Album Review: Monster Magnet - "Mastermind"

Talk about a band that's been through the wringer. Despite lineup changes, multiple periods off, a rumored fight over the production of 2001's "God Says No," and just on November 3rd, the departure of longtime guitarist Ed Mundell, Monster Magnet rolls on.

Reinvented with "Mastermind" and starting from scratch with Austrian indie label Napalm Records, Monster Magnet, which at this point is practically a glorified epithet for frontman Dave Wyndorf himself, went back to the drawing board in an attempt to plane down and subsequently resurrect the style of heavy-handed devil-may-care stoner metal that the band rode to fame in the "Powertrip" era.

It's safe to say that Monster Magnet's unique combination of titanic beats, sardonic epigrams and indomitable hedonistic swagger is deliciously intact. One of the strengths about Dave Wyndorf is his ability to project the image of a man who has survived the apocalypse and is perfectly ready to make cynical jokes about it. Tantamount to that simulacrum, we also see his continued fascination with comic books, as Wyndorf name drops the Fantastic Four and conjures one-song characters that Jack Kirby or Stan Lee would have been proud of.

Thematic content aside, Monster Magnet really captures the musical imagination with “Mastermind.” The preponderance of the songs are beat-driven, teeth-grinding affairs, but there just enough pieces that separate the sections of the album. “Mastermind” largely careens along with the force of a freight train, but has mercurial moments, like the almost bittersweet, redolent “Time Machine.” “The Titan Who Cried Like a Baby” sounds like a grand mountain scaling from some epic motion picture, but lyrically sheds some of the band’s bravado and seems to be a coolly resigned, if perhaps metaphoric, break-up song.

What helps “Mastermind” never become boring is the ubiquitous presence of drums. Each powerful song features either a cymbal, tom, or snare that is insistent and unflinching. Whether it be the incessant snare of the maliciously driven “Bored With Sorcery,” or the much more subtle but on-time cymbal of “Dig That Hole,” there is always a metronomic drum that is the prime mover for each song.

As for Wyndorf himself, his vocals project that trademark disaffected dissonance that has always made his voice stand clear of the music below. Sure, he might be singing about the single most ridiculous thing you can imagine, but it’s equally about how he’s singing it, as though ruling a planet or controlling fate is a blasé trifle.

The combination of hammering drums, thundering, blues-ripped guitar riffs and Wyndorf’s unique style leads “Mastermind” to be a high caliber exhibition of the simplest but most essential qualities of good doom or stoner metal. The bass is deep, the guitars are wonderfully throaty, and the drums are much more akin to a sledgehammer than a scalpel. “Gods and Punks” is a boisterous, loud, amped out affair that perfectly espouses the kind of attitude and musical chutzpah that good stoner metal should.

That trend continues in the repetitive but effective hook riffs for “100 Million Miles” and “Perish in Fire.” Throughout the album, the choruses are grand, the music clamorous, and the noise level high. “Mastermind” as an album is practically a textbook for writing this type of metal.

There will always be a place in metal for musicians who write larger than life songs, refuse to admit weakness, scoff at the idea that their band has faults, and surround themselves in public or video with buxom, licentious vixens. It is an attitude that is often duplicated, but cannot be replicated effectively, even by the brashest of hip-hop braggarts. This brand of epicurean hubris is specific to metal, and its opulent throne was and still is occupied by Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet.

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