There are not many people who can claim to connect ultra-modern warfare and rock music; yet, this is exactly what Matt Bellamy has managed to do on Muse’s latest offering, Drones. In a change from more traditional album themes Drones follows the plight of a man who succumbs to robotic drones, is morphed into a human machine that kills on demand, breaks free from the drones’ control before eventually destroying the entire earth. Yes you read that right.
Local boys, Muse had long-ago promised that this album would be more stripped back and heavier than previous offering The 2nd Law, which featured a number of more electronically experimental tracks, and this is obvious from the start. The first half of the album is an explosion of loud guitar, cymbals and Matt Bellamy’s signature howling tones as the album focuses on man being taken over by drones and forced to do their bidding. The opening track, Dead Inside, has the odd electronic splash which links nicely to The 2nd Law, but soon turns into a powerful proclamation from Bellamy against these machines which are “dead inside” before ending with the statement that “I have become like you” as the character has turned. This leads to the introduction of the Drill Sergeant, the one seemingly responsible for brainwashing the hero. “Your ass belongs to me now,” he screams as Psycho begins, the hoarse sounds of the hero replying “Aye sir!” still ringing in your ears. Psycho opens with a riff that may be familiar to some, having been played many times live as a filler between songs. Bellamy has taken the riff and grown it into a full-blown monster and Psycho is one of the best songs on the album, creating the kind of anthemic feel probably not seen since the Knights of Cydonia days. “I will break you,” the Drill Sergeant screams during the track which builds in power throughout.
The next song, Mercy, sees Bellamy desperately begging for a way out and continues where Psycho left off with a huge chorus in which Bellamy repeatedly asks for Mercy against a backdrop of crashing cymbals and hugely distorted guitar. Full of emotion, it brings across the feel of one last cry for help. Reapers sees the hero nearing full drone mode as Matt Bellamy tests his guitar skills with an impressive two-handed tapping opening riff. It is a song full of hooks and riffs that are so catchy it is hard not to be gripped by the emotion and power brought across. Just when you think the song has ended, the band explodes into another riff on top of which “Here come the drones” is screamed, before ending with a few squeals from Bellamy’s guitar. This is followed by my personal favourite, The Handler. Once more a heavy, catchy riff opens as the hero is at full drone-mode, claiming, “I am proclaimed to obey”. Bellamy reaches his signature high notes during a chorus in which he begs to be left alone. A guitar solo in the middle of the song seems to mark the turning point of the album. The tone of the song after is uplifting instead of aggressive. “Let me go / Let me be / I am escaping from your grip,” Bellamy cries as the song ends on the powerful opening riff.
This is followed by an excerpt from a JFK speech slamming greed, before Defector bounds in. Once more the guitar is heavy but the feeling of the song is more hopeful. “Free, yeah I’m free” Bellamy howls as he celebrates his escape. Again Bellamy solos his way through the song, something that seems to be more prominent in this album, before ending with one final line from John F. Kennedy. Revolt comes up next, in which Bellamy seems to contemplate the future before launching into a catchy chorus, in which he cries, “You can revolt”. Once again the tone is uplifting and powerful and the song as a whole is less heavy, marking a winding down towards the end of the album. Aftermath opens with the sound of winds blowing over desolate terrain whilst strings play in the background. An eerie echo-y guitar enters and it becomes clear that much has changed in the hero’s world. The pace of the song is much slower than earlier in the album and Bellamy softly croons, “It’s you and I against the world”. The change of style of song is almost unexpected after the brazen attack from earlier in the album but it works. Muse have claimed that they would not be averse to the album being made into some kind of musical and the pace and cinematic strings of the song make it easy to imagine it being played in some kind of theatre.
The final two songs on the album are both only something Muse could have come up with. The Globalist opens with a Mexican standoff feel before following the rise and fall of a dictator in a ten-minute epic that harks back to the days of Exogenesis. The introduction of a heavy guitar riff halfway through seems to mark the destruction of the earth as Bellamy afterwards sings, “There’s no country left,” only his voice and a clean piano audible, a clear sense of isolation built. A choir and orchestral sounds build in a song that, once again, would not sound out of place in a theatre – almost Queen-like in parts. The album ends with the title track Drones, a Gregorian choral-style track featuring multiple Matt Bellamys singing about his family being killed by drones. I can’t say I have ever heard anything like this on a modern popular music album, but somehow it works. You sense the feeling of loss that Bellamy is trying to convey and the irony of using such an old style of music to resent this super high-tech method of war is brilliant.
Overall this album is strangely brilliant. Going on the theme alone, it shouldn’t be, and sometimes without knowing the story behind the songs they can become a little confusing. But musically, Muse promised to return to their bigger rockier sounds, and they have. They have produced a few tracks that are right up there with the best they’ve done and overall it’s a top album. To those who weren’t lucky enough to see them in Exeter earlier this year, they will be touring the album over the summer and have warned they may look into using actual drones in their performances. Whatever happens, it is bound to be spectacular.