Gamma” and “Off Course,” both over six minutes, and while one comes to feel by the end of the latter that The Machine are setting the listener up for a return to heady reaches in “Come to Light” — and they are, make no mistake — both retain a distinctive feel. “Gamma” is marked out by van Heemst‘s bassline, which emerges in the second half of the song and seems to pay direct homage to Queens of the Stone Age‘s “You Can’t Quit Me Baby” from their 1998 self-titled. That album makes a solid comparison point for the tonal impression of Offblast! overall, as it happens, so the feel is purposeful and The Machine take the familiar line and work in layers of guitar building in volume en route back to a last measure of the chorus. While it has a longer solo from Eering, “Off Course” follows a similar structure, but its vibe carries some of the punkish undertone the band held aloft on their 2013 split thanks to the sharp starts and stops and an added layer in the chorus either of piano or keys (or something that sounds like them) deep in the mix, giving further urgency to the already forward progression. And when they get there, “Come to Light” is a more gradual unfolding than was “Chrysalis (J.A.M.),” but the end result carries no less vitality, the dynamic between Eering, van Heemst and Boogaard writ large over its organic and laid back but still engaging course. Perhaps most satisfying of all is that while it works on varying levels between its songcraft and its jams, Offblast! comes across with no lack of cohesion or choppy shifts. As “Come to Light” inevitably descends to effects noise and feedback to end the album, it seems to do little more than highlight the level of execution that The Machine have brought to their fifth outing and the satisfying path down which their development has led them and those who’ve been fortunate enough to follow along the way. If you’ll pardon the cliché, it was worth the wait.