Muse Engage in High Stakes Heaviness With ‘Simulation Theory’ – Album Review
This is not a test. We encourage you to find a pair of headphones and escape into Muse's world of high stakes heaviness known as their Simulation Theory album. The trio of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard have continually pushed boundaries, becoming more and more theatric with each album and Simulation Theory continues that trend, taking listeners into a world that feels both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.
For their latest effort, Muse employed a different release strategy, initially choosing to go the "singles" route, offering the first taste of new music -- the ominously heavy and slinking rocker "Dig Down" -- way back in May 2017. The better part of a year passed before "Thought Contagion" followed, with the dynamic rocker challenging listeners not to get caught up in the party line that often comes with news reporting. While both tracks were issued initially as stand alone singles, they eventually became the building blocks for a new album.
And build is exactly what Muse did, employing all sorts of musical gadgetry to capture the imagination of listeners while thematically attempting to hold on to humanity in an increasingly technologic world. It feels like a bit of a musical playground at times, with bluesy slide guitars, scratching, church organs, pianos, robotic vocals and more joining the kitchen sink in the mix, but the guitars, synths and drums still power most of what the band does and does well.
The album opening "Algorithm" is not what you might consider a traditional song structure, starting with an instrumental bit that employs tension-building synths and strings and a bit of classical piano that Bellamy once likened to "'80s synth computer game music." A minute and a half passes before the opening vocal, but the lyrics are worth waiting for, setting a very visual tone for what's to come -- a war with a creator as humans are viewed as more of a simulation. That seemingly falls in line with the videos for "Dig Down" and "Thought Contagion," which teased a virtual world that has played out as more videos have been released from the album.
Bellamy and the band have created an album that flows together musically and creatively, while delivering songs feel like they come with high stakes. "Break me out / break me out / Let me flee / Break me out / break me out / set me free," begs Bellamy with impassioned intent, while later showing some insane falsetto on "The Dark Side." "Life is a broken simulation, I'm unable to feel / I'm searching for something that's real / I am always seeking to see what's behind the veil," later offers the singer in "Blockades," showcasing a bit of what lies at stake in the driving, "Knights of Cydonia"-esque rocker. Meanwhile, the album closer, "The Void," finds the band at one of their most defiant moments, with Bellamy proclaiming, "They'll say, no one can see us / That we're estranged and all alone / They believe nothing can reach us / And pull us out of the boundless gloom / They're wrong / They're wrong / They're wrong."
While the lyrics may paint a picture of isolationist angst, the music drives home the point. Howard shines on this highly percussive collection of music, bringing some heavy beats to the more intense tracks on the album, while keeping things swinging and catchy on songs like "Pressure" and "Break It to Me." Other highlights include the radio ready single "Something Human" and the triumphant "Get Up and Fight."
Though Muse have made their name in the alt-rock world, Simulation Theory ups the ante on heaviness and intensity, making it well worth checking out for those who prefer something a little heavier in their sound. Invest in some headphones and enjoy this journey.
Muse Live in Central Park, 2017