Album: Feed the Machine
Genre: Hard rock / heavy metal
Links: Facebook, Twitter, official website, record label
I reviewed “Here and Now” as an edgelord high school neckbeard. A few years later, I reviewed “No Fixed Address” as a chubbier but (thankfully) well-shaven college student. Now, in my final form as a world-renowned music critic, I find myself reviewing “Feed the Machine,” Nickelback’s ninth full-length record.
Basically, Nickelback has always been there for me. But not just me! The Canadian rockers are like the Kardashians: An indestructible and timeless cultural monolith that has carved a commanding place in pop culture despite endless criticism and mockery.
Look, what I’m trying to say is, Nickelback is an icon. The band may be a lowbrow, cliche-ridden illustration of everything that is wrong with commercialized rock music, but they absolutely nail their brand like no other. You know it’s true, even if you’re too ironic or “smart” to admit it. Seriously, I bet that every other person that ridicules this band could recite the lyrics to “Rockstar” with near-perfect accuracy.
Hot take. Anyway, I don’t think many people will be reciting the lyrics to “Feed the Machine.” There’s no giant hooks or massive choruses that made “How You Remind Me” or “Savin’ Me” the megahits that they are. Breezy pacing and otherwise radio-friendly vibes are actually fairly scarce here. Instead, Nickelback has shed much of its country and pop undertones to refocus on its harder heavy metal and arena rock core.
This should not surprise long time Nickelback fans (Nickelbackers?!). The band has been steadily moving into heavier territory since 2008’s “Dark Horse,” and “Feed the Machine” absolutely sounds like the completion of that transition. What is surprising is that while “Feed the Machine’s” direct hard rocking style is definitely to its benefit, the record still maintains the accessibility and basic harmonies that initially propelled the band to stardom.
“Feed the Machine’s” title track opener and lead single is perhaps the most appropriate example of this. Chunky guitars chug-a-chug nicely alongside frontman Chad Kroeger’s gruff singing, which both offer enough bite to keep the listener’s attention beyond what is expected from typical commercial rock. Despite this, there’s still more than enough melody and simple choruses to appeal to fans of the band’s historically straightforward work.
Second single “Song on Fire,” is a comparably traditional Nickelback offering but still benefits from the record’s emphasis on livelier material. A made-for-radio power ballad, the song features plenty of clean guitar licks that pair well with Kroeger’s laid back singing. Of course, it’s still obnoxiously uninspired and is essentially a carbon copy of Nickelback’s other tepid radio hits—though Kroeger repeatedly insists he could “set this song on fire,” the ignition never comes—fans of this kind of mainstream rock will nonetheless appreciate the tight tempo and polished riffing.
“Every Time We’re Together” enjoys similar strengths and is arguably the best song here. It’s surprising that this one wasn’t given the pre-release single or music video treatment, as it offers the record’s strongest melodies and a particularly solid beat. A lack of big vocal highlights or “emotional” lyrics will likely bar the track from attaining “Someday” or “If Everyone Cared” levels of popularity, but the pleasing catchiness makes it one of the band’s more memorable pieces in recent years.
Although these bits are the likeliest to keep listeners coming back and bear the closest resemblance to the band’s most popular numbers, they’re still the outliers. Excluding the obvious radio bait, “Feed the Machine” is Nickelback at its roughest, scruffiest and heaviest since the band’s early grunge days.
This is apparent throughout the record and is most evident in several of its briefer tracks, such as “Bound Sphinx” and “Digital Prison.” The overall pace is blistering and the music is as heavy as it gets, but said songs are given ample opportunity to breathe and feature subtle sections of harsh noise, slower sludgy passages and even brief drone-esque walls of noise. And that’s just in two songs that run for as many minutes.
Hey! Are you even reading this? That last paragraph was taken from my review of Full of Hell’s “Trumpeting Ecstasy.” Christ, dude, those songs aren’t even on this record! Did references to sludge and drone metal not even raise a single red flag? I’m an acclaimed Internet blogger™, pay some goddamn attention.
Anyway, there is a fair bit of noise here, and not the good kind. Aside from the title track and “The Betrayal (Act III),” which mystifyingly comes before “The Betrayal (Act I)” and…wait a minute. There’s no Act II? And “Act I” is a bland instrumental that closes the record?! Hey, Nickelback, nobody in your core audience gives a shit about instrumental music. Knock it off.
We’re getting off topic. Aside from the title track, “Coin for the Ferryman” and “The Betrayal (Act III),” which all boast enough just enough suitable riffing and energetic singing to mildly entertain, much of the heavy material that constitutes much of the record is painfully generic filler.
While the brisk pace and mix of heaviness and melody is certain to appeal to the band’s legion of followers, there’s precious little that stands up to any sort of analysis. “Must Be Nice,” “For the River” and practically every other song I’ve yet to mention feature the same interchangeable riffs and grating vocals. Discounting the song titles and lyrics, you’d be hard pressed to tell anything else apart.
Granted, none of this will be an issue for Nickelback enthusiasts. “Silent Majority’s” cringeworthy rebel yell lyrics are especially insipid, but other than that and the aforementioned instrumental closer, nothing is so egregiously terrible to turn fans off. Indeed, outside of “Silent Majority” and some ill-advised references to Humpty Dumpty and other fairy tales in “Must Be Nice,” critics won’t even find much lyrical content to deride here.
I doubt that any of “Feed the Machine’s” material will enjoy the breakout fame of the band’s most notable hits, but there’s also nothing here that falls noticeably below expectations. Make no mistake: This is still shamelessly commercialized garbage that panders to rock music’s lowest common denominator, but it does so with gusto. And as far as shamelessly commercialized garbage goes, it’s pretty consistently above average. Fans will love this. For everyone else, as you were.