If the members of Machine Head (below, left) sound like they have something to prove on their latest effort, the menacing, prog-core opus Through the Ashes of Empires, it's because they do. After meekly following trends with releases like 1999's regrettable Burning Red and 2001's Supercharger, which suffered the post-9/11 neglect familiar to many purveyors of heavy music, the act has gotten back in touch with the angels and demons who inspired its brutal 1994 debut, Burn My Eyes. The compositions on Empires blaze with aggressive, intricate intensity. Singer/guitarist Robert Flynn explores not only anger, but also depths of despair and confusion. On "Left Unfinished," he expresses abandonment and resentment toward his birth parents in no uncertain terms before exploring more esoteric territory on the nearly eight-minute closer, "Descend the Shades of Night." Machine Head still knows how to lay down a punishing groove, but Flynn, drummer Dave McClain, bassist Adam Duce and new guitarist Phil Demmel also experiment with Rush- and Tool-inspired passages that add depth and drama to its reinvigorated sound. The strength of the new album even inspired Roadrunner to re-sign the band. The Empire strikes back.