Content Warning: Language
Welcome back to aMUSEings, where we take a look at each of Muse's nine albums.
While Muse was on the Absolution tour, they began looking ahead towards their next album. The band even wrote and workshopped a few songs while on tour, similar to their work on Origin of Symmetry during the Showbiz tour. While none of the songs would be recorded until around 2004 or 2005, the forethought and foresight of the trio led to the creation of yet another perfect album. We have now reached my personal favorite album, with the title taken from the lyrics of Starlight, it's Black Holes and Revelations.
Previously, Muse's second album, Origin of Symmetry, featured eleven different songs on the main album. During the recording sessions, several other tracks and elements of songs were also recorded. A couple of these songs were even played live as transitions for the Absolution tour, such as Take a Bow. As mentioned, more and more of Black Holes and Revelations was recorded on tour. After returning to Avatar and Electric Lady Recording Studios in New York City, the rest of the album was finally recorded in December of 2005. The band moved back to London, where each track was finalized for release. On previous albums, Muse leaned into more classical elements and composing. For Black Holes and Revelations, Matt decided to take inspiration from jazz and rhythm and blues. This musical change, along with the overarching themes of war and paranoia, gave this album a different feel from the rest. As said by Bellamy, "There is a theme on the album, it's that kind of connection to the cycles of history where the tension builds up and then it's released, whether it's catastrophic like a nuclear war, or aliens come down and it's brilliant. But there's definitely a sense that something big is about to happen. "Some of the songs are directly informed by things that are going on at the moment. It was an era of worldwide tension, of nuclear fear, and of war. Today, we’ve come back to this feeling, like at the end of a cycle. There’s even been a rise in the interest in space. This theme, the connection between current tensions and those from long ago, can really be heard on the album." For the final part of Muse's "Big Three", it is time to now look at the entirety of Black Holes and Revelations.
Take a Bow: Another phenomenal introduction to an album. Take a Bow begins with a mysterious, almost paranoia-inducing synthesizer intro. The fast-paced notes fly by, as the sound slowly builds with more elements. Once Matt's lyrics come in, the song gets even more energized. This song, like Butterflies and Hurricanes or Citizen Erased, has a couple of different sections. The difference here is that it never goes into a slower section. It builds on itself until the final notes, setting the tone for things to come. While hinted at in previous albums, Black Holes and Revelations is the first time Muse really shows their feelings towards governmental control and dictatorship. That is to say, well they're not fans. With the lyrics, "You will burn in hell. Yeah, you'll burn in hell. You'll burn in hell, yeah you'll burn in hell for your sins. And our freedom's consuming itself. What we become is contrary to what we want. Take a bow." After Dom's drums enter and begin pushing the pace of Take a Bow, the song reaches the outro. Quick drums, high-pitched guitar, and the building vocals, all culminate into Matt's screaming falsetto. The track finishes with an Origin-style grainy transition into the next track, almost sounding like radio or television static. What an introduction.
Starlight: " Far away, this ship has taken me far away. Far away from the memories of the people who care if I live or die. The starlight, I will be chasing a starlight, until the end of my life. I don't know if it's worth it anymore. Hold you in my arms, I just wanted to hold you in my arms." These opening lyrics are so powerful, full of love and sorrow. They showcase how good of a songwriter Matt Bellamy is. Fittingly, Starlight was written while Matt, Chris, and Dom were on a boat at sea during a storm. This setting translates to the feelings of being homesick while away and yearning for a previous lover. During the intro and for the majority of the song, he is also playing the piano. Each chord lines up with not just the lyrics, but the percussion as well. Dom's beat is so easy to clap along with, especially during live performances. Between the first two verses, the piano switches to guitar and bass. Then during the chorus, his piano playing sounds similar to Bliss with the rapid-fire up and downplaying, almost like radio waves. Here is where the title of the album comes from, with Matt proudly singing, " Our hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations." Wolstenholme also gets a chance to shine during the final verse, playing without any other instruments other than the drums. The outro repeats the familiar beat throughout the rest of the song, finishing with Bellamy's vocals as the only sound. Starlight is one of if not the best love songs from Muse. Everything about it just works perfectly.
Supermassive Black Hole: This might be the most famous Muse song just because of the movie it appeared in. Yes, Supermassive Black Hole is the song that played during the baseball scene in Twilight. Matt even said that after the release of that movie, concerts began being flooded with teenage fangirls hoping to hear the Twilight song. To many, that is all Supermassive Black Hole is known for. Considering this is another of Muse's greatest hits, that is a shame. A Crying Shame, if you will. Between the rocking guitar and slightly suggestive lyrics, this may be the sexiest Muse song. Not to worry, however, as Supermassive Black Hole still features the classic Muse sound. Wolstenholme's rocking bass throughout the entire song really helps to accentuate each section and works very well with Matt's falsetto. The transition out of the chorus features a low, growling, heavy vocal effect on Chris' voice. Yes, Chris Wolstenholme, the bass player, is also the backup vocalist. This band really is something special. The same effect is applied to Matt's voice during the outro, and is honestly really cool to hear. One more addition to the ever-growing list of Muse's greatest hits.
Map of the Problematique: Speaking of Muse's greatest hits, we have yet another. Map of the Problematique is one of my personal favorite Muse songs and is criminally underrated. The opening guitar riff immediately sets the stage for how epic this song is. Then the piano comes in, along with Dom's drums. Map of the Problematique's piano is one of the best things Muse has written, and it's hauntingly beautiful. Dom's drums are also a highlight of the track. His fast-paced drums set an uneasy tone, but also help in both setting and pushing the tempo. We haven't even gotten to the vocals yet. Along with the drums and piano, Matt's lyrics help establish a foreboding atmosphere. The opening lyrics are as follows. "Fear, and panic in the air. I want to be free, from desolation and despair. And I feel like everything I saw is being swept away. When I refuse to let you go." Pretty brutal, considering this song is about the feelings after a breakup. Once the song gets into the chorus, the lyrics somehow get even better. "I can't get it right. Get it right, since I met you. Loneliness be over, when will this loneliness be over?" Just outstanding lyrical work from Bellamy. All of this is still accompanied by the rocking guitar and haunting piano. The bridge into the second verse features one of many of the drum fills from Black Holes and Revelations. It's Dominic Howard at his best, playing absolutely out of his mind. I know I keep mentioning the lyrics, but I believe that Map of the Problematique is the best lyrical work Bellamy has ever written. "Why can't we see, that when we bleed we bleed the same?" Words cannot even describe how good these lyrics are, and the fact that he is singing them while simultaneously playing the guitar is awe-inspiring. After the second round of the chorus, the guitar and piano are joined by a synthesizer effect, similar to the piano part. It's another element that adds to an already brimming atmosphere. Another thing about Map of the Problematique is how poignant the song is today. The opening lyrics being about fear and panic combined with the chorus about loneliness almost perfectly encapsulates the pandemic of 2020. Crazy how a song released in 2006 can still have meaning and purpose almost fifteen years later. Just like with Citizen Erased, I ask that you please listen to Map of the Problematique if you haven't already. This song is an underrated gem from Muse, and should always be included with their other best songs.
Soldier's Poem: Usually, this song is seen as the worst from Black Holes and Revelations. While I tend to agree, Soldier's Poem is still a good song. That is another thing that makes Muse special. Their weaker songs still have strong elements, with Soldier's Poem being no exception. It delivers an emotional, heartfelt message about the hopelessness felt by some of our armed forces. The song itself is only two minutes and four seconds long, so there isn't much to talk about. Soldier's Poem is mostly just a transition song between the hard rocking and intensity of Map of the Problematique and the softer, more heartfelt tone of Invincible. It succeeds in that aspect, which makes it a worthwhile inclusion on the album.
Invincible: As just mentioned, Invincible is slower and more heartfelt than the previous songs. It still maintains the energy from before, however. This track is another showcase of Dom's drumming skills, as the entire song is built around a marching drum roll. Invincible is about the relentless optimism for change, which can at some point become unhealthy. As Matt said, " Invincible is the heart of Black Holes and Revelations." One of the most interesting recording stories in the history of Muse came from Invincible. This song draws inspiration from the song Heroes by David Bowie, who was actually present during the recording of Invincible. He was even going to collaborate with the band for the track, but ultimately Matt decided against it. Unfortunate, but Matt's singing is still always a highlight. Invincible also features one of the best guitar solos for a Muse song. The notes move back and forth, continuously getting higher pitched before returning to the original note. The fantastic solo is capped by a crazy synthesizer effect from the Kaoss Pad. While still may be seen as a weaker song from the album, Invincible still delivers the heart and soul for Black Holes and Revelations.
Assassin: Origin of Symmetry was a highlight of Matt's guitar and vocals, and Absolution was a display of Wolstenholme's fantastic bass work. Black Holes and Revelations is a highlight track for Dominic Howard and his outstanding drumming skills. Assassin features multiple drum fills, each of which is considered the most technically challenging drum part that Dom has played for Muse. The triplets fly by so fast there is barely enough time to register them. On top of the drums, Matt's guitar is almost equally challenging. The entire song is played with overdrive as Matt's hands fly up and down the neck of the guitar. It's dark, heavy, and oh-so beautiful. The main riff goes back and forth, up and down the guitar before returning to the base note. After the first time, the riff descends into lower notes rather than ascending. The effect this has throughout the song is indescribable. His vocals are also phenomenal. Assassin only has two short verses and two renditions of the chorus. In the relatively small amount of words, Bellamy makes excellent use of his lyrical talent. "Oppose and disagree. Destroy demonocracy. Lose control, in increasing pace. Wantonly waste, intention erased. Whatever they say, these people are torn. Wild and bereft, Assassin is born, yeah." Underneath the guitar is Wolstenholme's bass, powerful as ever. Each transition and bridge features an aforementioned drum fill. How Dom is able to play that rhythm more than four times during one song is simply outstanding. The outro gets even crazier, as the vocals feature a fading Matt screaming in falsetto while Howard just goes nuts on the drums. Three simply perfect musicians. Assassin is a chaotic yet amazingly brilliant addition to Black Holes and Revelations.
Exo-Politics: Another underrated gem of a Muse track. Yet again featuring the drums as a main instrument, Exo-Politics picks up right where Assassin leaves off. The guitar is simpler this time, but still an amazing part. The bass follows along with both the guitar and drums as Bellamy's vocals come in. During the first verse, a new instrument makes a special appearance. The Theremin is an instrument similar to a synthesizer, only played with airwaves instead of a keyboard. The distinctive sound is perfect for Muse, which is interesting considering how rarely they use it. After the chorus, Exo-Politics features another amazing guitar solo, which makes three or four now from this album. This song has a certain groove to it. The 124 BPM tempo, or Beats per Minute, puts Exo-Politics just behind Assassin tempo-wise. The song isn't going too fast, but still has a drive behind it. Matt even does some light guitar chugs during the final chorus transition. Between the Theremin, drums, guitar, and bass, everything that makes Muse who they are is on display here.
City of Delusion: Thus far into Black Holes and Revelations, there have been some slight influences of Spanish music. The acoustic guitar and drums in particular have been the best examples. Now, "City of Delusion" takes the influences and runs with them. This song is one of the oldest from the album, finished while the band was touring Absolution in France. The drums almost sound like they are galloping across the desert. The first chorus features the use of a full-string section to great effect. The strings bring the intensity that would have otherwise been missing from a song like this. After a quick transition with some wobbly bass work from Chris, City of Delusion begins building. The guitar work sounds almost like it's choking, repeating the same softer beat for around thirty seconds until moving into a heavier rhythm. Once the second chorus wraps up, my favorite part of the song occurs. The final verse is played with a full-on trumpet solo. Muse worked with Dan Newell, or Dan the Trumpet Man to play this during live performance. Dan is an outstanding trumpet player, and his work on City of Delusion for the solo is absolutely brilliant. This song often gets buried in the greatness of Supermassive Black Hole, Knights of Cydonia, and even Map of the Problematique, which is unfortunate. City of Delusion is another great addition to another great album.
Hoodoo: Continuing the Spanish theme with another acoustic guitar introduction, Hoodoo slows things down a bit in tempo. It does not, however, bring down the intensity. In fact, Hoodoo might be one of the more intense songs Muse has released. The entire song is a progression, as it starts slower and simpler while slowly adding elements and building upon itself to the climax. Matt's vocals are softer, more full of pain and agony. Similarly to City of Delusion, the electric guitar and bass take a rest while the acoustic guitar and piano really shine. After the first section, and each recurring section for that matter, Bellamy's voice builds and builds. This song is also special because it doesn't feature a chorus, just different verses of lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, Hoodoo features one of my favorite lyrics ever written by the band. "Come to be, how did it come to be? Tied to a railroad, no love to set us free. Watch our souls fade away. Let our bodies crumble away. Don't be afraid." It's here where Bellamy's vocals reach their peak of the song. Combined with his intense, powerful piano playing, this delivers an emotional powerhouse for the climax of Hoodoo. As the song fades back down, strings are added for the outro. They work perfectly to close out the song, as Matt sings softer once again. Some final sound effects can also be heard, such as horses and what sound like lasers. What could this be?
Knights of Cydonia: The horses and lasers are the introductions for Knights of Cydonia, a six-minute beast of a track that is one of the best Muse songs ever released. As the horses gallop faster and the lasers quiet down, the beat drop ensues. Matt's guitar then enters, with his falsetto matching the riff in the background. After the guitar falls, the real drive of the song begins. Knights of Cydonia begins with the full first lyrical verse, only played with the guitar. The second time, Muse adds the drums, a trumpet, and an even higher-pitched guitar. Once Bellamy's vocals come in, the song never looks back. The lyrics themselves are again a masterclass from Matt. "And how can we win, when fools can be kings? Don't waste your time or time will, waste, you…" The drums behind everything feel like a galloping horse, and give Knights of Cydonia tremendous energy. After returning to the opening riff, the song moves into the second verse. Similarly to Hoodoo, Knights of Cydonia doesn't really feature the use of a chorus. The lyrics that appear after the first verse carry through until the end. Again, Muse are returning to the theme of government. Knights of Cydonia is a call to wake up and realize the truth of things that are happening. "No one's gonna take me alive. The time has come to make things right. You and I must fight for our rights, you and I must fight to survive." These lyrics are perfectly written and sung so well by Matt. Each time he repeats them, more instruments are added. The guitar, drums, bass, and of course some falsetto back them. The guitar during this section has a fun name, as the rhythm Matt is playing is known as "galloping triplets". Fitting for a song with "Knights" in the title. The song builds up to the peak, finishing with a full guitar solo from Bellamy. Just the perfect ending to the perfect album.
Now that we have taken a look at Muse's best three albums, how do each of them compare to each other? As mentioned, Black Holes and Revelations is my personal favorite. Part of the reason for that is the live performance at Ball Arena that I was able to see. Out of the twenty-four songs played that night, three of them came from Black Holes and Revelations. The first of which was Supermassive Black Hole. During live performances, Muse has the amazing tendency to just kind of f*ck around. Matt plays some crazy intro riff with his guitar or the band plays around with some insane sound effects before beginning a track. Before Supermassive Black Hole, Matt played around with the Kaoss Pad. And by played around, I mean it. The intro lasted over thirty seconds, each pass getting crazier than the last. Then, he broke out the guitar and began the main riff. For this performance, one of the main highlights was Chris' backup vocals. The main backup line, "Glaciers melting in the dead of night, and the superstars sucked into the supermassive," was much louder than the studio version. This allowed for more clarity. The other big change was the use of the Kaoss Pad, as the entire guitar solo was played with it. Absolutely fantastic. To end the main section of the show, Muse then played Starlight. This was one of the best moments of the night, as the entire crowd came together to sing along. Not just sing, but clap in unison with the drum beat. Hearing thousands of people sing, "Hold you in my arms, I just wanted to hold you in my arms," was absolutely magical. Then, the audience came together one more time for the chorus. "Our hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations," Matt approved, giving a hearty, "Yes Colorado!" Everything about Starlight was perfect, and the audience participation was the cherry on top. Finally, Muse had reached the last song of the night. Fittingly, they played Knights of Cydonia, just like how this album ends. For live performances, Muse adds a four-minute long harmonica solo, Man with a Harmonica by Enrico Morricone. This solo is played by none other than Christopher Wolstenholme. After the harmonica, the final song began. Hearing the main riff blasting through the speakers of a stadium was arguably the highlight of the Knight, along with Matt belting out alongside it. The band added even more to the studio version while playing live, with extra guitar riffs during transitions and more drums from Dom. Everything from earlier in the show came together for this finale, and it was beautiful. An amazing way to close out the show.
Between the absolutely outstanding live performance, the haunting beauty of Map of the Problematique, the energized and dark Assassin, and the absolute perfection of Knights of Cydonia, Black Holes and Revelations gets a 10/10. No other Muse album is better.
Next time around we will take a look at The Resistance, their politically charged and grand epic fifth album.
“Black Holes and Revelations (Album).” MuseWiki, August 20, 2023. https://www.musewiki.org/Black_Holes_and_Revelations_(album).
Lyrics Written by Matthew James Bellamy
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!