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8th June 2015 – Warner Bros / Helium 3

01. Dead Inside
02. [Drill Sergeant]
03. Psycho
04. Mercy
05. Reapers
06. The Handler
07. [JFK]
08. Deflector
09. Revolt
10. Aftermath
11. The Globalist
12. Drones

For several years now, British rock giants Muse have been teasing fans with a “heavier, stripped down” album; closer to their pre-Black Holes and Revelations days than the more radio-friendly sound they’ve cultivated over the last decade. Said album is now here, and it’s called Drones.

That being said, the album does actually showcase a mix of their more recent work, as well as the heavy live sound for which they are renowned. Meaty riffs from tracks like “Psycho” and the ending of “Reapers” are taken from their live jams.

Produced by Mutt Lunge – famous for various arena pop/rock bands including AC/DC, whose signature sounds seem to have provided a subtle undertone to the album – this isn’t the ‘heavy’ Muse traditional fans expected, but it’s still heavier than their last couple of records.

Opening with the Depeche Mode-like electro single “Dead Inside“, the album shows these hints of their recent material with a minimalist but gripping chorus, before moving into the heavier sound. The stripped down production is very clear straight away from the opening riff of “Psycho“; it sounds as if a garage rock band took their music to a pop producer. While this may divide opinion, it is clear that this was the desired effect.

Psycho“‘s anthem-like riff is the first glimpse of this ‘garage’ sound, showcasing the guitars’ distinct tone, which runs throughout the album. While the preceding oddball “[Drill Sergeant]” track seems a tad corny, it introduces the album’s main concept: turning people into emotionless killing machines, fit for war.

Follow-up “Mercy“ is definitely the sing-along anthem of the record, and gives off a similar vibe to the wildly popular “Starlight” from Black Holes And Revelations, with a bass-prominent verse and glossy piano melody. Matt Bellamy’s signature vocal lines are at times smooth and moving, and at others powerful and anthemic.

It’s from “Reapers” onwards where the album really starts to kick things up a notch, however. Both this joyous track and follow-up “The Handler“, contain some of the best riffs Muse have written for quite a while, seemingly taking influence from Rage Against The Machine of all places. The chorus of ”Reapers“ is nothing short of brilliant; with hints of the vocal sexiness of “Supermassive Black Hole” taking up with with the instrumental heaviness of the more illustrious songs from Black Holes & Revelations. It closes on another riff taken from their live jams, but ties up with a grand ending that is the closest we’ve heard to their live show since the closing of “Take A Bow“.

True also of “Deflector“, ”Revolt” and ”The Globalist” – a ten-minute epic which features segments of Elgar’s “Nimrod” – Muse know exactly how to close a song, even when the paths they travel to get there in each are so wonderfully varied: with touches of Queen in the former (using a clever little triplet break to form the hook of the song), Mediterranean vibes in the latter, and bluesy licks across “Revolt“, you’re never wanting for variety. Bellamy’s smooth baritone vocals usher in a spectacular ballad chorus here, or thrash out an epic closer there, and the unorthodox title track closing the album uses melodies based on Pierluigi de Palestrina‘s chapel piece “Benedictus“; but another example of Muse’s versatility.

Drones is not just an excellent album, but triumphant in light of everything the band have written to date: heavy, electronic and moving, it may not be the same bracket of heaviness as seen Absolution, but it is a welcome step in a rawer direction, all the while holding onto the extravagance for which Muse have become renowned. A must listen for 2015.

William Author Banner