Monster Magnet has been a guilty pleasure of mine since about 1990 when the toxic New Jersey cycle-delic metalheads headlined semi-regularly at the bastion of punk, CBGB's. Even back a decade ago, the early live extravaganzas were all excessive pomp and circumstance. Gongs, dry ice machines, a freaky LSD-inspired astral projection light show and a brain-numbing wave of rhythmic white noise; a total entertainment package with a distinct rock-star wallop that profoundly aspired toward stadium and arena stages everywhere. Watching Monster Magnet on a hit of Ecstasy and a couple shots of Johnnie Walker you were in psychedelic purgatory, for an instance remotely at peace among the gutter slime that stalked the Bowery streets like zombies from Night of the Living Dead.
Monster Magnet fuses the space-rock hallucinations of Hawkwind, the primal sonic thud of Blue Cheer and the faux-devil worship imagery and drug addled heaviness of early Black Sabbath. Fu Manchu-mustached frontman Dave Wyndorf, and his motley band of sex-hungry warlords of the wasteland, combine everything excessive about pre-Ramones '70s rock'n'roll. And they do it on their own terms without sounding like a Spinal Tap cover band, and without giving a hoot about what anyone thinks of the sometimes self-indulgent and macho heavy metal orgy that makes Lemmy from Motorhead look like a spineless eunuch by comparison.
Monster Magnet single-handedly established the blueprint for renegade acid rock-gone-metal bravado that birthed the in-vogue stoner rock lottery currently tempting the nation, and none of them (including Queens of The Stone Age, Fu Manchu, Nebula and a slew of imitators) ever dared cover a wimpy Elton John song.
In essence, Monster Magnet is not that far removed from the heyday of Neu, Leafhound and Blue Oyster Cult. The latest opus, God Says No, released last month on A&M, is an exercise in mainstream sonic overload leaving the listeners mesmerized at the earth-shattering racket one encounters; but feeling at ease toward the protected alleyway they are being instructed to explore.
After toning down their colossal sound to the more efficient, aerodynamic mauling of the 1998 commercial triumph, Powertrip, the leather bound and aviator shades-sporting Wyndorf has refused to rest on his past laurels. The devious-minded God Says No, the group's fifth and latest proper album, places the sludgy, feedback-heavy rock sound on the proverbial backburner. Wyndorf explores his more "sensitive" side. Call it artistic creative control or possibly commercial suicide, whatever the motive, Wyndorf insists on further discovering uncultivated territories. From the sex-drenched Mississippi-muddy Son House-on-speed of "Gravity Well," to the Stooges-meets-Surfaris distorto-surf rock collision of "Kiss of the Scorpion" to the weirdly electronic new wave synthesizer and drum melodies of "Take It," the mind-travelling Wyndorf thrusts the band's creative energies to a heaving climax from start to finish.
Longtime fans and recent aficionados alike may prefer the album's second half, where at least some of the band's grimy, distortion-laden past and the explosive, unyielding MC5 proto-punk attack of Powertrip finally rears its ugly head. On tracks like the low-fi scuzz of "My Little Friend," the hypnotic alien nightmare of "Cry" and the suitably laid-back groove of "Silver Future," Monster Magnet explores the mainstream with delicious and decadent insight. Open-minded devotees will have to acknowledge Wyndorf's courageous insistence on tackling restrained, mellower objectivity with recurrently brilliant songwriting (his depraved lyrical magic mushroom-fueled delusions remain as amusing as ever).
Monster Magnet still has more of a bent for devouring itself in noise than it does for well-constructed song craftsmanship, but is has an authoritative, truthful snarl and a knack for memorable riffs that runs rampant throughout their latest, most conventional effort. Wyndorf, as always, remains the main attraction here, a cocky-as-hell, too-cool hipster conglomerate of Wayne Kramer, R.L. Burnside and John Kay of Steppenwolf, an unbelievable sight to be seen and heard, and certainly not to be missed without extreme prejudice.
Monster Magnet will burn a sinful path across the Rialto Theatre stage, 318 E. Congress St., tomorrow night, May 11, at 8 p.m. with support from Cold and Professional Murder Music. Tickets for this all-ages show are $18.50 in advance at Ticketmaster and Zia Records. For additional information call 740-0126.