Muse - Black Holes & Revelations
Warner Bros. Records
Epic Progressive Pop/Rock
11 songs (45:35)
Release year: 2006
Muse, Warner Bros. Records
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

It’s been so long since a classic of the Prog Rock realm was reviewed that you humble correspondent thought it would be interesting to take a look at a modern band that follows a Progressive path to their sound. Muse, despite being classed as a mere Radiohead clone in its early years, has made some of the most deep and intriguing music ever to be commercially popular in recent years. 2003’s Absolution, as well as making a heavy impact on the English charts and introducing the band to frequent radio play for hit singles Time Is Running Out, Sing For Absolution and Hysteria, also received praise from Yes’ Rick Wakeman and Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy as an excellent example of modern Prog - however you wish to interpret that. It’d be a hard argument indeed to try and paint Muse as the modern equivalent to the 70’s Prog giants – especially when up against the even more experimental and leftfield likes of The Mars Volta – but it’s impossible to deny that there’s more to Muse than just churning out the hits.

Describing the band’s sound is difficult to the uninitiated. A three-piece that is as capable as the likes of Rush of making its sound ‘big’, and is more capable of grandeur than the most epic Power Metal band you can think of, you can expect to hear everything from Hard Rock to Neoclassical piano to Electronica in a single Muse song. Frontman Matt Bellamy has a voice that rivals Freddy Mercury for a high-pitched, emotional sound, and is also an excellent guitarist and keyboardist to boot. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass and Dominic Howard’s drums are a vital piece of the puzzle, of course, but it’s Bellamy who will seize your attention and never let it go.

Of course, it goes without saying that a certain amount of open-mindedness is required before you can begin to enjoy Muse. If even the thought of a band sounding like U2 is enough to make you retch, then you’d better leave now and not look back, as Muse share the Irishmen’s propensity for electronic experimentation in the forms of heavy doses of dance music, as on Map Of The ProblematiqueBlack Holes being a definite step away from the mainly guitar-driven previous album. What makes Muse special, though, is that with time the intricacies in each song begin to make themselves known, especially if you listen to the album all the way through rather than focusing on a particular song.

Take A Bow opens with a shifting keyboard melody, gradually joined by restrained yet yearning vocals attacking certain warmongering politicians and making it sound fresh despite lyrics such as ‘you will burn in hell for your sins’. The electronics build, and the first notes of a guitar appear in the background as the song explodes into psychedelia, expanding rapidly before devolving into feedback.

It’s then that you realise that it was nothing but an intro piece, as the catchy piano, drums and bass of Starlight appears. Another backing guitar lead exists on the edge of your consciousness, before the chorus appears and carries all before it. Yes, it’s Poppy, but when was the last time you heard Pop this complex and well-crafted, made as a band practising the art of songcraft as opposed to being the cover models of a cynical and repetitive ‘tune’? Modern bands, especially the Indie crowd, are often afraid of hooks, preferring to make their music the sort that you have to listen to over and over again until you know it so well that you’re brainwashed into calling it catchy – Muse doesn’t make that mistake, and why should it?

First single Supermassive Black Hole follows a funky, almost Prince-like path, the falsetto vocals coming into their own as the effects-laden beats carve a surprisingly complex path. On its own you might laugh it off, but in the context of the album it’s placed perfectly to contrast with the previous and following tracks. After the aforementioned Map Of The Problematique (a great song) comes a two-minute acoustic piece, Soldier’s Poem, speaking from the perspective of a warrior for freedom who doesn’t believe that those back home deserve his sacrifice, yet does it anyway. The choir of vocals works well, although the song is nice, nothing more.

It’s the second half of the album where things really take off. The lengthy ballad Invincible starts by sounding like a continuation of Soldier’s Poem, the same slow vocals over militaristic drumming and echoing electronics, building up into what could be your typical Indie meat-and-potatoes before shifting suddenly into an effect-laden solo. Those of a Metallic background may well find it rather anti-climatic, but you can tell that it’s going to be a huge live hit, and it clears the air wonderfully for next track Assassins. This is for all those sitting there wondering how in the hell a commercial band like Muse got time on that bastion of the underground Metal Reviews – it’s the Thrashiest non-Metal song you’ll ever hear, driven by riffs and off-kilter drum patterns, before melding wonderfully with the epic vocals that you should be used to by now, lyrics kicking some serious ass (‘Aim, shoot, kill your leaders/oppose and disagree/destroy demonocracy’).

If Black Holes And Revelations was full of songs like this, then the Metal community would automatically accept the band, no questions asked. Interestingly, next song Exo-Politics takes more of a alien turn (reminding you of a certain American Heavy/Power Metal band’s recent concept album, perhaps?) making mention of Zetas filling the skies (‘our leaders in disguise!’) and is another excellent twisted-Rock song, with ample use of Theremin and groovy, extremely catchy riffs.

City Of Delusion opens with acoustic strumming, gradually building with yet more strange electronics, yet it’s the violins and trumpets that make this song what it is, adding an almost Mariachi-sounding style. It’s hard to imagine even the most po-faced Metal fan remaining unmoved by this, as the Prog influence is clear, and who can argue with a trumpet solo that leads into a chorus as big and epic as this song possesses?

The penultimate track Hoodoo is a wonderful Morricone-style Western homage complete with strings and Rakhmaninov-influenced piano. It’s so rich and textured that, again, it’s a surprise when the next track starts and you realise it was just a prelude to it… or was it? Little touches like this keep you listening, and give the album a long shelf life. I’m not even going to begin to try and count the number of times I’ve listened to it, but the quality’s undoubtedly there.

Album closer Knights Of Cydonia is hands-down the best thing on the album. Opening with alien-styled synth sounds and horses’ neighing, epic wordless vocals and a whammy-bar solo soon make themselves known, with trumpets and galloping beats – it’s got it all, and the song’s not halfway through yet. An incredible multi-tracked chorus (‘No-one’s gonna take me alive/the time has come to make things right/You and I must fight for our rights/You and I must fight to survive’ – simple, but so, so damn effective) leads into downtuned Classic Rock riffing, which carries the song easily to the end of its six-minute plus running time.

Ultimately, although Muse may not be Prog in the literal sense of the word there’s more than enough of a Progressive mindset to the band’s songwriting (especially in the frequent flamboyant, epic sections) to make them of interest to the casual Metalhead who can appreciate music that doesn’t have to crush his head in. Check the band’s MySpace out, watch the rather cool video for Knights of Cydonia especially, and if you’ve got the patience to give the rest of the album a chance then Muse may well become the best non-metal band you’ve ever heard. Hopefully in the future the Prog influences will be built upon even further and the band will be comfortable enough to take steps away from the mainstream, and really earn the respect of the alternate music scene. Time will tell.

Killing Songs :
Supermassive Black Hole, Invincible, Assassins, City Of Delusion, Hoodoo, Knights Of Cydonia
Goat quoted 89 / 100
Adam quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Muse that we have reviewed:
Muse - The Resistance reviewed by Goat and quoted 71 / 100
Muse - Absolution reviewed by Goat and quoted 88 / 100
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