Album Review: Monster Magnet - "Last Patrol"

Some things don’t change. It remains difficult to discuss the long career of Monster Magnet without using the word ‘circuitous.’ Born into obscurity in the wilds of New Jersey, Dave Wyndorf’s band toiled for years, eventually landed a major radio hit with “Space Lord,” was on everyone’s lips for twelve minutes, then it faded just as fast as it had come. A period of infighting and lineup shuffling followed, but through it all the name Monster Magnet persisted. After all the tumult the band released “Mastermind” in 2010, their first record on a newly minted deal with Napalm Records, and with the coming of that fantastic release, all seemed to be back in balance.

The rollercoaster ride hadn’t yet come to a complete stop though, as eighteen-year mainstay guitarist Ed Mundell immediately departed the band following “Mastermind’s” completion. So as Wyndorf and his latest lineup tweak return with “Last Patrol,” many of the old questions about what Monster Magnet is or isn’t have resurfaced.

It could all be an illusion, but there seems to be a more introspective flair to “Last Patrol” than we saw on “Mastermind,” as many of the tracks seem to set a somber, or at least mindful pace. The opener “I Live Behind the Clouds” is a curious selection in itself, containing a more casual tone than listeners are commonly accustomed to as the lead for any album, let alone a Monster Magnet one.

The majority of the songwriting on “Last Patrol” seems to be built around a crescendo that never quite happens. “Three Kingfishers” boils subtly for its duration, but the guitar solo at the end doesn’t seem to be a full payoff in relation to the building energy. It’s not alone. Even a song like “The Duke (Of Supernature)” for all its earthy tones and well-rooted tune, feels like it should bust out into an emphatic showpiece, but never does. The album is much more cautious with any exhibition of the traditional Wyndorf bombast, saving it for choice moments. Whether or not this is a product of losing Mundell can’t be certain, but the possibility does spring to mind.

Almost as a side note, it should be mentioned that similar to Spike Lee, Monster Magnet seems to have trouble putting endings on some of these songs. The title track has a roughly three minute loop at the end that could have been edited off with ease and doesn't seem to make any particular statement. Similarly, “Hallelujah,” otherwise a pretty solid song, gives in to a repetitive cycling chorus for the last quarter of its length. This may be an attempt to channel the wispy jams of stoner rock so it shouldn't be written off outright, but cynical listeners may see it as a sort of musical writer’s block.

None of that, however damning it may seem, makes “Last Patrol” a failure. Like all Monster Magnet records, this one has those clairvoyant moments when rhythm and pace and riff all coalesce into a magnificent stew of smoky but powerful rock. “Mindless Ones” (quite possibly another of Wyndorf’s idiomatic Marvel Comics references,) is perhaps the first such piece on “Last Patrol,” and although there are fewer of these selections on the album, it certainly isn’t alone. It’s these songs, and these singular sparks of which "End of Time" is another, that have always made Monster Magnet worth the investment and concurrently made the band seem timeless regardless of era, lineup or popularity.

“Last Patrol” is not as powerful as “Mastermind,” “God Says No” or “Powertrip.” Its appeal isn’t as readily evident, and can only be distilled through patience and repeated ingestion. While not a bad record by any measure, “Last Patrol” seems the kind of off-pace experiment by a veteran artist that only die-hards will truly go to bat for. Casual fans may be better serves by the Monster Magnet catalogue they already own.

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