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ALBUM REVIEW: Monster Magnet – Cobras and Fire [Mastermind Redux]

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WORDS: Henry Jones

MONSTER MAGNET debuted in 1991 with the iconic Spine of God. That, the intermission release of the ground-breaking Tab EP, and the follow up Superjudge, cemented the band as the go-to act for drug induced jam sessions, a uniquely pleasant yet moody atmosphere, and a twisted sense of humour.

Since then, they have abandoned their thoughtful, contemplative brand of music made for smoking to on a leather coach covered in roach burns in your friend’s dealer’s attic in favour of a more straightforward hard rock approach which briefly won them some chart time and mainstream attention. But, unfortunately, in recent years it just seems like they’ve gone out of fashion.

This has put the band in an interesting position. And, from this outing, it’s refreshing to see someone capitalise on stagnating somewhat in today’s ever evolving heavy music scene. MONSTER MAGNET have decided to rework and reshape 2010’s Mastermind album. While it’s already somewhat surprising that it’s been a full five years since the release of the above average Mastermind, what’s more surprising is that MONSTER MAGNET were so eager to rework it so soon. But the result is very surprising.

The first two tracks are not the most impressive or artistically brilliant thing MONSTER MAGNET have constructed, but already something feels right about what is happening. This isn’t a sound heard from MONSTER MAGNET in a long time, in perhaps two decades. But then what was once a title track, Mastermind, rolls around, and all at once it makes sense. MONSTER MAGNET have managed to perfectly retool their 2010 release in the style of their revered first three releases, combining the stoner rock influences with their signature mesmerising ambience and completely rearranging the whole album into something new, something akin to their classic catalogue.

The soundscapes are starry, psychedelic, and relaxing, harking back to the early 1990s output in a very tasteful fashion, taking the best of Mastermind and making of it something more. Despite the unfathomably dazed nature of the music, there’s a decidedly focused timbre to all of this, which creates a very unique experience when applied to material fans are already familiar with. It’s confusing, it’s exhilarating, and it achieves what it needs to.

However, as with every MONSTER MAGNET release of this style, it falls short in an awkward position. As exciting as their upbeat servings prove, MONSTER MAGNET’s greatest strength lies in their slower, more relaxing, ambient constructions more prominent on their first album. Cobras and Fire revisits this sound and certainly revels in it, but not enough to define their sound enough. Overall, the album is oddly paced, and the brilliance of the more ambient offerings causes the album’s heavier songs to sound ill-placed, or alien. To some this may well be an advantage, but when faced with such beautiful soundscapes on tracks like Time Machine and Gods and Punks, it’s hard to resist.

This album captures a lot of nostalgic energy and releases it in a very positive and constructive manner, revisiting a tried and true sound that hasn’t been a reality in twenty years. This is a refreshing turn around in heavy music, and could set a precipice in interesting manners to retooling newer material for the typical ‘classic era’ fanbase. MONSTER MAGNET have certainly done something important here, and one can only hope they continue their current trend in efforts.

Rating: 7/10

Cobras and Fire [The Mastermind Redux] is out now via Napalm Records. 

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