Hitting a Vayne

What's next, Sabbath At Lilith Fair? Mudvayne with The Indigo Girls

One doesn't normally picture metal dudes hankering for stays in secluded wooded retreats--unless maybe the gents in question are calling up Satan and his minions. But the trees, flowers, critters, and streams surrounding Cannon Falls' Pachyderm Recording Studio proved a major draw for Mudvayne, who sequestered themselves there last summer while recording their second full-length release, The End of All Things to Come (Epic). Of course, we have no way of knowing how these math-metal mutants responded to these natural surroundings. We have no photos of trout eating out of guitarist Greg Tribbett's outstretched hand, nor videotapes of bassist Ryan Martinie commanding an army of chipmunks. We'll never know whether vocalist Chad Gray got the inspiration for his new dead guy with internal organs sticking out look from the garments he may or may not have carefully woven from wildflowers. And we'll never confirm whether drummer Matt McDonough spent three days sitting motionless on a log, gathering material for a monumental song, "Ode to a Box Turtle."

What we do know is that, whatever they did in Cannon Falls, Mudvayne now insist that the sylvan setting provided the most enjoyable part of the experience. "Being totally surrounded by nature was awesome--just being able to walk right into it," McDonough reports by phone from Philadelphia. "And working in total seclusion suits us."

Mudvayne didn't spend all their time in the forest. In fact, they visited the Twin Cities on a number of occasions--but not to inhale Jack and cokes at some establishment where one's cocktail must be fully consumed before the dew on the glass has even finished condensing. Instead, these gentlemen frequented Minneapolis's Oceanaire Seafood Room, where they charmed the staff, sipped from the wine cellar, and dined on crustaceans the size of dachshunds. First Avenue figured prominently in the quartet's itinerary, as well--and not because they wanted to see the new band night Korn wannabes. Mudvayne made the 40-mile trip to hang out with...the Indigo Girls. (Yes, seriously.)

By now, you've probably figured out that Mudvayne are doing more than a little metal stereotype-busting, and it hardly stops at wine, woods, or women who have visited both fountain and mountain. McDonough alone cites sources of inspiration ranging from Darren Aronofsky to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and from Tibetan Buddhism to the kabala. (He claims that the latter informed some of the new album's more arcane structural strategies.) While you won't find any Crime and Punishment quotes or Indigo Girls covers on The End of All Things to Come, the album illustrates that the unremitting brutality that's been a Mudvayne trait since they first convened in a Peoria, Illinois, basement six years ago is now tempered with a newfound depth. And the monochromatic music of yore has become downright kaleidoscopic.

But these new stylistic moves are more a matter of evolution than revolution. Mudvayne haven't relinquished the scorched-concrete fury that permeated their debut album, nor have they abandoned the exotic time signatures that spawned their "math metal" designation in the first place. What they have done is inject a massive dose of melody into the mix--and a good deal of unabashed beauty. Soft and sappy they're not--they're refined. Tribbett's guitar intro on "Not Falling," for example, sounds the way a shower of molten steel looks. And it provides the perfect preamble for the song's gentle opening verse.

It's the album's tender moments that offer the most radical departure from Mudvayne's early work. There's something downright unsettling about hearing Gray in angelic mode, crooning "Would you take a trip with me/On the back of a star," as he does on "Mercy, Severity." Especially when you know Mudvayne's titanium hammer is going to come down any minute. Whether it's the aforementioned stellar escape route or the annihilation and rebirth on "A Key to Nothing," what The End of All Things to Come ultimately offers is a way out of our current hell on earth---whether you define that hell as the Republicans sweeping Congress or your mom making you sweep your room. Like a midnight hovercraft ride through blasted cities, pristine forests, interrogation rooms, and ancient temples, the album offers a panoramic view of our world in all its ugliness and beauty. And it's a far cry from the fancy post-Columbine kid fodder of the band's early work.

But still, they are a metal band, nu or no, which means they still need gimmicks. Fortunately, Mudvayne have come up with clever ones: McDonough, Tribbett, Gray, and Martinie--formerly Spag, Gurrg, Kud, and Ryknow, respectively--have blossomed into Spüg, Güüg, Chüd, and Rü-d, handily cornering the market on umlauts in rock (at least in the Western Hemisphere). And then there's the new alien look that's been raising eyebrows from Key West to Vladivostok. But more important than the moniker makeover or Martianization is the fact that the band is touring again, for the first time since December 2001. The hiatus is something of a record for Mudvayne, who spent the better part of the preceding two-plus years on the road, mostly as cogs in humongous gazillion-band affairs like the groundbreaking Tattoo the Earth tour and Ozzfest 2001.

This time out, though, they're headlining. Which leads us to wonder a few things--like how the legions of disaffected kids who have practically grown up with angry-band megafestivals will respond to music that's just as likely to lead them to the ionosphere as the mosh pit. Or whether new, more sophisticated listeners will embrace what they might have perceived as a cartoon combo in the past. Or how the hell Slipknot is going to top all this. And, if everything works out, we'll also wonder what remote locale these lovers of seafood and solitude will pick for their next recording marathon. Downtown Buffalo? Antarctica? The moon?

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