A Monster Review of Monster Magnet’s Mastermind

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That’s a double-edged sword. I understand the band wanting to put their best foot forward, and I don’t disagree with the approach, but the tradeoff is the listener is spending the rest of the album waiting for something to match up. “Hallucination Bomb” is an instant comparison touchstone. Subsequent songs “Bored with Sorcery” and “Dig that Hole” (is that the N-word I heard in there?) rock with a more driven punk rock pace and riffy/catchy choruses, respectively, Wyndorf and Company again toying with the pace as they go. Wyndorf’s vocals come on in multiple layers especially on “Dig that Hole,” which isn’t really new for Monster Magnet either, but always works because of his charisma as a vocalist. Even the ultra-Magnetic “Gods and Punks” holds up stylistically, especially in the guitar — late-era Monster Magnet specialize in a kind of pop-minded “stoner rock by any other name” — and the chorus of Wyndorfs that shows up on the chorus to let us know how much they rule the planet from high to low both sets that track apart from the three before it and provides listeners with an memorable hook. In lieu of “Hallucination Bomb,” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the band opening with “Gods and Punks” live.

The first of Mastermind’s several missteps comes in the form of the awesomely-titled “The Titan Who Cried Like a Baby,” which is three and a half minutes of Wyndorf over synth orchestra that sounds like the intro for a song that never takes off. It does have a build to it, don’t get me wrong, but if it were a minute shorter (the chorus doesn’t need to be repeated, I’m sorry) and it led right into the ensuing title track, it would probably work much better. The length it is, I keep expecting Mundell, Caivano, Baglino and Pantella to kick in behind and start off the most epic track Monster Magnet has ever done. As it is, it just… ends, and it takes a lot of the momentum the previous four cuts had worked hard to build with it. The title track brings back the band but sounds quieter somehow production-wise. I don’t doubt that’s the effect of the lead-in rather than some discrepancy in the recording, but it’s the feel Mastermind gives at that point nonetheless. Listening to the song “Mastermind,” I almost spend the entire five minutes still wondering what the hell I just heard before it and how that possibly made it past the cutting room floor in the form it did.

Drum-wise, “100 Million Miles” follows a course almost identical to “Bored with Sorcery,” steady snare hits pacing out the verses and choruses like a metronome. It’s a song that gets better with volume, but it’s worth noting that with these seven songs, Mastermind is already at 35 minutes, and there are still five to go before the album hits its full hour length. I don’t think tracks eight through 12 should have been left off, but some of them easily could have and Mastermind would be a better record for it. The “Monster Magnet does garage” cut “Perish in Fire” is undercut by its high production value and guitar notes that beep through the verses like a heart monitor. It’s the first song on Mastermind that really feels like filler, but by no means the last. “Time Machine” beings a string of songs that are obviously stacked at the end of the record for a reason. Band puts out an album on a steady three-year cycle; fine. Band’s album is exactly an hour long after signing to a new label contract and I’m thinking there’s filler. That’s not a dig on “Time Machine” itself. Actually, I think if Monster Magnet had ended Mastermind with it, it would make a cool, atmospheric kind of closer to a quality nine-track, 45-minute album. In the context of the three songs still to come, it’s the beginning of the bloat.

“When Planes Fall from the Sky” has a vibe and pace similar to “Hallucination Bomb” and “Dig that Hole,” Pantella sitting back on a groove to ride it out in good measure, and it’s one of Wyndorf’s best and most natural-sounding vocal performances on Mastermind (which I don’t doubt is why it’s there), but by now we’ve already heard everything it has to offer musically and the affect it has it just to be redundant, which hurts both the song and the album. And if you’re going to bring in an acoustic-led track at all for a record like this — I’m not sure I’d recommend it — it needs to be earlier than track 11 or it needs to not be there at all. Mundell was quoted while recording the guitars as saying Mastermind was very space rock, which I think is what the bulk of longtime Monster Magnet fans want from the band, for them to get back to their inner Hawkwind space/psych, and I’m not about to hold that quote against Mundell, since it’s impossible to know 100 percent how a batch of songs will turn out before they’re finished, but “Ghost Story” is about as far from space rock as the band has ever gotten. It feels tacked on for the sake of formula and uninspired.

By the time “All Outta Nothin” comes around, my excitement at the prospect of one more new Monster Magnet song I haven’t yet heard is just about completely abated, and the song itself could just as easily have been on 4-Way Diablo or Monolithic Baby! as Mastermind. It has nothing really new to offer tonally or in terms of approach and comes off as more filler from the cynical mindset that most people won’t make it that far anyway. Wyndorf says in the chorus he’s, “sick of the bullshit, baby,” and I’m left wondering if he didn’t have anything nice to say at that point, he mightn’t have been better saying nothing at all.

There are those Monster Magnet fans out there — I know a couple of them — who will follow the band through anything, who will regale you at length with tales of Wyndorf’s genius and the band’s innovative style. They’ll probably really like Mastermind, because they’d probably like anything the band put out. Likewise, there are those who think Monster Magnet hasn’t done anything worthwhile since 1995 and they’re a cash-grab running on the creative fumes of what they once were. Mastermind isn’t going to budge them of their opinion. For me, I reside somewhere in the middle. Mastermind certainly has its moments where greatness seems attainable, particularly early on, but those moments are undone by filler and a stagnant approach. I genuinely think if the album was 45 minutes instead of an hour long, it would make all the difference in the world, but even if you skip those last couple tracks while listening, they’re still there and in looking at the album you have to take it all into account. It’s unfortunate. As a fan of Monster Magnet, a Jersey resident and someone who genuinely believes they helped shape stoner rock into what it became in the 1990s, it pains me to have an album come from the band and not be able to dig it the way I should.

Monster Magnet’s website

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10 Responses to “A Monster Review of Monster Magnet’s Mastermind

  1. Mike says:

    I’m a twenty year veteran fan of MM and once resident of your beloved Garden State. I don’t think the band has ever put out a bad album, but some are certainly better than others. I’m looking forward to hearing this one, but I’m not excited the way I am for new ones by bands lioke Electric Wizard or Cough. MM are kinda like stoner rocks Slayer, AC/DC or Motorhead. You know what your gonna get, it’ll be MM and it’ll be solid. If you’re a fan you’ll be happy. If you not a fan by now, they won’t ever put anything out to change your mind at this stage in their career.

  2. jimmyjames says:

    I thought this was a fair review, even not hearing the record; the reviewer obviously understands the band’s strengths and tendencies. I’m waiting for Wyndorf and company to lay off the quest for ‘radio fidelity’ layering and work with some different rock vibes that are not just dave on keyboards. that said, every record they’ve done after powertrip has always had 3-4 good tunes which make it worthwhile, and i’m looking forward to hearing what they’ve done this time around.

  3. IgnacioBrown says:

    I was very disappointed by this album. I do think that their last four albums are all pretty lackluster. All of them have moments, but don’t come anywhere near the fucked up brilliance of Superjudge and Dopes to Infinity.

  4. asshat mcgillicuddy says:

    As a fan of Monster Magnet, a Jersey resident and someone who genuinely believes they helped shape stoner rock into what it became in the 1990’s…..

    I’ll clip this part of the review as it directly applies to me, but I’ll leave off the latter….

    I’ve been a tremendous fan from their onset and continue to spin all their releases to this day. Definitively tag them as my favorite band and i suppose, as you called out – will follow the band through anything, and will regale you at length with tales of Wyndorf’s genius and the band’s innovative style.

    And I’m totally OK with that.

  5. Twitchi says:

    I’ve only started listening MM from the God says no album on, and I have to say they’re good enough to turn me back listening to the long abandoned rock sound. Besides, there’s at least one song on the new album that I know of for sure, which makes me want to buy it.

  6. AssHat says:

    Perhaps people should realize that bands of this caliber are always evolving. You state that they cannot capture their former glory. I ask of you, why should they try to? Perhaps you should judge bands/albums on their merit in THIS day, not how they compare to 20 years ago.

  7. Jay Longley says:

    Interesting and fair review; I guess reviews are always subjective to a large/small extent so people are bound to disagree. Case in point: Perish in Fire, Time Machine and Ghost Story are, for me, stand out tracks with fantastic lyrics.

    Love the album from start to finish. Incidentally, I would follow the band through anything, and will regale you at length with tales of Wyndorf’s genius and the band’s innovative style.

  8. Manuel Perez says:

    As a MM’s fan, I find this new record as delightfull as the old ones… because I like MM style and their music’s evolution… this review contribute with a subjective opinion that, by the way, only can be taken seriously by amateur listeners… as Mike said… If you are a fan, you’ll get it… otherwise, yo’ll get this opinion…

  9. Matt says:

    Nobody’s commented on this in awhile, but I thought I’d insert my 2 cents anyway.

    I am not a big fan of God Says No, Monolithic or 4-Way, not because they’re terrible, but because they simply don’t measure up to what I love about Monster Magnet, and I find them kind of lacking in general. There are a few good cuts on Monolithic, the best one being the b-side they left off the album entirely, called Ultimate Everything.

    That said, I really dig Mastermind. It’s the heaviest, gloomiest album they’ve done in forever, and contrary to the reviewer’s opinion, the 3 track progression of * Perish in Fire – Time Machine – When the Planes Fall From the Sky * comprise the most solid rock and roll I’ve heard in forever. It is psychedelic, it is ragged, it is heavy, punk-fueled, diesel engine fury, with this cloud of beautiful sadness in the middle.

    I don’t hear any filler at all on this album. Now, I understand everyone’s got their opinions, and the reviewer’s here is just as viable as mine, but I get the feeling that tracks like Time Machine and Titan are just misunderstood by people who don’t care to hear slow, sad songs that don’t build into monster walls of rock. Which is fine, but to call them “unfinished” or whatever kind of betrays a desire to constantly be bombarded by bombast.

    I love this album from beginning until the last two tracks, which I agree sound a bit out of place, like they belong on 4-Way Diablo or another of their “meh” albums.

    But they’re not terrible songs. This album has 10 of 12 really heavy, groovy, emotional, real, raw, raging tracks that blow me of way.

    And I’ve been a hater for the past 10 years, so I’m very, very happy to hear Dave finally laying off trying to make commercial rock hits and really writing from his soul instead.

    To me, this really is a return to form. It’s comparable to Spine of God, Superjudge or Dopes, but none of those albums are comparable to each other, and I think this fits in right after Dopes as a progression of great, varied, trippy albums of solid rock and roll.

  10. Sickboy666 says:

    ^^^ Right on!

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