THE END MACHINE – The Quantum Phase

The End Machine’s second album, 2021’s ‘Phase 2’ presented some great hard rock sounds. It found the sometime Dokken men George Lynch (guitar) and Jeff Pilson (bass) very much working within their musical comfort zone, but with that, came a great strength. Aided by brilliant Robert Mason on vocals, the band often sounded like a rock powerhouse, despite playing very safely. It would be fair to say that, in hard rock terms, fans of those three musicians got exactly what they wanted.

Musically, ‘The Quantum Phase’ is just as strong, but begins a new era for the band. Regrettably, Mason has moved on to other projects. In his place comes Girish Pradhan, a rising talent who has already made his mark by working with Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra and contributing to 2022’s excellent Michael Bolton tribute disc ‘Steel Bars’. Since he’s known to some melodic rock fans and possesses one of those huge voices that – like Ronnie Romero – can handle a broad range of rock styles with ease, he’s potentially a good fit for the band.

Kicking off with something suitably dark, ‘Black Hole Extinction’ opens with Lynch sharing some rather deep chugging guitar chords against an ominous rhythm whilst sampled voices warn of “the dark turn of technology” and “the ashes of dissolution”. With a massive scream, Pradhan announces his arrival to the band in a massively unsubtle way, before steering a heavy verse with a voice that sounds like a glam-infused Paul Sabu. It’s anything but subtle, but with Pilson punching through the bombast, it shares a great bottom end sound, and there’s a feeling that something stronger will emerge from the noise. And sure enough, a huge chorus with an easy hook, some great call and response vocals and the kind of force an on-form Dokken could muster, the musical gold shines through. A few of the vocals are still a little too much on the screamy side, but with the aid of some impressive bass fills and George stepping forth with a massive 80s sounding solo, the good here vastly outweighs the bad. ‘Silent Winter’ is a big improvement all round, since its thundering rhythms work drummer Steve Brown in the best possible way, and his snare pierces through the equally massive guitar sounds throughout. The riffs come hard and fast, but Lynch’s peerless approach ensures the heaviness comes with a great variety. His featured solo is peppered with bluesy sweeps, giving the metallic approach a very melodic edge, and switching between a heavy chug and a massive sounding hard rock tone elsewhere, he gives Girish plenty to work with. The lesser known vocalist is more than up to the job here. His voice moves between a gruff melodic metal presence to classic metal screaming when appropriate, and given the speed of the track, his performance is flawless. He starts everything at somewhere near full pelt and never lets up, but he never hints at a man pushing his voice for those extremes. In terms of classic metal, this is great; often sounding like Dokken in much bigger boots crossed with a Euro power metal band with a massively melodic heart, it’s great to hear the veteran musicians really cutting loose.

Keeping the speed but dialling back the heaviness, ‘Hell Or High Water’ opens with a riff that’s loosely inspired by the Joe Lynn Turner era of Rainbow and comes with a suitably rousing chorus. Musically, the tone is quite different to the album’s metallic opening couplet with Lynch adopting a much thinner, almost blues rock tone, but there’s just as much energy within his playing. By the time his featured solos materialise, though, its business as usual with a rather busy approach where a metallic feel is lifted by a world of string-bending tricks and a little bit more of a shred. A few of the lyrics err on the side of being rock clichés (“never surrender” and “do or die” are pulled straight from an early 80s Biff Byford phrase book, and lines like “ready to rock, ready to roll” just play like embarrassing old tat), but the music here is so on point, stylistically speaking, that the lyrics are of lesser importance. It’s the kind of high octane rock that probably shouldn’t be so closely analysed, of course, and it’s hard to find fault with Giresh’s commitment to the material in hand, or Lynch’s guitar work.

On the more melodic side, ‘Shattered Glass Heart’ works a great mid tempo, which allows Brown to drive everything with a massive punch, and for Lynch to explore a few lighter tones. Of all the tracks here, the hard rock approach comes closest to something that would’ve really suited the absent Mason, and with a massive 80s heart that owes a debt to earlier Lynch Mob material, it’s bound to be a fan favourite. With a few grubbier tones used during the middle eight and a roaring lead guitar break to bolster everything along the way, this is a massively nostalgic sounding number that is easy the best thing The End Machine have recorded to date. More classic sounding melodic rock riffs pulse through the rocky ‘Hunted’, a number with a perfect balance between roaring lead vocal and layered chorus harmonies. Granted, it sounds like meat ‘n’ potatoes fare for most of the band – sounding like something that would’ve suited peak Dokken – but the familiar feel adds to the all round enjoyment.

Exploring a slightly bluesy tone and a Zeppelin-esque drum sound, the moody ‘Burning Man’ tips the hat to an even older style. With Pilson’s fat bass much higher in the mix, and Girish showing how easily he can tackle a more melodic vocal when required, The End Machine sound a little more sophisticated throughout another of this album’s highlights. Granted, it won’t offer anything melodic rock fans won’t have heard before – there are massive hints of Dokken here, jostling with a pinch of ‘Pull’ era Winger – but it’s perfectly pitched. With an equal amount of muscle and melody, it gives all four members of the band an opportunity to shine. It’s almost impossible to believe that the four men who delivered this majestic number can be found hammering through the knockabout ‘Into The Blazing Sun’ approximately twenty five minutes later, but taken on its own merits, that speed driven rocker – used to close the album – works for them in its own way. The gang vocals employed throughout really accentuate The End Machine’s forceful heart, and the shouty melody eventually uncovers a catchy hook. The overall feel might play up melodic metal’s less sophisticated fare, but with the help of a lot of chutzpah and another cracking solo, its very much the sort of tune that, in time, shows off its own rowdy charm.

Elsewhere, ‘Stand Up’ sounds like an old Dokken number helmed by a slightly scream-obsessed vocalist and a slightly fatter production job; it isn’t quite as good as ‘Hunted’, but still shares the sound of a committed band, whilst the heavy-ish ‘Time’ works a pleasingly choppy guitar riff against a heavy drum, sharing something that sounds like a hybrid of Dokken, Lynch Mob and Gotthard. After a few plays, ‘Time’ stands up as one of this album’s more enduring tunes, proving that the predictable approach can sometimes trump any genuine musical invention. It’s fair to say that even though this album shares a few more distinctive arrangements, both of these numbers will certainly please fans, and they definitely pull enough musical weight to help ‘The Quantum Phase’ to feel like a very solid disc.

This third time out, The End Machine celebrate classic hard rock and metal with a knowingly retro charm and an impressive amount of force. Girish isn’t always a match for the versatile – and often classic sounding – Robert Mason, but on the best bits of ‘The Quantum Phase’ he puts in the hard yards and turns out some genuinely great performances. Much like you never really bought a Dokken album to listen to Don Dokken, however, the vocals here aren’t the big draw. This is so often the Lynch/Pilson show, and if you’re a fan of those guys, most of the material here really hits the mark. For the average Lynch fan, it’ll be considered a near essential collection filler, but with some pretty strong choruses throughout, there’s enough here for to entertain an even broader spectrum of classic hard rock and metal fans.

Buy the CD here: THE END MACHINE – The Quantum Phase

January 2024