[13 July 2005]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It was only a matter of time: nu-metal is dying a quicker, uglier death than hair metal did in the wake of grunge back in 1992. Born in the mid-‘90s, young bands, primarily American, followed the leads of Pantera’s timeless Vulgar Display of Power and Sepultura’s 1995 breakthrough Roots, creating a very mosh-friendly, mid-tempo sludge of grinding power chords, massively downtuned bass notes, aggro screaming, and plenty of white suburban angst. After Pantera, Sepultura, as well as Korn and Fear Factory, set the template for the young bands to follow, very few of the nu-metal bands to arrive did anything remotely creative with the sound, while the real talents in Europe and America continued to toil in obscurity. While the kids ate it up at first, the whole gimmick wore thin very quickly, arguably peaking with Slipknot’s 2001 opus Iowa, and when the more traditional form of American metal made a massive comeback in 2004, led by Lamb of God, Mastodon, and Shadows Fall, the muddy, turgid sounds of nu-metal became instantly irrelevant.
Out of that entire scene, bands continue to find ways to survive. System of a Down have completely cast off the nu-metal tag in recent years (they’re too talented a band to be limited to such a limiting style), Slipknot continue to do well, thanks to a knack for sly vocal melodies and an incredible live show, and Godsmack’s mainstream-friendly approach to the sound continues to sell surprisingly well. Mudvayne, on the other hand, have plenty of catching up to do.
An odd little band, Mudvayne used a tried-and-true gimmick to get peoples’ attention: outlandish make-up. And for a while there, it worked, as their visually striking appearance, kind of like a cross between Kiss and a creation by horror make-up guru Tom Savini, had the band displaying an uncanny ability to make rebellious teens drool and parents to recoil in horror (the band members even adopted such asinine character names as sPaG and Gurrg for each album). To Mudvayne’s credit, their music tried to sound slightly different than their peers, and at their best, the band could put together a potent mix of extremely tight riffs and strangely funky rhythms, but aside from the odd minor hit like “Dig”, there was very little to get excited about.
Three years after their last album, The End of All Things to Come, with nu-metal in its death throes, Mudvayne feel it’s time to buckle down and Get Serious. Trouble is, when shock rockers make a bid at gaining respect and restoring credibility, it rarely works. After the initial novelty, Kiss’s make-up free period between 1983 and 1992 turned out to be a complete bust. When W.A.S.P. got rid of all the buzz saws and blood in 1986, they were little more than a dull hair band, and sales plummeted. And the less said about Alice Cooper’s 1980 album Flush the Fashion, the better. In Mudvayne’s case, not only have they done away with the greasepaint and the idiotic pseudonyms, but they seem to have cast off any shred of creativity they might have had in the first place, because their new CD Lost and Found is a colossal bore.
Mudayne’s secret weapon on past albums has been the distinct bass playing of Ryan Martinie, his funk-fueled, rhythmic style bearing at times a close resemblance to Primus’s Les Claypool, but on the new record, there’s very little of the flair he displayed on the past two albums, thanks to some very pedestrian songwriting. It’s all an exercise in dated nu-metal cliches, and so uninspired is this disc, it’s impossible to remember any chord sequence or any vocal melody, so awash it all is in lazy songwriting. It’s a shame, too, because the band does show life on the ferocious “Determined”, which has enough energy to distract listeners from the fact that all this has been done a thousand times since 1998. After that, though, it’s all downhill. Lead single “Happy?” is thoroughly depressing, as singer Chad Grey sings in a voice completely uncontaminated by charisma, “In this hole, that is me.” The morose ballad “Fall Into Sleep” will make audiences do just that, while the overlong “Choices” recycles doubletracked, Alice in Chains style vocals, with none of the vocal hooks of the Seattle band.
Try as Mudvayne might, Lost and Found is ultimately a pointless album, one that might have sold well six years ago, but comes across as drab and hopelessly passé today. If anything, it makes one realize just how special the resurgence of real metal is these days. If you listen to this CD, and then Mastodon’s Leviathan, it becomes all too apparent where the real talent and innovation lies in heavy metal these days.