Dominance and Submission

Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet's new album is the sound of a whip cracking on metal

You need to know what you're doing to use a bullwhip properly in a sexplay situation. That is, if you're the sort of person who's inclined to use a bullwhip. It's all too easy to seriously injure your submissive, something even the heaviest players steadfastly avoid at all costs. Monster Magnet vocalist, creator, and sole remaining original member, Dave Wyndorf, an avowed D/s enthusiast (that's Domination and submission; big D, little s), is a fellow who tends to know what he's doing.

He also knows a good prop when he sees one. It comes as no surprise, then, that the back cover photo of God Says No, MM's fourth A&M release, shows Wyndorf front and center--symmetrically flanked by his four stoner-rockin' partners in transgression--clad in aviator shades and leather, brandishing a six-foot bullwhip.

The image cuts two ways (no pun intended). On one hand, it's yet another brief stopover in Monster Magnet's systematic deconstruction/reconstruction of just about every hard-rock cliché: visual, sonic, and lyrical. (The bullwhip is the perfect Altamont signifier; and, even more immediately, it references another self-parodying metal masterpiece, Blue Öyster Cult's "Dominance and Submission.") On the other hand, this gesture portrays Wyndorf as a formidable dude, one who is clearly calling all the shots.

And call the shots he does, as he has with increasing competence in the band's ten-year career, especially since he turned his back on hard drugs and alcohol after a protracted bout of pneumonia. Shortly thereafter, he holed up in a Vegas hotel for two weeks, emerging with the raw material for Powertrip, the 1998 epic that earned Wyndorf, Phil Caivano, Ed Mundell, Joe Calandra, and Jon Kleiman their first gold record and pulled them out of the budget-metal taconite pit and into the broader world of rock proper, such as it is.

Powertrip also found the devoutly decadent Wyndorf sporting a full-blown persona, the thinking person's Mr. Naughtypants, a hedonist with a heart. On God Says No, he explores this role even more vigorously, playing the informed and dedicated supersensualist who knows exactly which lines to cross, not to mention where, when, how, how often, how far, why, and with whom. At the same time, he has curbed his storytellin'-man tendencies quite a bit as well. Lyrics are leaner and all present-tense, little more than an agenda, a skeletal situation, and a few seductive embellishments.

For example, on "Melt," the album's midtempo opening track, Wyndorf sings gently (and almost downright wistfully) over stringy synth and a chorded guitar riff that's a lot more Keith Richards than Tony Iommi:

 

Wakin' up/I watch another sun go down/
Another day spent underground/
In my world of pills, yeah/And I was thinkin'''/How the world should have cried/On the day Jack Kirby died/
I wonder if I'm ill, yeah/I'll never trust myself again.

 

When, predictably enough, the sonic bullwhip comes down slow and hard on the verse's last line and the churnfest continues for the song's duration, the overall effect is one of out-and-out jubilation. As with many songs on the album, "Melt" is like a visit to a first-rate bordello. You have a pretty good idea of what you're paying for when you walk in. The surprises lie mostly in the little things, like the tip of the old motorcycle/SS officer's cap to departed Marvel Comics cash cow Jack Kirby.

And while musically God Says No might just have easily been called Powertrip II, it does display a continued expansion of the band's horizons. Greater subtlety, less rawk, more rock 'n' roll (particularly the forays into Sixties-style garage rock/psychedelia), more electronics, even a Captain Beefheart/Howlin' Wolf-flavored blues stomper in which Wyndorf gets to show off his very growliest growl.

But what about the bullwhip? Does Wyndorf really know how to use it? Who gives a rat's ass? It looks right. Besides, rumor has it that you can get a lot of adrenaline pumping through your sub simply by brandishing one effectively, getting all up close and personal with it, giving it a personality. And one lesson that Monster Magnet have committed to memory is that adrenaline is the very best drug of all.

 
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