Inside Robb Flynn’s Love for Brutal Anime Show ‘Attack on Titan’ + Machine Head’s New Concept Album
Machine Head have been at it for more than 30 years now. After several 'An Evening With' tours, which finds the band, led by guitarist/vocalist Robb Flynn, performing two sets each night and after dominating the world's biggest stages, what could be left to achieve?
The Oakland heavy metal force helped shape heavy metal’s truly metallic and gritty leanings. Now on their 10th record, Of Kingdom and Crown, Flynn is doing one thing he hasn’t done yet: write a concept record.
It’s heavy as all hell, opening with an insanely intricate 10 minute barn-burner “Slaughter the Martyr,” and it connects the band’s history with what’s happening currently in heavy music. Maybe the most surprising thing about it, though, is that the album inspired by anime, namely the ultra-violent Attack on Titan. Filled with gigantic creatures, Game of Thrones-like politicking and betrayal, plus more stabbings and decapitations than brutal death metal albums, it makes total sense as an inspiration point for a metal record.
So, we spoke to Flynn about how he got into Attack on Titan, how being heavy into anime transitioned him into getting into metal, explaining concept records to friends and more. Read a snippet of the interview below or listen to the entire conversation.
'Why Do People Like Anime' is a podcast hosted by John Hill and Julie Hill about anime from the perspective of two novices who didn’t know much about it at the start. Each week, the pair tackles a show or film and discusses from a mostly blind perspective. This episode, they spoke to Machine Head’s Robb Flynn about 'Attack on Titan.' Subscribe to the podcast here.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
JULIE: I'm fascinated by you saying your sons got you into Attack on Titan? Is that right?
JULIE: And was this the first anime that you watched?
ROBB: No, I was a total anime nerd when I was a teenager. Like, I started out as a super Star Wars nerd, collecting all the action figures. I had the Death Star, I had the Millennium Falcon. I saw the movie a gajillion times, I had the laser disc that had "Han Solo shot first." I was crazy about it.
As I got older, I got into anime. I got into like the kind of first era of anime — Akira, Macross, Robotech, Space Battleship Yamato... stuff like that.
Then I became a metal nerd. I had a buddy who was a tape trader and we had all the bootlegs, all the demos, B-sides and imports from all over the world. That was kind of my transition out of [anime into metal] and very much a collector's mentality. When we started getting into the metal shit I had Reign in Blood from Slayer three months before the record came out. It still had the hi-hat count at the beginning of every song. I had Bonded by Blood by Exodus six months in advance. So that kind of stuff just made it feel like you were part of this cool thing. That's what it was for metal.
[Robb fasts forward in time to more recent years]
My kids have never cared two shits about anime whatsoever, but then the pandemic hits and they both get crazy about it. I'm sitting there and I start watching some of it with them — some of it's brutal and it's just weird and psychedelic. I was like, "Dude, this shit is sick! Let's watch this together. I'm totally down." So we start — there's the four of us on our family couch watching anime on the big screen.
The way that it tied into the record for me was that I had wanted to make a concept record. I had been in the process of writing this concept. Originally it revolved around two characters, and it was a very American story arc — good guy, bad guy.
The thing that kind of opened my mind at when I was watching Attack on Titan was that both sides in that story believe that they're doing good, but they're both committing evil and atrocities. Once I started wrapping my head around the concept that was going on in Attack On Titan, I was like, "Oh, shit, I can do that to this concept that I'm writing and I don't need to have this good guy bad guy thing now."
Attack on Titan Explained in 10 Minutes
JOHN: Attack on Titan specifically is so stark and different looking than most other anime. The sheer violence of it kind of grabs you immediately. We were watching a couple episodes last night. Just the whole design of like the Titan itself, just this giant, skinless corpse human...
JULIE: They're super ugly.
ROBB: So fucking weird. It's just such a fucking weird show, and I love that. I used to do a lot of acid, so I was like, "Whoa, this shit is crazy." [Laughs]
JOHN: Yeah, and obviously there's American science fiction, and a great history of that, but I feel like a lot of aspects of the show... there isn't necessarily like an analogue of that. The Titans look nothing like anything I've ever seen in any other media really recently. Then you've got this huge almost European-like city, but sort of filtered through a Japanese perspective.
ROBB: Totally. Yeah.
JULIE: I think what's true of Attack on Titan and your album is that they're both huge concepts of war and fear. How do you like tackle these giant things? A concept album like this is kind of perfect for right now, because the world is so, so fucked, right? We all want to go on a rampage.
ROBB: Absolutely. When I started telling people that I wrote a concept, and they're like [mocking tone], "Oh a concept," and I'm like, "I'm still the guy who wrote the concepts — it's not too highfalutin here." [Laughs]
Machine Head, "Choke on the Ashes of Your Hate"
Character number one is Ares, and he loses the love of his life, Amethyst, and goes on a murderous rampage against the perpetrators who murdered her. Then there's character number two who is Eros who loses his mother to a drug overdose. And in his depression, downward spiral, he becomes radicalized by this charismatic leader and goes on his own murderous rampage, and he is the perpetrator who murdered Amethyst. So it's about how their lives intertwine.
I've written nine albums through my lens, the way I see the world, how I view society and experiences that have happened to me. But now, I'm writing this story through this character's eyes, and then I've been able to step into the other character and the polar opposite — it was such a fucking trip to write like this.
Once I was able to get my head around it, it was really cool. At the same time, I couldn't just make it be a story of just me reading lines. I had to connect to it on this emotional level with the things that I've experienced in my life. It really became about murder and love.
I've never really written about love in my songs before. Machine Head is not a band that writes about love — we write about rage and death and anger and depression. Those are the the four go-to topics. To write from this place of this person who lost the love of his life was just, it was crazy. That's the thing that I ended up connecting with.