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A Return to Form with Muse's Drones


Content Warning: Language


Welcome back to aMUSEings, where we take a closer look at each of Muse's nine albums. Muse, after taking a break between the last release, returned to their practice of starting the next album while on tour. Dubbed "The Unsustainable Tour," after the track from The Second Law, the band were making their way across the US and Europe. Matt wanted production of the seventh album to be swift, but also meticulous and thought out. According to the band, creating new music while on tour always has a certain degree of difficulty. As put simply by Bellamy, "At the moment I’ve got lots of vague ideas, but writing on the road always tends to sound like what you’re touring at that point so I try to wait until we’re away from that. " That being said, the time eventually came where the new album had some shape of its own. Muse have always had a knack for the story behind album names, and this one is no exception. Matt decided to go with, "metaphorical psychopaths which enable psychopathic behavior with no recourse." Put in much simpler terms, it's Muse's Drones.

The previous two albums got very experimental with their sound. The Resistance was orchestral and grand combined with more classic elements, while The Second Law was more electronic with its sound. While fans like myself appreciated the new direction, some also felt Muse had strayed too far from what made them great in the first place. That was, space rock that teetered on the edge of metal charged with either romantic or political undertones. With Drones, it was time to return to this kind of sound. This album isn't completely void of the new elements, especially in the latter half, but it definitely feels closer to Black Holes and Revelations or Origin of Symmetry than their other previous works. After once again returning to London for the majority of recording in October of 2014, the time eventually came for release. On his birthday, December 7th,  Dom Howard released a tweet stating that the new album was completed, and "it's fucking awesome." I wholeheartedly agree, and we will now see why. 


Dead Inside: As always, Muse opens the album with a bang. I've stated countless times how good the opening tracks to each Muse album are, but this one holds a special place in my heart. Way back in June of 2015, Dead Inside became the first Muse song I ever listened to. As such, it has gone on to remain my all time favorite track. While Citizen Erased and Map of the Problematique are phenomenal songs, something about Dead Inside has stood above the rest. This song is just amazing. Starting with a hearty, "Dead Inside!" from Matt, the song immediately stands out from the past few albums. The main riff starts on drums, with a full solo for the intro. The drum beat is just perfect. Not crazy complex, but working in tandem with the other instruments, Dom's drumming is pure perfection. Speaking of the other instruments, Wolstenholme's bass is also fantastic. The dark, grainy, almost electronic sound combined with the funky bass line gives Dead Inside another fantastic bass part. While this song's bass work is typically overlooked compared to the likes of Hysteria, it definitely deserves mention. After the drum intro, an organ style sound effect plays to transition into the first verse. Matt's lyrics are absolutely outstanding for Dead Inside. "Revere a million prayers, and draw me into your holiness. But there's nothing there, light only shines from those who share. Unleash a million drones. Confine me then erase me babe. Do you have no soul? It's like it died long ago." Rather than more politically focused like previous albums, Drones is more conceptual and emotional. The latter songs of the album have some of the new elements, but tracks like Dead Inside return to the original Muse themes of romance and its related emotions. These lyrics, on top of the instruments mentioned prior, give Dead Inside a fantastic atmosphere. It's funky, powerful, and perfectly Muse. The chorus gets even better. With the addition of a new synthesizer riff behind the lyrics, "Your lips feel warm to the touch, you can bring me back to life. On the outside you're ablaze and alive, but you're dead inside!" combined with the bass and drums from the intro, the chorus stands head and shoulders above everything else. The bridge back into the verse is also spectacular, with some signature crazy guitar work from Bellamy. Similar to the bass, the distortion on the guitar gives the part such a unique sound. While not as grainy as the likes of Origin of Symmetry, the different style makes Dead Inside stand out even more. For the remaining verses, the synthesizer effect added in the chorus remains, adding even more to the already bursting atmosphere. After one more round of the chorus, Matt then plays the guitar solo. Unsurprisingly, this solo is a great example of Matt's skill. Halfway through, he begins singing in a higher register while still wailing away on the guitar. The musical talent of this band is just incredible. Dead Inside is absolute perfection from start to end, and has easily earned its spot at the top of my list. 


Drill Sergeant: Another transition song from Muse, so once again not much to talk about. This one features a Drill Sergeant screaming at the listener, who periodically responds. "If you do not do what you're told to do, when you're told to do it, you will be punished, do you understand? (Aye, sir) If you leave my base without proper authorization, I will hunt you down and throw your ass in jail, do you understand? (Aye, sir) I can't hear you! (Aye, sir!) Scream it! (Aye, sir!) Your ass belongs to me now! (Aye, sir!) Despite the complete lack of instruments, Drill Sergeant is a great introduction to the next song on Drones


Psycho: Muse once again pushes their sound into metal territory. The main guitar riff is one of my personal favorites from the band. It's heavy, rocking, and pumped to the max with energy. With the driving drum beat in the background, Psycho is one of the highest octane songs Muse have released. The main guitar riff originated from previous live performances such as Wembley Stadium in 2007. After the band played Stockholm Syndrome, Matt began playing a version of the Psycho riff. This early version had differing high pitched effects between each round of the riff itself.  It had been played several times afterwards before the band finally decided to give the riff its own song. Accompanying the main riff is a secondary guitar part in the higher register, which matches a later vocal line from Bellamy. Speaking of vocals, Matt sings in mostly the lower register, at least for the verses. The bridge, just like Dead Inside, also features some fun guitar stuff from Matt. Thematically, Psycho continues the story established from the opening track. Drones is about someone who loses their emotions and personality before being wiped by a military operation. They become an emotionless drone, a soldier whose only purpose is to kill. After some kind of conflict, they manage to regain their humanity. At this point in the album, the protagonist is being wiped of emotion and thought by the military, hence the Drill Sergeant. This is mainly shown in the lyrics. "Love, it will get you nowhere. You're on your own, lost in the wild.

So come to me now. I could use someone like you, someone who'll kill on my command, and asks no questions." The guitar riff changes during the verses, and it actually matches the vocals from the upcoming chorus. Speaking of which, the intense and heavy atmosphere build even more through this section. The vocals have a crazy effect, with Matt's voice pushing the boundary of falsetto while sounding like a screaming whisper. As he sings, "I'm gonna make you, I'm gonna break you, I'm gonna make you," the guitar plays in unison with his singing. Then the real fun part begins. The lyrics, "A fucking Psycho!" are interlaced between the lower guitar riff. During the second verse, Chris occasionally adds backup vocals to echo Matt. Then to end the song, the Psycho outro goes all out. With screaming high guitar notes behind the Drill Sergeant, Matt then does a fall into the final solo. The guitar is similar to the vocals, but instead of a crescendo into the peak immediately, it teases the audience while building up. Add in the whisper screaming from the chorus, and you have yourself a fantastic outro. Another addition to the catalog of Muse's best. 


Mercy: After the high flying, adrenaline rushing chaos of Psycho, Muse brings things down for the third track of the album. Mercy continues the trend of Muse's ability to maintain energy and established themes while changing the overall style of a song. From metal to heartfelt emotion, they can do it all. With Bellamy back at the reins of the piano, the script has been completely flipped. Before, our protagonist was a brainwashed psychopath on a rampage. Now, they beg for Mercy, and for a chance at salvation. This song is a lot simpler than the first two, mostly focused on the piano and drums, but that doesn't subtract from the overall quality of the song. With the newfound simplicity, the trio can really focus and hone in on the core instruments of their sound. Matt's vocals are also full of emotion, power, and energy. Occasionally bringing in hints of falsetto, Drones as an album really highlights the stamina of the lead singer. Combined with another great guitar and bass solo, Mercy is a great change of pace for the album.


Reapers: I'm just going to come out and say it. Reapers kicks some serious ass. Everything about this song is just awesome. The main highlight is the guitar, which enters after a quick drum solo introduction. The Reapers Riff is a gold standard for Matt Bellamy and his musical skill. The guitar taps, which are lightning fast taps of the fingers on the neck of the guitar, fly by as Bellamy ascends up and down his Manson guitar. Just a perfect introduction and a perfect main guitar riff. The chaos builds as the vocals begin, "Home, It's becoming a killing field. There's a cross hair locked on my heart. With no recourse and there's no one behind the wheel. Hell fire, You're wiping me out, killed by Drones!" The panic in Matt's voice combined with the rapid fire drums during this bridge into the chorus give Reapers a tremendous sense of urgency, a great atmosphere. After the chorus, which in and of itself features some heavy guitar ripped straight from a Rage Against the Machine song, the main riff returns, Glorious as ever. Wolstenholme's backing vocals contribute to the panicked, almost rushed energy of the song. Things, however, get even crazier as Reapers reaches its solo. For the first time, Matt decided to completely improvise the solo. Starting with some crazy high pitched effects, the solo continues to showcase Bellamy's ability to play the guitar. It's heavy, grainy, filled with static, and oh so beautiful to listen to. After this section, the minute long outro/breakdown begins. Muse went all out for this one. With hell sirens, a voice screaming, "Here come the Drones!" in the background, and the slowed guitar and drums, Reapers goes out with a bang. A perfect middle track to Drones, and another one of my all time favorites from the band. 


The Handler: While not quite as insane, you could almost see The Handler as Reapers Part Two. Once again, the opening guitar riff is outstanding. Intertwined with the guitar are some impeccable drum fills from Dom, hearkening back to those of Assassin. As for the thematic, our hero has become of their predicament and mind control. This song begins the rebellious stage of the album. Throughout the entire album, Drones does a great job of storytelling through music. Add it to the list of reasons Muse is my favorite band, and should go down as one of the best to ever do it. The lyrics from Bellamy are the best example of the aforementioned storytelling aspect of music. "You were my oppressor, and I, I have been programmed to obey. But now, you are my handler, and I, I will execute your demands. Leave me alone. I must disassociate from you. Behold my transformation, and you are empowered to do as you please. My mind was lost in translation, and my heart has become a cold and impassive machine." During these vocals, Chris' bass work is a great example of how underrated he is. The bass line follows the vocals for a minute, then separates into establishing downbeats for the tempo of The Handler. Combine this with the guitar fades and you have yourself an excellent Muse song. But perhaps the best part of both The Handler and the entirety of Drones, is the guitar solo. I've mentioned it for every song before, but every solo for this album is just amazingly written and performed. For The Handler, Matt changes up the sound of his guitar a bit. While still heavier than The Resistance or The Second Law, he definitely plays lighter for this solo. The insanely fast notes build and build in intensity, adding the other two instruments throughout. It is simply crazy how fast Bellamy's hands can move while playing the guitar, as the sheer amount of notes during the thirty second long solo is out of this world. Moving up and down in pitch, The Handler's solo is yet another brilliant addition to Drones. Ending with some defiant lyrics that pay tribute to Showbiz, "I won't let you control my feelings anymore, and I will no longer do as I am told, and I am no longer afraid to walk alone. Let me go. Let me be. I am escaping from your grip. You will never own me again!" The Handler ends the heavy and rocking beginning of Drones beautifully. 


JFK: Another quick and simple transition segment. This one features, as the name suggests, clips of President John F. Kennedy. In the tape, Kennedy is giving a speech about the spread of communism, and promotes the free, independent, motivated ideals of the United States. These ideals are applied to our protagonist, who is trying to break free from the psychopathic behavior that has overtaken them. In the background, sounds of an actual military drone are played over an instrumental version of the next track. 


Defector: After the JFK intro, Defector comes out swinging. With the heavy guitar and upbeat drums, this song almost sounds like it was pulled from the 80's. Matt's vocals are some of the most unique out of any Muse track. To describe it visually, he ends each phrase by slamming down on the words, punctuated by the drumming from Dom. Out of every song thus far, Defector is easily the most upbeat. The protagonist is pushing through, proclaiming, "Yeah I'm free! You thought, You thought I was weak. But you got it wrong. Look into my eyes, I'm a defector." The song is definitely repetitive, but still works on a number of different levels to succeed as a Muse song. And once again, the guitar solo is great. Heavy guitar, powerful vocals, and excellent work on both the bass and drums from Wolstenholme and Howard respectively. Matt even uses a bit of stuttering when singing the word, "inciting." Closing with more JFK, Defector is a good addition to the already phenomenal Drones


Revolt: Definitely a noticeable blip in quality with this one, which is a bit of a shame. The first two thirds of Drones is classic Muse, while the closing four tracks definitely are weaker than the opening six. Revolt honestly just feels like a stereotypical pop rock combo that repeats a lot of the same messages and themes from Defector. Again, not a bad song by any means, just not quite on the level as Reapers or Dead Inside. Matt also brings in the falsetto during the chorus, which is always a treat to listen to. Granted, the inclusion of police sirens is a bit of an interesting choice, but to each his own. The solo, however, doesn't drop the ball at all. The guitar sounds more electronic, almost like the radio static that ended Take a Bow. While a song like this likely needed to be included on this kind of album, it mostly misses the mark (mostly). 


Aftermath: On paper, a Muse love ballad included on an album about military brainwashing might sound a bit odd. And to be fair, Aftermath still doesn't quite get up to the quality of the opening tracks, it works surprisingly well. A lot of strange, different elements go into this song. Opening with the sounds of a monk singing and wind, violins and eventually acoustic guitar make up the backbone of Aftermath. Returning to the previously established story, the main character has begun to regain their faith in humanity after the brainwashing. The more 80's power ballad and Pink Floyd style guitar give this song a unique atmosphere. But with the strong message and even more powerful delivery from Matt, Chris, and Dom, Aftermath definitely feels like a more worthy inclusion on Drones. The final chorus features backup vocals from not just Chris, but other singers as well. It gives the song a sense of humanity and togetherness that is unique to this song alone. 


The Globalist: This song is a behemoth. Clocking in at ten minutes and eight seconds in length, The Globalist is the longest single Muse song to date, unless you combine the three parts of Exogenesis Symphony. According to Muse, The Globalist is a sequel to Citizen Erased. While Citizen Erased is the undisputed superior of the two, this song still offers plenty of unique and memorable moments. Similar to its Origin of Symmetry counterpart, the song is divided into different sections based on tempo and intensity. The opening is based on the works of Ennio Morricone, with a long whistling solo for the introduction. Combined with light piano and orchestral elements in the background, it provides a moment of calm before the storm. Once the acoustic guitar begins, the main riff is introduced. With slide guitar in the background, The Globalist is still on the chill side of things, at least for Drones. The overall story of the album is set aside, as this song tells an entirely different narrative. It tells of a dictator's rise to power at the expense of the world, where the only defense given is one of self pity. "You were never truly loved. You have only been betrayed. You were never truly nurtured, by churches or the state. You were left unprotected, to these wild and fragile lands. But you can rise up like a god. Arm yourself, you can be strong. You can build a nuclear power, transform the earth to your desire. Free your mind from false beliefs, you can be the commander in chief. You can hide your true motives, to dismantle and destroy." After sped up versions of each previous song title are played, the heavy section begins. While simple in nature and technicality, the heavy riff of The Globalist is truly epic. My one complaint for both this section and the rest of the song is how drawn out everything is. While the attempt was to create a grand sense of scale for the track, each section just feels a little too drawn out and long in length. That being said, the heavy section is still awesome to listen to. Choral style singing from Matt combined with a robotic countdown in the background create an impending sense of doom as the song reaches its peak. The sound of fighter jets flying overhead as Dom's drumming gets more complex and fast paced allow the song to reach breakneck speed and energy. After reaching the point at which the symbolic and literal bombs fall, a final piano ballad style outro closes out The Globalist. While overall a bit too long in my eyes, listening to this song for the heavy section alone is worth it. 


Drones: As a closing song that only features Matt's singing, Drones is pretty unremarkable. The one unique thing is the different layers of Bellamy's vocals that are overlaid on top of each other. Bonus points though for asking the question, "Are you Dead Inside?" A nice touch, but again a pretty forgettable closer for Drones. 




  This album is a rocking, energy filled return to form for Muse. That energy translated perfectly into live performance back in April, as Muse played three songs from Drones. The first of which was Drill Sergeant, of course being used as an intro for Psycho. Despite the technical difficulty, hearing the thousands of Muse fans scream, "Aye Sir!" in unison was pretty neat. The voice was replaced by a distorted, deeper effect that voiced the same words as the original. Once Psycho began, however, the real fun began. The main riff belted out across the stadium, and was just as powerful and epic as the studio recording. During the first bridge, Matt even threw in some extra funky guitar work for fun. For the live performance, Chris took over as the main backup vocalist for the "I'm gonna make you, I'm gonna break you, I'm gonna make you," while Matt covered, "A fucking Psycho!" Psycho, being the only actual song played from Drones, was one of my favorites from the night. Everything about the song, the drums, the bass, the distorted vocals, everything was perfect. Finally, the transition from the main show into the Encore was filled by JFK. After the band wrapped up Starlight, JFK was played while the band prepared the final two songs. Three solid additions to a great performance from Muse.

With Dead Inside being my all time favorite along with the heaviness and high octane Reapers and Psycho, I'll give Drones a 7.5/10. Another great album from a great band.

Next time will be a monster article, as Muse released two different versions of their next album Simulation Theory. Till next time, cheers.  


 

Sources:

"Drones (Album)." MuseWiki, 2020.

Lyrics Written by Matthew James Bellamy


Bio:

Austin Eide is currently a junior at Poudre High School. This will be his first year writing for the Poudre Press. He enjoys playing trumpet in the Pep Band and is also Captain of the Build Team for 159 Alpine Robotics. Austin also loves building with LEGO and making stop-motion movies on YouTube. His blog is dedicated to music, hockey, band, and more!


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