Thursday 20 May 2021

Monster Magnet - A Better Dystopia (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 21 May 2021
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I try to review two albums each weekday at Apocalypse Later, one of them rock and one metal. With so many bands playing on both sides of that boundary, it can be a little tough on occasion to achieve that goal. I reviewed the new Liv Kristine EP this morning and, while she's best known for gothic metal and symphonic metal, it's really a gothic rock EP. Monster Magnet, on the other hand, are fundamentally a stoner rock band but they certainly veer into metal on occasion, because they're just so energetic that it seems inevitable.

I'm relatively new to stoner rock, because it didn't really come along until around the point when my life was taking different directions and I wasn't diving as deeply into the scene. As I explore the newer stoner rock bands and read about their influences, the name Monster Magnet comes up a lot, and it's not difficult to see why from this album, but it also seems to sit a little apart from the genre that this band helped to create.

Musically, it doesn't seem too complicated for a while. There's a lot of Black Sabbath here, those riffs sped up rather a lot more than I expected and fuzzed up too. There's plenty of Hawkwind here too, in a generally spaced out sound and also in how well integrated the bass is into the energy of the band. It's not hard to see both those bands on the first track proper, Born to Go, because it sounds emphatically like Hawkwind playing Sabbath, while on speed, even if that wasn't their drug of choice.

It's really not that simple though, because there's a lot more here. A track like Death underlines that, being drenched in sitar and tambourine and acid. It's an acutely late sixties, early seventies sound in a contemporary form, through a reinvention of rock 'n' roll basics. Really, there's as much of the Cramps here as there is Black Sabbath, It's Trash is fuzzed up garage rock and I heard psychobilly in songs like Motorcycle (Straight to Hell). What Lemmy always said about Motörhead, Dave Wyndorf could easily say about Monster Magnet: "We just play rock 'n' roll."

Talking about Wyndorf, he may play rhythm guitar here, behind Garrett Sweeny and Phil Caiviano on lead, but he's really a frontman. And I don't mean singer, because he's not really that, even though it is his voice coming through the microphone. He doesn't sing these songs so much as he commands and conjures and preaches and creates a particular experience. There are plenty of vocalisations that are not tied to words and there are many points here where he reminded me of Screaming Jay Hawkins, and not just on a voodoo-infused song like Mr. Destroyer. He holds court with his voice.

The other name that I'd bring up here is Rob Zombie, because, like his work, this often feels theatrical and visual. It's not difficult to imagine the visuals behind the double-entendre laden performance art poetry that consistutes the introduction, The Diamond Mine, and what I saw in my imagination was a Rob Zombie directed animation. A song like Epitaph for a Head may bring Captain Beefheart quickly to mind but there's a modern edge to it that's all Rob Zombie imagery. The same goes for the garage rock blitzkrieg that is It's Trash. It sounds very different to Rob Zombie's music, not least because it's not industrial in the slightest, but it shares a similar vibrancy and attitude, all fuzzed up and finished with in two minutes and change. Of course, I gave the latest Zombie a 6/10 and this one's getting an 8.

I like this album a lot. It sounds like walking into a club in a strange foreign city and finding out that a mysterious stranger in a mascot suit has injected you with a hallucinogenic drug. What follow is wild and dangerous and somehow invigorating. It's real, not driven by cool image, and it's felt as much as heard. It's good stuff and it is indeed a better dystopia.

One last point, because I didn't recognise any of these songs, though I should have known a couple of them. This is a covers album. Born to Go sounds like Hawkwind because it's a Hawkwind cover, a deep cut from In Search of Space. The other song that I've heard in its original form is Be Forewarned, which is the title track from that Pentagram album. Other songs are covers of obscure psych, punk and rock bands like the Scientists, Dust and J. D. Blackfoot. I haven't even heard of bands like Josephus, Table Scraps or Poo-Bah, but I'm eager to collate the originals for these songs, all the way back to Death by the Pretty Things, and hear what inspired Wyndorf. Thanks for the education!

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