Muse: Simulation Theory (review)

Is this daring 80’s synth snaring Tron style record too risky or is the Muse sound still there? Come check out the review!

The lads from the South of England are back with their 8th album ‘Simulation Theory’. Albeit daring and innovative, will this Muse record be one to forget or praise for its daringness?

Over the past few days I have been stunned and angered by some of the reviews that have come out from renowned magazines like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and NME. I have been a fan of Muse since their days as the Rocket Baby Dolls and have always adored their distinct sound. That does not mean I cannot be objective about a record that clearly means to shock some of Muse’s fanbase.

In some reviews I read the complaint about songs sounding far too pop-like, being out of sync with the current music trends and mocking the underlying layer of political and psychological messages Matt Bellamy expresses in his lyrics. Their ratings varied from 2 stars out of 5 or a grade 6 out of 10, which just proves music taste is bloody subjective. So here is my very subjective opinion after listening to Simulation Theory about 8 times.

Why do I mention 6 times specifically? As this record requires multiple tours of listening before you can really grasp its meaning and sound. This is something I encounter with other artists as well, where at first glance you might have your reservations or even utter disgust, but after a few rounds start to enjoy it all.

Daring
Simulation Theory shows us that Muse dare to innovate with their sound and are looking to bring the Muse tunes into a new recipe. If you ask me they do so very effectively. With the cover art created by ‘Stranger Things’ artist Kyle Lambert, it sets a futuristic yet 80’s synth sounding theme. Coming on the back of the politically beefed up record Drones, which was Muse at its best if you ask me, the political undertone on Simulation Theory can still be found quite vividly. 

Where Matt Bellamy thankfully does not go full anti-Trump hate tripping, he sticks to a more philosophical stance on human kind needing to stand up for their opinion and freedom, instead of being forced into certain thinking by the media and countless governments. This is evidently put to the test on the tracks ‘The Void’ and ‘Propaganda’. Especially ‘The Void’ left me with a nostalgic deja-vu feeling referring back to the classical melodic strength of the Muse sound as I love it.

Whereas previous record ‘Drones’ could at times be dark and heavy, ‘Simulation Theory’ plays with the notion of empowerment, strength, fighting and not giving up. That brings me to the two best songs on the album ‘The Dark Side’ and ‘ Dig Down’. The latter was created from Bellamy’s youthful experiences in church and his love for gospel music. The gospel like vibe to Dig Down is maximised on the Deluxe version of the record where there is an additional track with a Dig Down Acoustic Gospel Version which is a nice change up on this album. Also on the Deluxe and Super Deluxe versions of the album you will find a few additional songs with alternative versions. The Alternate Reality Versions and Acoustic Versions are a refreshing and scintillating variety.

With the help from hip hop moguls Mike Elizondo (Dr Dre, Eminem), Shellback (Taylor Swift, Britney Spears) and Timbaland (Missy Elliot, Justin Timberlake), Muse manage to change things up in the drum and beat section of the record.

Tron-style
With an ever increasing trend of trance and dance style songs in the charts nowadays, it is not only daring but risky to bring a synth, 80’s Tron style record which in some ways tends to forget the Muse sound so typical to them. This eerily comes to effect on the really poor ‘Get Up And Fight’ and annoying ppppppp-ppppp-proppaa ‘Propaganda’, which is like Prince meets R&B gone drunk.

On the other hand a positively note worthy track is the September released single ‘Pressure’, which is like a love child between Muse and The White Stripes, and the ever so cool Terry Crews appearing in the music video. And if you happen to have an Apple Music or Spotify account you can get yourself access to the Super Deluxe version of this record with version of Pressure together with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, which just makes me jizz in my pants every time. Check out the snippet below for a quick taste.

Out with the old, in with the new?
Anybody daft enough to claim that ‘Simulation Theory’ is not a Muse sounding album needs to get their ears and brain checked. Although there are some very evidently daring concepts and 80’s style sounds being toyed with, overall this still signifies as Muse, in my opinion. Being a metalhead, I do miss the more Rock themed style record like ‘Drones’, but it is a refreshing change. For a next record I would love to see a combination of Simulation Theory and Drones. However ultimately I respect and admire Muse’s daring step with this album, even though they might have some (daft) angry fans who want the old Muse back.

P.S. If you want to get your money’s worth, then get the Deluxe or Super Deluxe versions, with a bunch of additional tracks well worth a listen.

Review: 8.2

 

 

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Metalheads: time to set things straight (grunt)

Grunt grunt grunt…aargghh…arrghhh…pain….death…etc… No, heavy metal is a lot more than that. Let me explain.

Not heads of metal, and not the material metal either. I am talking about the music scene of heavy metal and the members of this subculture called ‘metalheads’, which my wife and I happen to be part of as well. As my wife and I are about to go to the yearly Graspop Metal Meeting festival in Dessel, Belgium this week I felt it was time to set some common misconceptions about heavy metal music straight.  Now please keep reading especially if you are NOT a metalhead or actually hate this type of music. You are exactly the type of person I am trying to reach! Over the next few weeks I will be crowd surfing over topics associated to the metal scene so please stay tuned.

No we do not all wish to die, kill others or have chronic anger issues!
I have to say it is difficult to give opinion on something so subjective as music, but screw it here it goes anyway. See I grew up listening to good old Elvis Presley over dinner as my dad just could not get enough of him. And although I love me a bit of Elvis and Hip Hop like Eminem, DMX, Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent, nothing gets me as excited, adrenaline pumped, psyched and crazy like heavy metal!

Now If I were to ask a random person in the street what they think of when talking about metal music what would people say? Tattoos, anger, gothic dressed people, head-banging, depression, self mutilation, aggression, satanism, death-wishing and massive fighting in crowds at a concert. You probably agree with some or even all of them right? Well, please find enlightenment in the following paragraphs you bunch of blasphemers! (Haha)

Metalheads are mostly very passionate, caring, life enjoying, happy people.

Expression
In all fairness the thought of anger and aggression associated with metal music I can understand, but it requires some much needed perspective. And the following might sound silly or even unbelievable, but most metalheads are actually very passionate, caring, life enjoying, happy people. Now I do say ‘most’ because there are some, yet very few suicidal, angry, self mutilating idiots who ruin it for the rest of us. (I might be writing lightly about those people, but they seriously need help and are often too scared to reach out for it)

See the key thing to happiness for most people in life is being able to ‘vent’ some much needed energy, frustration, passion and love through some sort of medium, in this case music. Plenty of you will absolutely jizz in their pants by listening to a bit of Adele on a Sunday evening whilst picturing a much fitter woman instead of Adele. You dirty buggers!

We all vent in different ways through sports, hobbies like instruments, running, playing chess, listening to music and the occasional masturbating. (yeah you know who you are)
Metalheads are the same, although for most of us it goes further than just listening to music, it is a way of life. I grew up with the likes of Rammstein, Limp Bizkit, Godsmack, Metallica, Led Zeppelin and System Of A Down. It was not until I met my now wife that I got introduced to the various metal festivals and bands like Slipknot (yes those geezers with funky masks), Avenged Sevenfold, Volbeat and many others a lot rougher/darker than the above mentioned bands. This brings me to Slipknot and one of those many misconceptions: dress styles do not always tell the whole story, perception can be misconceiving.

The Slipknot Effect
Let me start with a good image of one of my favourite bands Slipknot, originally from Iowa (USA).

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image via voir.ca

Hey, there is that dude with the mask from the cover image of this article! (guitarist Mick Thomson) What I love about Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor’s voice is his ability to sing in a very pure tone as well as grunt and interchange between the two as if it was the easiest and most normal thing in the world. You might recognise the name Corey Taylor as he is also the frontman of the slightly milder rock band Stone Sour.
See the thing with Slipknot is that most people look at their masks and think: ‘what is this horrendous look?’. And then they often do not even give them a chance. They are just masks. Think about Kiss and their looks that did not put you off either did it? It was the tongue that did it for you, wasn’t it?! Haha! Well the same happened to me all those years ago. It was not until my now wife made me listen to them and actually go to their concert and boy was I wrong!! This situation though seems to be an assumption about a lot of other metal bands as well, unfortunately.

And of course I know, even after you might have listened to them it might still not be your music scene, no worries.

Lyrics
So if you are already put off by the looks of some metal bands or the sound even then there are a lot of you who think that there is another disturbing factor: the lyrics. I know that a lot of non-metalheads (haters) consider the lyrics of most of these bands to be very angry, focused on suicidal thoughts, death, misery, depression, hurt, pain etc..

There are some bands who exert complete anger, even satanic views. Those are definitely not the mainstream, more popular metal bands. Do not forget that there is a multitude of genres within the metal scene. I will explain more about these genres in my next post.

When I look at Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch then you will find a wide range of lyrics that mention fighting for what your worth, survival through the struggles of life, truth, deceit, lies, friendship, love and heritage for example. Now most of these are very common in every day music, from pop to rock and country music. But a lot of people associate the heavy guitar riffs, drumming and vocal styles as permanently angry, negative and creepy.

I only have to look at my own family. As soon as I play 20 seconds of an average Slipknot song they look at me in disgust and start swearing that this aberration is not music!
Fair enough, I respect we all have our own opinions.

Mosh Pits and Walls of Death
The topic of most pits and walls of death are a common association to the metal scene at concerts and festivals. There is a story and explanation to this perceived madness that I will cover in one of my next posts. But in short I would like to point out that most pits are not done to hurt each other, intimidate or injure. They are a form of expression of passion and a feeling of togetherness that can mostly not be understood by non-metalheads. More on the psychology of these activities soon.

What I would like to finish with is the companionship between metalheads, even between the different genres of metal. There is a distinct togetherness that I never felt at a pop or rap concert. Someone falls, they get picked up by everyone around them. A girl has to puke, the others will hold her hair up. Everybody is accepted for who they are, no matter how ludicrous they might be dressed. It might seem ludicrous to you but to them it is a way of life that let’s them be themselves and more importantly be happy about themselves. That is something I believe we all can and should respect.

Graspop 2018
Tomorrow my wife and I will be leaving for Belgium for the 4 day metal fest called Graspop Metal Meeting and below you can find the full line-up should you be interested. Yes before you say anything, Ozzy Osbourne is still alive and performing. (bloody awesome right)

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image via graspop.be