Saturday, 5 March 2011

Monster Magnet

Published in Inpress (Melb), December 2010

Monster Magnet

Distortion on vocals and tightly rolled spliffs, Pounding backbeats and sharply bent riffs, Stoner rock goodness on lidded-eye wings, These are a few of my favourite things…

It was sitting on a bong water-stained carpet that I first heard Monster Magnet and my Sabbath loving mind convulsed at the sounds thrown down, the howl from the rock n’ roll abyss, the tightly controlled mayhem pounding on my brain something that made me smile through the haze.  From that moment, I went back and found the Tab (’91) and the Spine Of God (’92). I embraced the Superjudge (’93) and joined the Dopes To Infinity (’95).  I went on a Powertrip (’98) and eventually sparred with the 4-Way Diablo (’07).  And I liked it.  A lot.

Today Monster Magnet are a band who stand tall amongst the pretenders and they wallow in the mire they’ve created, a sludge too powerful for most, but life-affirming for the believers, and the fact they’re still strong and alive brings peace to a mind withered from constant Top 40 swill made popular by a man in a suit with money to burn.  With alarming frequency, these five musical behemoths from Red Bank, New Jersey have salvaged my soul and showed me the light and now they’re burning brighter and I don’t need to stumble any longer, for there’s a tunnel and the light is here with me, not anywhere near the end.

“It’s weird, we’ve been going for so long but for me it’s kinda like a new start, because I had the drug problem and I thought I was never gonna play again,” says frontman, Dave Wyndorf candidly on the fact Monster Magnet have been around for 21 years now.  “So I’m all fuckin’ piss and vinegar, ‘Yeah, all right fuckers, lets go’.  It’s almost like being born again…it feels good.”  No doubt it feels good – Wyndorf almost succumbed to prescription drugs in 2006, but came roaring back to make 4-Way Diablo, and has carried on, the band recently dropping their eighth long-player, Mastermind, reaffirming their stoner brawn with aplomb.

4-Way Diablo was a weird record in that it was really a collection of pieces of songs that were put together by me when I was in not a very good state of mind,” he tells.  “I had a really bad prescription drug problem at the time and so 4-Way Diablo is a weird record for me.  Mastermind to me, fits in right after Monolithic Baby! (’04), that’s the record that should have come after Monolithic Baby! So 4-Way Diablo is kind of an odds and sods kinda deal, bits of music left over from other things.”  Mastermind however, this is a record with focus, with direction, a record which Wyndorf dragged from his very soul.  He’s been quoted as saying that it’s “guitar heaven.”  Doesn’t really sound much different to any of their previous offerings.

“Yeah, but believe it or not, I think this is more guitar heaven,” he says with a hefty laugh.  “I really, really pay close attention to not only recording people’s guitars, but recording the guitars that I want to record.  I was a bit of a dictator on this record, even more so than usual.  I was like, ‘I’m not gonna have a Strat on this record, I’m picking out some others’, and nobody gets a choice, I pick out every single guitar people are gonna play.  This is something I haven’t done before, usually I’ll say, ‘Whatever guitar you’re gonna play, I’ll record it’, but this time I picked every single one, so for me, it was guitar heaven.”

Critics and fans the world over, only a month or so after Mastermind has been released, are calling it a ‘return to form’.  It’s easy to see why when Wyndorf describes how 4-Way Diablo came to be, but that was still a good record – is Mastermind a return to form then?  Did the form ever really go away?  “Well yeah, a return to form, but a return to what form?” he asks.  “We’ve got a couple of different forms…what I wanted to do here was get the best of Monster Magnet live into a bunch of new songs, that’s what it was really all about.

“I have the sound in my head really before I have any of the songs written, I mean, I had the songs in a really short amount of time, about a week and a half, so it was really all about the sound and to be able to be put forth live,” he goes on.  “I didn’t want it to be an album that was so caught up in the studio that we could never play it live.  I wanted the songs to sound even better live, and that’s really what it’s about.  So a return to form just means that I probably went back to a point where I was thinking about the live show, that’s the way I did the middle period of Monster Magnet, Dopes To Infinity, Powertrip, I was thinking live.”

It’s interesting that Wyndorf says he gathered the songs for Mastermind in such a short space of time, as the lyrics here, as with all the band’s records, are incredibly cinematic, painting vivid (if not warped and kaleidoscopic) pictures you’d think would take a lifetime to conjure up – “I just got a mission I can’t turn down / Killing Nazi zombies in a German town” a prime example from ‘Wall Of Fire’ off 4-Way Diablo.  “Well, it has to make sense to me, but it also has to sound good,” Wyndorf muses on where these lyrics come from.  “Sometimes when I make a record, it’s almost more important for it to sound good.

“There are ways I can explain what I’m talking about that are a lot more literal, but it wouldn’t sound as cool,” he smiles.  “So I’ll write the song in my head how I’m trying to say it, and 99% of my songs are about normal things (Absolutely, I kill Nazi zombies in German towns all the time…), but what I’ll try to do is put it through this expression, the use of vernacular is one of my favourite things, like the use of science fiction, of comic books, things that can make normal things sound larger than life.  So I’ll write the basic plot in my head, what I want to sing about, and then I’ll start interpreting that…I use a lot of metaphors, and it just kinda builds from there.  And if it sounds cool from there, then I know I did my job.”

It’s been a job well done for a touch over two decades, as Wyndorf concurs.  “It’s been so long because I don’t know how to do anything else,” he laughs.  “If I could find something better to do, I’d do it – but I love music.  I love making music, I love making albums, I can dedicate every brainwave to it and it lets me be free in a way I don’t think I could find anywhere else, and that’s a really good combination.”  The mire is getting deeper and the riffs more sharply bent, the Monster Magnet juggernaught rolls on and that is of course, one of Dave Wyndorf’s favourite things.

Samuel J. Fell

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