“Save me from the ghosts of shadows, before they eat my soul!”
Over the course of their last three albums, Muse morphed in my eyes from an occasional listen into an essential face of rock, their sound consistently sleek, ear-catching, and with just the right amount of pomp and circumstance for this kind of sound. Where The Resistance dealt with dystopian resistance and The 2nd Law (the least of the trio to me, but still a good album) dealt with the need to become a multi-planet species, Drones’ concept is far more grounded in the modern day: Matthew Bellamy croons and wails against the modern state of mechanized, dehumanized warfare, and the music behind him is as good as Muse has ever been, all coated in a lush, crystal-clear production job.
Sure, the album feels like it stumbles out of the gate a little, introducing itself with the stilted chorus in the first half of Dead Inside – until the second half uplifts the whole song, so powerful it becomes nearly transcendent. It’s more than the sum of its parts.
And the bizarre drill-sergeant sound clips undercut the otherwise solid, raunchy grooves of Psycho in a bad way – until the track rolls over to Mercy, a cracking choice of a single and one of the best representations of why modern Muse is so great. Bellamy takes the lead with vocal lines that feel acrobatic yet straightforward, wailing for mercy from the overlords hiding in the shadows, the range he displays seeming effortless yet soulful. And I’m sure you’re going to dig it right here.
Album centerpiece The Globalist is ten minutes of ideas that would seem to have no right to be repeated as many times as they are – we’re in Opeth territory here – and yet by some brew of musical alchemy, it totally works. The song takes us further and further into the mind of a world leader who, ultimately, destroys the world with the tools he maintained to protect it. It’s either a slow-burner that feels like an epic, or an epic that feels like a slow-burner; I can’t decide which. You would think that the riffs that take up the middle of the song would lose their inherent sense of panic and urgency through sheer repetition, but instead, it just keeps building, adding elements atop elements like a master chef letting his creation simmer.
Other tracks do their job just as well: Reapers sees us in with a deceptively up-tempo verse that gets us bobbing our heads right before the groovy swagger of the chorus crashes in: “Killed by…DRONES!” And the band sees hope in the sing-a-long-catchy Revolt, whose surprisingly happy chorus comes off like a light flickering amidst the mechanized darkness of the rest of the album.
I don’t know if I’d call this Muse’s best record – I’d still give that honour to The Resistance, which crackles with just as much stand-up-and-be-counted urgency today as the day it came out, but Drones is a more than worthy successor. With Muse over the past few years, we’re witnessing what I believe to be a band at the peak of its powers. Go get this record!