First off, I have to mention that my tastes in music are pretty varied, but my favorite music leans toward the ambitious, grand, whimsical, ethereal, refined/elegant, complex, original, intelligent, powerful, multi-faceted and in many cases, cerebral. Thus, I find one (to a maximum degree) or more of these qualities exemplified in progressive/psychedelic rock (mainly of the 60s and 70s), and classical music, which are my top preferences in music. As far as metal is concerned, I was never a die-hard fan, and still am not to this day, though my strongest interest in it was a decade ago, and has been nearly nonexistent since, as I found it to become tasteless, predictable and unoriginal.
However, on the discovery of some recent bands who seem to be pushing the envelope of metal (e.g. Meshuggah), I’m a bit more hopeful on the progress of “the hard stuff.” Meshuggah plays “math-metal,” a style which incorporates rhythmically complex features into metal. When I read that Mudvayne were also “mathematical” in their rhythms, I had to check these guys out — and I am SO glad that I did. These guys have a LARGE amount of versatility and talent – so much so, that I’m not sure my feelings about the whole thing can be accurately expressed in words. The structures are indeed complex and mathematical, but the band does not shy away from melody and catchy heavy rock. It’s a nice balance between accessibility and complexity (not unlike Permanent Waves-era Rush.) The lyrics are intelligent, which are at times serious, thought-provoking, and at other times humorous and/or sarcastic. There’s even some metaphysical topics – like the lyrics to each song matching up with the psychological profile for each of the 12 astrological signs of the zodiac (if you’re familiar with astrology, you’ll EASILY be able to spot the correlations between each song and respective, highlighted sign.)
These guys are under the “nu-metal” label, but that’s just a weak cop out from going into deeper analysis of the band’s attributes, which may be difficult to do. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much how the majority of “professional” critics are towards artists’ contributions — looking for the easiest comparative link, and failing to give artists’ works fair, in-depth reviews (for lack of intelligence and laziness), and it’s been that way for years and years. What’s more sad is that many listeners follow these critical techniques, and rarely form solid opinions of their own.
Having said all of that, I’m not sure who to compare this band to, as they don’t outright sound like anyone to me. The closest thing I can compare them to is Tool, but these guys seem a bit more loose, and groove-oriented in approach, but no less intelligent and intricate. And as far as the “nu-metal” label, it certainly does have that modern alternative metal sound, which unfortunately seems to overshadow the deeper (and more important) elements of their music, as well as scaring off potential fans. However, on the whole, I find it grossly unfair and inaccurate, as these guys possess more complexity, depth, versatility and originality than most artists found in popular music today. I call them something like progressive alternative metal (if it’s all that important.)
Look deeper – there is MUCH more to Mudvayne than meets the surface. Beyond the campy image, the musicians are incredibly talented – particularly Chud, who is a hyper-versatile vocalist — almost schizophrenically so. One minute he’s doing these goofy growls, and the next, he showcases vocal characteristics of the most sincere balladeer. The rhythm section is tight, and drummer Spug plays some pretty complex rhythms on the kit, but not without displaying tasty grooves here and there. “Silenced” is an excellent way to open up the album, as a fast-paced, blistering rocker, while “Trapped In The Wake of A Dream” showcases some pretty odd rhythms (like 11/8 and 17/8, I think.) “Not Falling” is just excellent, as it balances the heavier moments, with mysteriously melodic vocals and soundscapes – not to mention a few curveballs in rhythm. “A World So Cold” is possibly my favorite track on here. Chud gets to show off his commanding, heartfelt, brooding vocals (which actually recall Greg Lake of ELP — for me anyway), backed by the melancholy, atmospheric guitar arpeggios, which give way to harder-edged moments. There’s also a section (I think the bridge) where Chud does this mesmerizing roadrunner-speed vocal technique, intermingled with growls, which are unbelievable — a testament to his (and the band’s) talent, while “The Patient Mental” seems to exhibit what is known as “revolving polymeter” (Meshuggah makes extensive use of this technique.)
Elsewhere, “Skrying” begins with what sounds like a 11/4 (4+4+3) rhythm, before turning into one of the strangest, most menacing choruses I’ve ever heard. The title track is probably the fastest on here. The lyrics are quite biting and sinister, but thought-provoking, which take on a nihilistic view of world politics. Even more powerful, they crack me up hysterically (at least in the way Chud delivers his vocal), and the topic is based on something that probably shouldn’t be laughed at — or should it? And “A Key To Nothing” is a melodic, heavy ballad to close out the album, in which Chud showcases his passionate vocal delivery.
Intelligence, melody, complexity, versatility, accessibility — it’s a 10. Mudvayne seem to possess all of the ingredients (and then some) which blend together nicely to create quality music. For those who are purist and label-conscious – try to open your mind, and look past the “nu-metal” aspects of this music. Only then will you be able to spot the genius that’s embedded within Mudvayne’s music.