Mudvayne has been a headtrip since its debut on L.D. 50 in 2000. The mainstream meshed with chugging bass lines, quick-spit vocals toed the line of scat and screamo; a sense of contained chaos permeated from this metal act’s first release. (No, we’re not talking about KoRn, that’s nu-metal.) Naturally, all of the angry white kids came out of the woodwork, as this was a “different” definition of accessible hard rock. As a band that appeared confused at first glance on how it wished to be seen, Mudvayne tried to goosestep and be everything to everyone beyond a stellar kick-off. For 10 years, we have watched Chad Gray & Co. try on themes and outfits from science fiction (The End of All Things to Come, L.D. 50) to cookie-cut hard rock (Lost & Found) to interactivity a la Reznor for 2008’s redundancy-tainted re-visitation of roots titled The New Game. Mudvayne’s biggest problem seems to stem from overzealous reinvention, an issue that has glazed everything post-End of…. Their style went from good and solid destruction to coming off as Disturbed clones, and even in trying to step back they got The New Game which was profound musically but not so much vocally.
In trying to be taken seriously, Mudvayne has come up heavy enough to distance a new-found mainstream base, but too bland for the dedicated headbangers left sifting through Lamb Of God and everything else under the New Wave of American metal thanks to filler fast track Lost & Found (even a spot on the Saw II Soundtrack felt very forced, like Ill Nino on Freddy Vs Jason). It is 2009, one year after The New Game had a brilliant chance to be better than its cheap hype — where does Mudvayne sit on another reinvention via this year’s self-titled release? Apparently, lost under the allure of a blacklight, and I don’t mean in the club hit sense. This record is a delusion of grandeur only applicable when you make a “white album” under the assumption that progress for its own sake can win you indisputable respect.
Much like everything else, Mudvayne starts off extremely strong with a slow build toward the very familiar speed opener, in this case behind starting single “Beautiful And Strange”; this track is “Determined” and “Fish Out Of Water” in a pine box. To get a better scope here, we will remind you that one year ago The New Game struck down this trend by bearing the speed characteristic at almost every turn — this could have succeeded greatly, had Gray not resorted to singing on the tracks that required a power scream to drive them home (thereby killing off any hope to retread the early stage). Mudvayne sat on “Beautiful And Strange” and a pedestal of phenomenal packaging and hype: Like NIN’s Year Zero and the thermo-sensitive disc art, Mudvayne was printed in entirely blacklight-reactive ink to display a new metamorphosis in the band’s career. How much have they changed? None, nada, zilch… and that turns out to be a benefit.
Songs like “Scream With Me” and “All Talk” are quick punches to the psyche; “Closer” is not the song you might think it is and it still holds its own; even album closer “Dead Inside” treads Slipknot’s recent “Snuff” territory without coming off as completely derivative. On the whole, Mudvayne did the reverse by promoting a complete 180 before delivering what it should have around the time of Lost & Found — straightforward, honest-to-God metal for the mainstream masses that both sides can greet warmly. We did not expect another second coming for Mudvayne, so we indeed got a rather lovely surprise when the band that prides itself on shifted images finally managed to cool the imagination station and just put out a decent record. Is this album lyrically profound? No, Mudvayne will be hard-pressed to top its previous forays into more complex themes. Is this recommended for the Ensiferum and Trivium fans of the world? That is a bit iffy, because while Mudvayne is not on that level in terms of technical prowess, it does manage to sound really good and loud without resorting to power chords aplenty.
“Heard It All Before” and “I Can’t Wait” are hybrids of New Wave American and typical radio metal, “Out To Pasture” is a bit of a tosser but not completely unreliable, and in the end we can all admit that Mudvayne has a way with drums and bass (not the kind that we use to test new speakers at car shows, either). Mudvayne the band has always been that 50/50 band, the one that causes rifts between the purist and the potential single hounds, though it has catered more to the latter recently. Overlooking Lost & Found and The New Game, we can say without a doubt that while I must deduct points for propping up a reinvention that only goes as far as the album cover (even if the deluxe edition is well worth the cash for a big blacklight and a poster), it is nice to see Mudvayne just being itself for a bit. We have spent two albums watching the band try to please everybody, and though this self-titled release is not by any stretch amazing, it is a big step up from just listlessly existing.