Black Holes and Revelations is the fourth studio album from Brit rockers Muse. Slated for release on July 11, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy so that I could write this review. This is the band that, a little more than a year ago, absolutely blew me away at a North Carolina show touring the U.S. for Absolution. Needless to say I was excited to hear their latest effort. All in all, I must say it’s not what I expected, but I am in no way dissappointed.
I think it’s safe to say that Black Holes and Revelations is definitely a concept album, but the concept is so large and grandiose that it becomes a global warning and simultaneous call for help. It explores the relevance of space and Earth and people in a geo-political climate of repression, natural resource control, for-profit wars, and the outright ignored malaise of masses of people. As the songs progress and change and morph, the collective passion of Muse becomes more and more evident and real.
The sound of the album is reflected greatly in its instrumentation and speed. People are always attaching cool sounding labels to music like “emo” and “hardcore”. If the first half of the album can submit to such fleeting efforts, “Synth-Core” came to mind after my extended absorption of grimy, thick synthesizers and heavy, yet stealthy, guitar riffs. The first track, “Take A Bow,” is marked by frantic, mesmerizing techno/new wave keys backed by vocals that almost seem to be a letter to my president (maybe most all presidents and prime ministers and dictators and such). The song is also distinguished with an explosion of a guitar come in that seems to indicate it was being held back the entire first half of the song.
“Take A Bow” leads into the synth pop “Starlight” that is impressive with melodic piano and driving guitar. Following is “Supermassive Black Hole” that may be the first progressive synth grunge song I’ve ever heard. The fourth track “Map of the Problematique” is probably my favorite song on the album right now. The press release covers it perfectly saying it “…is Depeche Mode impersonating Queen for a Bond theme…” If you don’t want to hear that you’re not a music fan. For me, the song was an exquisite marriage of synth, keys, and drums that has an extremely frantic pace, but the song still manages to unfold slowly and deliberately, which is due, I think, to the strikingly operatic vocals.
“Soldier’s Poem” follows and offers a bit of a break from the controlled chaos with a pseudo-apocalyptic lullaby that leads into “Invincible” with its drums marching us to war behind sailing, Pink Floydesque guitar riffs that eventually give way to a jolting, disconnected solo that starts the song on a crescendo that eventually spills into a hard rock anthem. Whew, these guys are good.
When you thought you’d had enough the “Assassin” intro completes itself and offers the listener a swift kick in the ass as the album’s first truly guttural emotional response and call to action. “Shoot your leaders down…join forces underground…destroy demonocracy.” In the press release Bellamy offers some context: “I think there’s something underneath that people are feeling, particularly the younger generation. We feel like we’ve been born into some pre-created situation where we don’t actually have any control over anything.”
The ninth track “City of Delusion” offers a world tour of instrumentation with an acoustic opening that explodes into a rich melding of rock guitars and west Asian strings (reminded me of Page and Plant’s Kashmir). Somehow all of that leads to a Spanish horn solo. The amazing thing is that it works.
The albums finale is called “Knights of Cydonia.” My honest to God first thought was, “this sounds like extremely complicated, well orchestrated video game music.” My vision then expanded to offer that the track was an overture for an epic sci-fi adventure film about a band of revolutionaries trying to save the world from true evil as they travel the face of the Earth gathering supporters and a growing voice. As it stands this album could be the soundtrack for such a movie. *(Editor’s note: This review was written before the “Knights of Cydonia” video was released. Kind of eerie how close Sadler’s vision matched the final product!)*
Unfortunately, the album makes that premise seem more like a dream you wake up from in a dark bedroom with CNN the only light in the background broadcasting news of more death. I feel like I’ve just written a treatment, but it helps me realize that much of the power of Muse’s music lies in how visual and multi-dimensionally artistic it truly is. Their music is adept at taking the listener to other worlds while the lyrics are simultaneously keeping their feet transplanted firmly on the ground. The power and clout of Muse is that they can perfectly replicate this experience at their shows, but they don’t do that. Their live shows take the music to a level that many may believe can’t even exist. I was unsure myself until I saw them live and spent half the show with my mouth hanging open. With the release of Black Holes and Revelations I can only hope they can make their way stateside once again. Muse is this decade’s best band.