While navigating the backroads of southwest Virginia some time ago, a friend and I concluded that the most incisive pronunciation of the adjective “fucking” clearly enunciates the ‘g’. Put it in your mouth; spit it out. Then compare to its more frequently heard alternative, “fuckin’”, dubbed the “redneck version” by we who grew up around Confederate flag-bearers. See? The fricative “f” sound combined with the pairing of phonetic relatives “k” and “g” delivers a doubly seething curse, while the “g”-less, redneck approach leaves this choice expletive weak and incomplete. Our version wins every time.
15 Apr 2005: Jaxx Springfield, Virginia
By these standards, then, Chad Gray is a fuckin’ redneck. Gray, frontman of nü-metal kings Mudvayne, uses “fuckin’” and “fuck yeah, goddammit” as others use “like” and “um”. Now, I’m no linguistic elitist. I can concede, from time to time, to the redneck pronunciation of my favorite expletive. But when “fuckin’s” are so overused as to lose their volatility, and when each unnecessary curse is punctuated by ponytailed fan-dudes roaring with approval I mean, enough is enough. Your brain registers its intelligence insulted. You stop listening, start yawning.
But it wasn’t just the mindless overuse of profanity that condescended. It was, more importantly, Mudvayne’s brand of artless wham-bam: the band’s mind-numbing repetition, its near-total dismissal of sonic tension, its refusal to try anything fresh or innovative. Don’t get me wrong, the band is good at what it does—at points I did find some excitement—but what does it do exactly? Mudvayne churns out the same angst-ridden adrenaline-pushers that have been raging out of “alternative rock” stations since Limp Bizkit came on the scene a decade ago. Bo-ring.
If you’re like I was a month ago, you’ve come to this review knowing Mudvayne’s name and genre, but not which songs the band is responsible for (“Not Falling”, “Happy?”), even though both have won a lot of airtime. Mudvayne generates mediocre metal/hardcore. The Matchbox Twenty to System of a Down’s U2 and Tool’s Radiohead, Mudvayne is more brutal than Staind, less weird than Insane Clown Posse, closest to Slipknot in sound but minus the horror-flick face masks. (Mudvayne donned psycho face paint on previous tours, but toned their image down this go-round.)
If that doesn’t help, then here: I will describe to you a Mudvayne song, as performed live at Jaxx, “D.C.‘s Euro Metal Club”, which shares walls with a kabob restaurant in a Northern Virginia strip mall:
1. The song starts off with a brief instrumental intro as blood-red lighting turns the stage into a war zone. You are startled by either:
a) a big, booming bass drum explosion or
b) a “look at me!” scream from Gray to signal that yes, the song is really starting.
The bass is so amped, it is felt, not heard. Your jeans tremble with every low-end attack.
2. Gray enters with either:
a) angry lyrics, e.g. “I’m so fuckin’ determined” or
b) sad lyrics, e.g. “Goodbye, sunshine / I’ve put it out again, sad”
delivered in a wonderfully abrasive voice that demands, and gets, your attention. The rhythm section chug-chugs underneath like machinery about to split open. A bit of crowdsurfing commences.
3. At the song’s climactic point, Gray hurls out a yowl as though a rusted nail is stuck in his skull and he wants to put one in yours. This yowl increases in dissonance until it runs out of oxygen and deflates. People clap. You wonder how he screams so hard without ejecting his larynx.
4. Gray declares, “Fuck yeah, goddammit. I’m so fuckin’ glad to be here, fuck. This is the best fuckin’ place in the whole fuckin’ world: Fuck yeah, goddammit.” People clap harder, flinging devil horns of support in response to each use of profanity.
All right, cool. I was into it at first, digging the band’s visceral sound—the lead tune, “Fucking Determined”, felt like a full-body assault, with every riff pummeling straight to my brain, every blood-curdling scream making me want to hit something. Testosterone, yes. Bring it on.
A couple songs in, the band rushed out “Happy?”, the first single from Mudvayne’s third and most recent album, and the most well crafted song the band played that night. The guitar lifted out of the mix while the rhythm section moved deftly in and out of the verses and Gray switched from semi-song to guttural yell to gritty shriek and back. What was refreshing about “Happy?” was its varied pace—it sat a bit during the verses, dwelling in bittersweet harmonics, before charging blindly into a raging chorus. This within-song versatility hinted at Mudvayne’s range—if only the band would do more with it.
Few of Mudvayne’s other tunes had any down time at all, and the night henceforth was reduced to the same attention-getting techniques—repetitious bass drum blast-offs; chugging, metrically precise guitar riffs; excessive profanity (of this, I’m guilty too; see first paragraph), dramatic stop-starts that ceased being dramatic the second time around. And of course, those abrasive vocals interspersed with screams, all screamed in the same way, all making me want to hit something—the target eventually becoming the screamer—until they just got old.
So while these grave, unsmiling musicians attacked me from forty feet away, tearing into their instruments like their libidos depended on it, pounding out the same formula over and over again, I found myself drifting, yawning, bored—revisiting my decade-old “should I or should I not get a tattoo?” debate as my companion contemplated cleaning her kitchen. In the end, after enduring forty minutes of monotonous nü-metal, we both decided no, and left early.
Bottom line for Mudvayne: Fucking repetitive. Fuck yeah, goddammit.
// Notes from the Road
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