Just over five years ago on December 8th, 2004, Pantera / Damageplan guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Lance Abbott was shot and murdered onstage during a Damageplan performance at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. Passing away at the early age of thirty-eight, "Dimebag" arguably cemented his legacy nonetheless. Since his death, many musicians from the world of metal have openly cited the guitarist as an influence, and have discussed that influence at length. Even five years on, the metal media continues to commission articles on various aspects of "Dimebag"'s career, with each presenting their own respective tributes, not to mention various groups clamouring to cover Pantera cuts. At the time of writing, the metal media show no signs of ending "Dimebag" related article commissions.
To contribute to a "Dimebag" Darrell tribute album mounted on the cover of Metal Hammer magazine's two-hundredth issue, Machine Head cut a studio rendition of Pantera's "Fucking Hostile" (the original version of which appeared on 1992's "Vulgar Display of Power"). Besides Machine Head, the tribute album includes appearances by: Zakk Wylde, Malefice, Avenged Sevenfold, Evile, Five Finger Death Punch, Biohazard, Sylosis, Chimaira, Unearth, Throwdown, Kiuas, and This Is Hell. Previously, Machine Head's Robb Flynn had written "Aesthetics Of Hate", prompted to do so by an article entitled "Aesthetics Of Hate: R.I.P. Dimebag Abbott, & Good Riddance". The article was penned by William Grim and praised the murder of the late Pantera / Damageplan guitarist, much to the fury of Flynn who composed the track as a form of retaliation. At the 50th Grammy Awards, "Aesthetics Of Hate" received a nomination for Best Metal Performance.
From late January until early March 2010, Machine Head will tour as part of the European "The Black Procession" package alongside Hatebreed, Bleeding Through, and All Shall Perish. The package will venture through countries such as France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Once the touring cycle for March 2007's "The Blackening" concludes, Machine Head will focus on writing material for the group's planned seventh studio full length.
On December 1st at 21:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Machine Head co-lead guitarist Phil Demmel. Discussing the influence of the late Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell, the act were due to perform that night in San Antonio, Texas at the Sunken Garden Ampitheatre.
Phil Demmel: What's happening?
UG: How are you Phil?
Good. How's it going?
Yeah, it's going ok. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Yeah, let's do it.
Machine Head recorded a version of Pantera's "Fucking Hostile" for a "Dimebag" Darrell tribute album, to be included with Metal Hammer magazine's two hundredth issue. Why did the group choose that specific track to cover for the Dimebag tribute album?
There's two albums we wanted to choose from: 'Far Beyond Driven' (1994) with "Five Minutes Alone", or... We decided to go with "Fucking Hostile" because the song sums up where we were at that time - it's really fast, and really aggressive.
Musically speaking, how would you compare Machine Head's version of "Fucking Hostile" to the original rendition?
Ours is downtuned, so it's a step and a half lower. We recorded "Fucking Hostile in C# to see if Robb could sing in that key. We patterned ours after the '101 Proof' (1997) version, so there's some picking differences. The solo is patterned after the solo that "Dime" did on the live version, but other than that, we tried to keep our rendition as close to what they did. When we do cover songs, we try to do that; we try to play them note for note like the originals.
How much of an influence is "Dimebag" Darrell on your guitar playing?
He's a huge influence. He's the most influential heavy metal guitarist that there was. He created sounds and styles that hadn't been done before. I mean, yeah, he patterned a lot after Eddie Van Halen, but Eddie Van Halen was a rock guitarist. "Dime" brought it into the metal world, so he was a huge influence.
Is there anything specific about "Dimebag"'s guitar playing that you incorporated into your own?
Yeah. Some of the things that he did with the tremolo, a lot of the harmonic dive bombs, and things like that. Some of the picking. I've definitely taken some time learning some of his leads, and that's rubbed off into my own playing for sure.
Were you lucky enough to ever meet the man himself?
Yeah. In 2004, actually, roughly pretty much before he was killed. We did the Download Festival, and were playing the Main Stage. Slayer was late for some reason. Damageplan had pulled up, and they had been up for a couple of days. "Dime" was pretty hammered - this was right after 'Through the Ashes of Empires' had come out. He came up to me, and just praised my playing on the guitar. He called me a shredder, and said he thought the leads on our album were great, and that I was such a good player. Coming from "Dime", it was just one of the compliments that I'll always remember. It was really cool.
Machine Head performed at Sonisphere Festival in Knebworth, England in August 2009. What was that like? Performing there?
(Laughs) It was a crazy day. We had headlined Wacken the day before, and there was a lot of speculation. We had problems with the promoters about the slot, and it bloomed into this whole Limp Bizkit beef - it was weird. We played Wacken, and the promoters booked us a private plane to take us from there straight over to Knebworth House. We played in front of a big crowd there, so there was this big test, us playing before Limp Bizkit. It was a little hostile backstage, which made for a very interesting couple of days. But the show itself.. if you piss Machine Head off, then we're definitely gonna bring it to a live show, and it definitely shows. We're a band that wears our emotions on our sleeves, so it was probably one of the most emotional shows that we've played.
Did the Limp Bizkit ordeal sour the event somewhat?
I don't think so. From what I understand, tickets weren't selling as well as they wanted, so the promoters needed a spark to it, and they definitely got the spark they wanted. The promoters got what they wanted (laughs). The Limp Bizkit fans got to see them play, and the Machine Head fans got to see us play. That's what's important, ya know? We didn't miss or pull the gig - we knew that we couldn't do that to the fans. That's the reason why we were there, and that's the only reason. Sometimes business gets mixed up, but in the end, I'm glad that we came back.
Can Machine Head see itself performing at future Sonisphere events in the United Kingdom?
Yeah, I think so. The promoters came clean, and they apologized to us, so we came and played the show. I think they'll probably be much more guarded the next time, though we're willing to come again, for sure.
And is there still hostility between Machine Head and Limp Bizkit at all?
(Laughs) For me personally, there never was any between us and Limp Bizkit. It was always about the promoters, the promoters messing up. I talked to Fred (Durst, vocals) and Wes (Borland, guitars), and Sam (Rivers) the bassist - they were staying at a hotel the day after. Wes walked up to me and introduced himself, and said "Look man - I don't how this got all crazy". I said "Me neither man - this was never about you guys". I'm not a fan of the band in any sense, but it was never about them. Fred maintains he's a huge Machine Head fan and always has been, but he can't name a single song that we play, so I might challenge that, but that's about it (laughs).
(Laughs) Ok. Unfortunately, you suffer from a heart condition called neurocardiogenic syncope. Could you talk me through what that condition entails, and how that condition affects you?
I had my first episode about twenty years ago, and what it is is you have a vagus nerve on your heart, and that communicates with your brain. The nerve controls the flow of blood, and your brain tells it how much to flow. I have this condition sometimes where it misfires. I suffer from depression, and the last couple of years have been hard on me emotionally, which translates into the physical condition. A lot of stress that I've been under, and a lot of depression that I've been suffering from, affects these episodes. Over the course of the past couple of years, it's been happening quite a bit.
Does cardiogenic syncope affect your ability to tour, or anything of that nature?
No. I'm able to tour, but I might pass out sometimes (laughs). I've been trying to ease off the drinking, to knock that down quite a bit. Other than taking things easy, nothing else is gonna help.
"He's a huge influence. He's the most influential heavy metal guitarist that there was. He created sounds and styles that hadn't been done before."
After touring next year, Machine Head plans to record its seventh studio album. Has anything been written thus far?
No. We wrap up our touring commitments in March, and that'll make 'The Blackening' pretty much a three-year touring cycle. We've started writing a little bit, but not really. Dave brought a few riffs to the table, and Robb has a few. I've had a couple, Adam brought a couple.
So there are just riffs and parts at present then?
There's no songs or nothing yet, yeah. We're not a writing band as such. We just lock ourselves up in a room, and hash it out that way. It could be awhile before you get another Machine Head record.
How would you compare these riffs to those on 'The Blackening'? Are they heavier, or in the same vein?
From the stuff that we've written, some of it could've been on 'The Blackening', and some of it couldn't have. The thing about being involved in the band's writing process for the last album and a half is that I could pick out a song like "All Falls Down" or "Wipe the Tears", songs from 'Ashes', and then compare them to "In the Presence of My Enemies" or "Imperium", and you can tell the state of mind that the band was in at the time. You can then go from "Slanderous", which was one of the first songs written for 'The Blackening', to "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" or "A Farewell to Arms", and there's a difference in what our state of mind was at that time. It's gonna be where we are. We're in a state of euphoria. Those albums were written when the band was at a pretty low point. We're riding this nice wave of success now, so I'm just hoping that we remember the hunger, remember the starvation, that we had at that point. We didn't have a deal - we didn't have a record label. All of that justification that we were striving for we have now, so we wanna remember the fire that we had.
Is there any pressure at all, considering the success of 'The Blackening'?
An extreme pressure man, yeah (laughs). There's a lot, but it's the same that we felt with 'Ashes' too though. After we came out with 'Ashes', and it was reviewed so well and held in high praise, we felt "Fuck man, we got a hell of an album to follow up". I said after 'Ashes' "The next album is gonna be the one", and I'm saying it again: the next record is gonna be our best record. We haven't hit our writing peak. Dave McClain is bringing a ton of stuff - he wrote "Halo". He wrote some of the best riffs on 'The Blackening'. Dave is the unsung hero of that record. Adam's taking lessons, and he's really learning his instrument, really getting into it. With the four of us all just really pouring ideas in, this is gonna be the most complete record.
Has the extensive touring for 'The Blackening' spawned musical ideas for each of the guys? Inspired Machine Head a lot for the group's seventh album?
Yeah, I think so. The formula worked on the last two records, because we just wrote for ourselves. Screw the radio play, screw the labels, and screw everybody else - let's write songs that we enjoy to hear. As long as we adhere to that formula, which we did for 'The Blackening', we know that we'll be alright, and at the end of the day, we'll be ok with ourselves. That's all that matters. It'd be different if we just wrote with a different agenda, and it failed, and we thought "Wow, fuck (laughs). We can't even look at ourselves in the mirror".
Do you feel that Machine Head is now more of a priority for Roadrunner Records, considering the success of 'The Blackening'?
I would like to think so, yeah. We're pretty deep into this touring cycle.. I think so. I think there's people at the label who really believe in the band, and really hold us in high regard. Shit, ya know? If you look at where Machine Head started to where we are now, and how many bands that've come and gone.. we just went silver in the UK - 'The Blackening' did. Fifteen years later, after their first record with 'Burn My Eyes', we're more relevant now than they were back in the day. That's a real testament to the band, and to the people that work for it.
In light of Machine Head's style of music, do you feel that 'The Blackening''s silver certification in the United Kingdom is even more of a success?
Yeah, I think so. I think it's huge, but the UK is where we do the best - they love us. Playing extreme music, and doing that well, is a huge testament.
And as well, Machine Head will return to the UK in 2010.
Yeah. 'The Black Procession Tour' is coming to the UK in February with Hatebreed, and Bleeding Through, and All Shall Perish. We're putting on six to seven shows in the UK, and a couple in Ireland too. So yeah, I'm looking forward to that. We're so deep into our cycle, but we didn't do a proper headlining tour there. That's how high a regard we hold for the UK - that we wanted to give them a good headlining tour, a full set with us.
Once 'The Black Procession Tour' is complete, will there be any more Machine Head shows in 2010, or will there not be?
After we tour the UK and Europe, then we go to Japan and Australia, and that'll probably be the last.
Has Machine Head chosen a producer for its seventh studio album?
No. Robb produced the last two records, and we're really so comfortable with him doing that, and then finding an engineer. We don't know where we're gonna record it or who's gonna engineer, but Robb's gonna produce again, I'm pretty sure. Robb knows the Machine Head sound better than anybody; he knows the tones, and he knows the structure of what it should sound like. We trust him with that. He's got such a good musical ear, and such a good phrasing, that we all lean on heavily. We were kinda hesitant when we did 'Through the Ashes of Empires', and by default didn't really find anyone available, so Robb took over and it worked out really well. We're not gonna break that.
"Sometimes business gets mixed up, but in the end, I'm glad that we came back."
And of course, Robb likely gets better with every album through experience.
Yeah. The more he learns about recording and about mikes, about tones and so on.. He's been really keeping up on our guitar tones - I leave it up to him because I trust him so much.
Would you say that 2011 is a likely release date for Machine Head's seventh studio album?
Yeah, probably late. We're probably gonna take all of 2010 to write, and maybe record in early 2011. It'll take a year and a half for sure man. We need to make it right. When we're done writing, we'll know it. We're not gonna put a time on it - we're just gonna let it happen.
Finally, how do you hope Machine Head's seventh studio album will capitalize on the success of 'The Blackening'?
Each record is setting up for the next. We're laying the groundwork for the next one - we did so many support tours for this record to set up for headlining tours for the next one. Everything's set up. Like I said, we write according to our mood, to our state of mind, so we'll see. The success did nothing but good for the next one.
Do you have a message for the fans of Machine Head?
The fans are an integral part of Machine Head. We're a very fan friendly band, because in great part, they are the reason why we're still here. We were unsigned, and we were at a very low point. A lot of fans wrote in talking to Robb, Adam and Dave, saying "Look, you guys can't stop. You need to keep going", and it was on such a level. It might not have been developing album sales or whatever, but they felt that the fans were there. The Machine Head fans are lunatics (laughs). They're so dedicated to the band, and believe in us so much. They are the reason why we're still around, so we owe everything everything - to our fans.
Ok. Thank you very much for the interview Phil.
Alright, take care. Thank you very much. Bye.
All the best. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
"We're not a writing band as such. We just lock ourselves up in a room, and hash it out that way."