After a series of decent albums, the stoner rock veterans return with a bang.
Back in the 1990s, Monster Magnet was on an incredible roll. They were one of the foremost acts in the burgeoning stoner rock/metal movement, a band that celebrated everything about the culture, from the tritone Sabbath riffs, to the space rock of Hawkwind, to lyrical content so over the top it had people wondering if they were sincere or not, to the hallucinogens associated with that form of music. Their '90s trajectory was impressive: 1992's Spine of God was a ferocious blast of proto-metal veiled by a haze of pot smoke, 1995's groovy Dopes to Infinity is a stone-cold stoner classic, while 1998's Vegas-inspired masterpiece Powertrip was a lavish homage to the excesses of hard rock. With the late '90s overwhelmed with lowest-common-denominator, one-riff wonder nu-metal acts spewing their suburban white boy angst and hostility, Monster Magnet was such a refreshing change of pace, purveyors of music that was not only ferocious and foreboding, but immensely fun as well, and the public responded in kind, propelling Powertrip to gold certification.
Led by the inimitable singer/guitarist Dave Wyndorf, with longtime guitarist Ed Mundell at his side, Monster Magnet had a difficult time sustaining that tremendous momentum as the new decade came along. It's not as if any of their subsequent albums were massive disappointments – if anything they were merely good rather than great – but with the sputtering sales of 2000's God Says No and 2004's Monolithic Baby! virtually ignored by the mainstream press, the band quickly fell off the radar in America. Four years after an overdose of prescription medication and three years after the strong 4-Way Diablo, Wyndorf and Mundell are back with their eighth album, a new record deal with European power metal giants Napalm (as weird a fit as you will ever see), and best of all, a renewed sense of vigor.
Mastermind isn't just a mere satisfactory effort by a bunch of seasoned stoner veterans, it's easily Monster Magnet's finest work since Powertrip. In recent years the band has been leaning towards straight-ahead hard rock in the vein of that record, but it dominates the new Mastermind so much that it's practically begging to be the same crossover hit that the 1998 album was. Lead single "Gods and Punks" is a terrific example, built around a simple garage rock riff and lumbering groove reminiscent of the great early '90s band the Four Horsemen. With its down-tempo swagger and big, "whoa"-driven chorus, "Dig That Hole" is the kind of no-frills stoner jam that fans of the genre crave, the propulsive "100 Million Miles" is laced with Wyndorf's trademark humor, while the brooding "Ghost Story" comes from out of nowhere, a dusky tune that ditches the big riffs in favor of a much more controlled approach, and the tactic works exceptionally well.
There's no need to worry, though, as those massive stoner/doom riffs are still present on Mastermind. Lead-off track "Hallucination Bomb" boasts a wicked elastic riff that exudes as much menace as Sabbath's Born Again. "Bored With Secrecy" charges along at a rampaging pace that we haven't heard from Wyndorf in ages, and "When the Planes Fell from the Sky" is built around a devastating riff made all the more dramatic by the melancholy tone of Wyndorf's singing. Overall, it's a welcome return to form by a band that's shown a lot more resilience than most people would have expected. Wyndorf, who turns 54 the week of his album's release, sounds better than kids half his age. Chalk another one up to the geezers, proving yet again that as dudes like him refuse to call it quits, hard rock and metal can no longer be called a young man's game.