Saturday, 27 October 2012

RetRotation #1 - Monster Magnet (Mastermind)

Monster Magnet was one of my favorite bands in high school.  The "Dopes to Infinity" album was a revelation to discover ("I talk to planets, baby!"), and "Superjudge" (heard later) cemented them firmly as a great band.  It seemed that no one else was doing what they were doing.  Is it metal or is it rock and roll, or ...?  What is it?  The rockers thought it was too weird, and the metalheads couldn't 'bang to it, so where did Monster Magnet fit in?  With the weirdos of course.

I grabbed up everything of theirs I could find, including the "Tab" EP and even the "Space Lord" single.  The way Dave Wyndorf writes lyrics, it's just one idea after another that at first seems nonsensical but taken as a whole actually makes perfect sense in a stream of consciousness kind of way.  Monster Magnet was mighty fuel indeed for a young impressionable weirdo.

I was the only one in high school who liked them.  Some heard "Space Lord" and were curious but no one fell under their spell like I did.  The "Powertrip" album seemed disappointing at the time, like every song had "Dopes" or "Superjudge" potential but always fell just short somehow.  They opened for Marilyn Manson and all the girls who saw the show said they sucked.  I still tried to defend them, but I'm sure nobody in high school cared about the quality of the music, only the image associated with it (except for the weirdos of course).  I'm sure it's still the same.

Enter the "God Says No" album and I'm at just the wrong age for this record to come out.  Just about to turn twenty at the time, obviously I knew exactly what I wanted to hear and what life was all about and it just seemed that "God Says No" wasn't saying it to me.

Sick to death of the rap/rock bullshite fusion nu metal garbage even the slightest step further in the direction of hip-hop sleazebagging its way into rock music was an unforgivable crime punishable by excommunication.  Rapping wasn't the only problem.  The Nine Inch Nails / Marilyn Manson synthezoid influence was making rock / metal lose its purity.

The actual crime in the case of Monster Magnet's "God Says No" album was its use of programmed drums, the kind of which might have been heard on latter-day Smashing Pumpkins releases or the Fight Club soundtrack.  Drum machines?  Were Monster Magnet going industrial?  How long before Wyndorf starts rapping?  Seemed like a logical progression at the time, Wyndorf was weirdo enough to pull something like that.  I turned my back on one of my favorite bands and didn't listen to them again for another ten years.  Fear Factory and Machinehead met similar fates around the same time.

Some ten or more years pass pretty much uneventfully and as happens to us all, I mellow a bit with age.  Before long the excommunication has been overturned and I find myself remembering exactly why Monster Magnet was one of my favorite all-time bands.  So I ordered the three Monster Magnet albums I missed and the first one that came in the mail was "Mastermind".  It just so happens that the album is now exactly two years old, so what better way to kick off a new feature called RetRotation that will give me a chance to review albums on or near the anniversary of their original release?  These are the first new Monster Magnet sounds to enter my ears in over ten years.

Here`s a track by track rundown of my first impressions:

  1. Hallucination Bomb - I would never expect Monster Magnet to sway too far from what made them a great band in the first place, monolithic riffs, and this is no exception.  Following in the tradition of Boot-In-The-Face Rawk n Roll openers like "Dopes To Infinity" and "Cyclops Revolution", "Hallucination Bomb" kicks down the door and makes itself comfortable.
  2. Bored With Sorcery - Building off the momentum of Hallucination Bomb, Bored With Sorcery is classic Monster Magnet.  Uptempo, weirdo lyrics, throw in some `baby`s and even a rare (albeit quick) guitar solo, this song`s got it all, everything you`d expect from this band.
  3. Dig That Hole - Another classic MM moment.  Slow rocking, memorable chorus, great lyrics "I`m a blue tooth jerkoff on TV, And I ain`t gonna try too hard - I`m gonna win me a contest and break off my piece of the American dream".  Wyndorf has summed up the world I come from.  Entitled, obnoxious douchebags, that`s what the world is made up of today, digging that hole indeed.
  4. Gods and Punks - I know that this was the lead single.  Four songs in and I`m comparing this album to `Dopes to Inifinity`.  Every song has been great so far, typical Monster Magnet, and yet each song introduces a new element.  Really great middle 8 about 2:40 into the song.
  5. The Titan Who Cried Like A Baby - Here`s a song that hearkens back to the aforementioned "God Says No" album with its electronic atmospherics.  This seems more like a showcase for Wyndorf`s stream of consciousness poetry than a real song.  Almost has an interlude feeling, building atmosphere for the next phase of the album.
  6. Mastermind - Picking the tempo up again with the title track and it`s back to what they do best: Rocking.  More staples of the Monster Magnet sound with wailing and distant vocals behind a wall of sound to end the song.
  7. 100 Million Miles - An uptempo, though slow building, punkish rocker.  As always, the song is vocally driven as I hear yet another staple: the vocal effect Wyndorf is fond of using where it sounds like it`s coming off a radio in the background (don`t know what it`s called).  Very psychedelic last half of the song.  If punk music went psychedelic, this is what it would sound like.
  8. Perish in Fire - This song has a different feel to the guitar from any song I`ve heard from this band.  It almost sounds like something from Ministry`s "New World Order" album, with the drums played at quarter speed.  More aggressive and less psychedelic than what I`m used to.  Still, I like it.
  9. Time Machine - "Perish in Fire" ends abruptly with another wall of sound and leads directly into this song, which not just slows things down, it shuts them down abruptly.  Very much a companion to "The Titan Who Cried Like a Baby".  He touches lyrically on something I`ve always dreamed about, going back in time to buy comics.  Yeah, that`s exactly what I`d do with a time machine.
  10. When The Planes Fall From the Sky - The hard rock comes stomping back in and offers a different look.  The most `southern rock` song I`ve heard from the band, Wyndorf also offers more emotive and soulful vocals than he usually does.  Great riffs here.  There are also hints of grunge.  This is a great song.  A gem among gems.
  11. Ghost Story - A more rustic feel to this one with acoustic guitar accompanying the electric.  No matter how the music may vary, he never strays far from his lyrical thematic roots, this song being no exception.  For fans of the band this is one of the best parts.  The line "All the gods in this universe can`t spin you back to me" reminds me of how I used to watch the Silver Surfer cartoon on mute with Monster Magnet spinning in the background.
  12. All Outta Nothing - Classic Monster Magnet, this could be a "Dopes" outtake.  With the variety of material and new (to me anyway, post "God Says No") musical ground on this album, it`s nice to close it out with a good old fashioned straight forward song of what we might expect from the band.  Still, is he talking about himself when he paints a picture of "A burnt out magician, with nothing to say".  I should hope not.  Remember these are first impressions, I`ll have to (gladly) go back and listen again for a fuller understanding.
  13. Watch Me Fade (bonus track) - Of course I sprung for the bonus tracks version of the CD because I didn`t want to leave any Monster Magnet songs on the table.  I want `em all, baby!  This one`s an uptempo rocker.  Not sure why it got bumped down to `bonus track` status.
  14. Fuzz Pig (bonus track) - Not sure again why this is only a `bonus track` because it`s an interesting song.  Somewhat in the vein of "The Titan Who Cried..." and "Time Machine" only more musically interesting.
All in all, a good album.  I like it better than "God Says No".  Full up with all the "yeahs" and "babys" and "whoos" and references to Marvel comics and giant riffs and spaced out stream of consciousness lyrics and all the other trappings one might expect from a Monster Magnet album, makes for a satisfying listening experience.  There are many shades of the past and just as many glimpses of the future, at least the future of from where I left off with the band, ten years behind.  Overall it reminds me of "Powertrip" (which I no longer consider a disappointing album, but a really solid one), but there`s enough of a difference between the two and enough variation within the songs that it really has its own feel and stands alone within the Monster Magnet canon.

Reminds me of: Powertrip, Superjudge, Dopes to Infinity albums

My Rating: 4/5

Country: New Jersey, United States

Genre: Stoner, Hard Rock, Psychedelic, Southern Rock

Released: October 27, 2010

More Info

Suggested Listening Activity for fellow non-stoners: Surfing the cosmic spaceways in a filth-rimmed bathtub.

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