The year is 2007 and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy is clad in a red tuxedo, sitting at a grand piano paying homage to the works of Rachmaninoff
Bellamy’s in front of 75 thousand people on night two of the band’s stand at Wembley Stadium.
The song is ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’, a particularly epic cut off the band’s 2004 opus Absolution – a collection of neo classical-cum-prog indie ragers that saw the band ascend to headline status at Glastonbury Festival in 2004 – no mean feat for a band just three albums deep.
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But return to Wembley we must – for, like their football field-filling forebears Queen, Genesis, and AC/DC, the band has mastered the art of having a colossal crowd eat out of the palm of their hands.
An hour or so after the piano interlude of ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’, Bellamy executes a perfect power slide as ‘New Born’ kicks into full throttle.
Circle pits swirl, and a short while later the enraptured crowd bids the band farewell to the symphonic club thumper ‘Take a Bow’, and the band exit the stage with Peter Gabriel-like gusto.
It’s a tribute to stadium rock masters Elton John, James Hetfield, and Angus Young, wrapped up in two, gloriously geeky hours of riffs served with a side of Mozart.
The Wembley shows, immortalised in the absurdly thrilling H.A.A.R.P live DVD (short for High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a project by the US military conspiracy theorists believe was aimed at altering the weather) confirmed to all onlookers that rock wasn’t dead – it just needed a mad scientist lab coat, and a healthy injection of neo-classical prog to draw in the masses again.
It also confirmed the band’s status as the hottest live act on the planet, with Bellamy, bassist Christopher Wolstenholme, and drummer Dominic Howard quickly leapfrogging the coolest, slickest pop and indie acts of the day for top festival billing.
It begs the question – how the hell did Muse end up here?
“We were just so committed to nailing it, I was just trying to focus on that – while also quietly shitting myself!”
“I remember getting home to my apartment after the first night and I was staring at the ceiling, wondering the same thing,” remarks drummer Dom Howard, via a phone call from his London abode.
“For us at that time, we were just so committed to nailing it, I was just trying to focus on that – while also quietly shitting myself!”
Nail it they most certainly did. It’s this same ‘venture anywhere’ spirit that has served Muse from their earliest days right up to their forthcoming ninth LP Will of the People, with early singles like ‘Kill or be Killed’ and ‘Won’t Stand Down’ showing the band venturing into straight metal territory for the first time, including some shiny new double-kick parts from the usually single-footed Mr. Howard.
“I had one of those double kick pedals laying around the studio and thought it might work well with some of the heavier stuff we were working on,” Dom reminisces.
“It’s just a double pedal on a single kick drum and I play it as basically as you really can. It can’t really compare to how Slipknot and those real metal drummers employ it. We just tried for a different vibe on that particular song and it worked out well.”
Work out well it did with ‘Kill or be Killed’ already becoming something of a live favourite among the Muse faithful.
“That one kind of surprised me because it is such a departure from the trajectory of the last few records,” remarks Dom. “To me, it’s the heaviest thing we’ve done since ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ era Muse.”
This inclination to zig when others are zagging isn’t new for the band. A simple look back over the last decade of Muse certainly paints the picture of a band not willing to rest on their laurels, with an evolutionary itch that seems in constant need of scratching.
Decamping to their studio setup in Santa Monica, the trio workshopped ‘Kill or be Killed’ alongside nine other tracks, covering a broad spectrum of stylistic territory.
“For us it was really refreshing to be working in that space,” explains Dom.
“It was a real throwback to the early days of Muse – a small room, relatively low ceilings, the three of us in there throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.”
With the pandemic in full swing and Muse’s touring plans temporarily thwarted, the extra studio time also served as a perfect catalyst for rampant experimentation, especially with regards to Howard’s drum sound. Needless to say, the skinsman left no stone unturned.
“On the record, there is basically no continuity in drum sounds from one song to the next. I’m always trying different kits and from there, different individual drums, to try and find out what works best for the song.
“In the end, every song was played on a Frankenstein of pieces from various kits, a tom from here, a kick from there.”
So, with a few weeks still to go before the album officially drops, who knows what the rest of Will of the People might bring? What we can say with certainty is that early signs point to this being the finest work the band have produced in over a decade.
With the fog of the pandemic lifting, the stage is once again vacant for a stadium-sized rock act to seize the moment by the throat.
Now, where’s that red suit gotten to?
Matt Bellamy’s Rig
- Manson 007 MB
- Manson ORYX Custom Fan Fret 6-string. ORYX
- Jeff Buckley’s 1982 Fender Telecaster
- Manson MB Drone 003 Manson Guitars PF-1 bridge Pickup and Sustainiac Sustainer
- 1966 or ’65 Old Gibson LG-0 acoustic
- Manson MB Standard with PF-1 bridge pickup and Sustainiac Sustainer Satin ‘Matt Black’ Finish
- Manson MB Standard with PF-1 bridge Pickup and Sustainiac Sustainer Gloss ‘Red Alert’ Finish
- Diezel VH4 Head
- Mesa Boogie Badlander Head
- Marshall 1959 SLP Handwired Plexi Head Modded
- Orange Rockerverb 100 MKIII Head
- Gibson EH-150 (1940)
- Vox AC30 (1964) Top Boost
- LANEY 100-watt Klipp Head and 4×12 Cab (1972)
- Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box
- Mills 4×12 Cabinet 4×12 Celestion V30 8ohm
- Marshall 1960BX Handwired 4×12 Cabinet 25-watt greenbacks 16ohm
- Sennheiser MD421
- Royer R-122V
- Neumann U67
- Neumann U87
- Shure SM57
- Dwarfcraft Necromancer
- ProCo RAT
- Death By Audio Total Sonic Annihilation
- Korg SDD3000
- Peter Cornish TB83
Preorder Will of the People here.