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Muse Gets Divisive with Simulation Theory



Welcome back to aMUSEings, the series where we take a closer look at Muse's nine albums. It's been a minute, but we're back. Previously, we have taken a bit of a detour from the traditional articles, choosing to instead look at some of Muse's earlier works that weren't included on their studio albums. Now, it is time to return to the traditional albums. With only two left, we are definitely in the home stretch. This article is going to be even beefier than some of the previous ones, which is definitely saying something considering the Drones review clocked in at 3700 words. That's because this album has two different versions, both of which need to be covered. The name of Muse's eighth album comes from a theory that has gained popularity over the years. This theory proposes that life itself is not real, but rather a computer simulation. From November 9th, 2018, it's Simulation Theory

After the release of Drones, a more traditional album for the band, Muse were once again looking to get experimental. With the thematic choice of Simulation Theory, the band wanted to express the dire state of the world. Matt began believing, or at least partially believing, in the theory after the Burning Man Festival and virtual reality headsets became more common. He also had this to say. " That’s another reason that I became interested in this idea of simulation, and this idea that possibly reality – the reality we’re living – maybe isn’t… We might start creating alternate ones that are more fun!” The goal of this album was to highlight this theory while having a bit of fun with the music itself, which was definitely accomplished. The music of Simulation Theory is divisive, but also still foundationally Muse. A lot of fans saw this album as simply "modern electronic music". Don't get me wrong, some of the songs on this album aren't quite up to par with traditional Muse standards. Most of them, however, are just as good as the likes of Origin of Symmetry or Absolution. Like I previously mentioned about albums like The Resistance, Muse's diversity of music is part of what makes them such a special band. They make different sounding and styled music from album to album. Muse don't make the same album over and over again. Instead, they change things up to match with the current era of music. This is once again the case with Simulation Theory. Honestly, Simulation Theory is a super fun album to listen to. It's a rockin good time, and we're about to see why.


Algorithm: We yet again open with a bang. I'm telling you, every single album opener from this band is insanely good. Beginning with drums and synth, the techno-electronic vibe is immediately apparent. Unlike most modern music, the song still has a rocking energy to it, all thanks to the skill of Muse. More synthesizers join in for the first verse, giving Algorithm a grander feel. Bellamy also adds some piano to the mix, reminding us of his stellar musicianship. While Dom's drums are simpler this time, the fill he does before the lyrics start is truly epic. Speaking of lyrics, Matt delivers some awesome vocals for Simulation Theory. Throughout the album, we will see him switch between motivated and empowered to more reserved and full of agony. An incredible range for Bellamy. For Algorithm, he goes for more of an energized call to action, a warning against the simulation we could be living in. "Burn like a slave. Churn like a cog, we are caged in simulations. Algorithms evolve, push us aside and render us obsolete." The song then crescendos into the chorus, easily the best part of the song. Another drum fill transitions into the lyrics, "This means war, with your creator." Each word is followed by a power chord on electric guitar, courtesy of Matt. With the synth building in the background, the grander feeling grows even more as Matt's lyrics round out the chorus. "Reload. Crash out." For the final verse, Matt sings the lyrics in falsetto, once again proving that this band still has their foundational sound after all these years. Algorithm closes with synth and drums, bringing an end to yet another phenomenal Muse opening track. 


The Dark Side: With more of an 80's vibe, The Dark Side is an absolute blast. Beginning with electric guitar and some synth, the song immediately feels retro. Muse perfectly encapsulates a combination of both their signature sound along with that classic 80's sound. Once Matt's vocals begin, the track gets even better. No falsetto this time, just a clear, solid sound from Bellamy. Similar to Algorithm, this song is another call to action against repression from our mechanized overlords. This can easily be seen with the lyrics themselves. "I have lived in darkness, for all my life, I've been pursued. You'd be afraid if you could feel my pain, and if you could see the things I am able to see. Break me out, break me out, let me flee. Break me out, break me out. Set me free!" According to Bellamy, the song focuses on the common Muse themes of frustration and loneliness, and is about escaping the anxieties of technology. The bridge out of the chorus is probably my favorite part of the song. Some funky bass work from Chris followed by nine synth notes in time with the drums. Something about that transition is just awesome, and elevates The Dark Side to another level. The solo is another highlight, combining guitar, bass, and more synth. The music video for this song is also quite awesome. The color scheme follows the album cover, with neon pinks and blues lighting the scene. The video features Matt driving his car throughout the Simulation Theory world, full of robotic skeletons and colorful digital landscapes. Another really fun song from this album. 


Pressure: If The Dark Side contains a few elements of classic Muse sound, this one goes all the way back. Chris Wolstenholme's bass and Dom Howard's drums are easily highlights. Both are unique in their own right, yet work together perfectly to create Pressure. Matt Bellamy's vocals also are worth a mention, as he switches between a higher pitched tone and more of a whisper yell throughout the song. Muse also decided to experiment with brass elements. Trombones, tubas, and trumpets all make an appearance, building the atmosphere even further than the three main instruments. Of course the best previous example of brass in Muse's music comes from Black Holes and Revelations, with Knights of Cydonia and City of Delusion both heavily featuring trumpet. Going back to Bellamy's vocals, he and Wolstenholme combine to provide some of my favorite lyrics from the album, with the chorus being a great example. "Don't push me, don't push me. Let me get off the ground. To you I'm no longer bound. Don't stop me, don't choke me, I need you out of my head. You got me close to the edge." Bellamy himself said the lyrics could be about the pressure from fans to create more rock style music than the pop music the band had delved in. Regardless of its themes, the grandiose bass and brass sound combined with some sweet guitar work all backed by some killer drumming make Pressure a great addition to Simulation Theory. 


Propaganda: So far on this album, we've had rock, pop, electronica, and a few things in between. The only thing we're missing is funk, which is definitely taken care of by Propaganda. An absolutely killer bass line from Wolstenholme drives the funky element of the song, along with the unique percussion elements. Featuring snaps and claps, Dom definitely spiced things up for this one. Matt also throws in some different elements, especially with the rhyming scheme of his lyrics. "Floozy, you got me trapped in your dark fantasy world. Don't you know you make me woozy?" The vocals themselves also remind me of Supermassive Black Hole, with the slightly suggestive tone of his singing. This song was created when Matt thought of a vocal line while driving, "Prop-prop-propaganda", which was sampled and repeated throughout the course of the track. This loop is used in tandem with Bellamy's singing during the chorus of the song, "Baby, don't you know you can't lose. You make me offers that I can't refuse. You keep telling pretty lies. You're tired with the truth, only you're killing me with your," acting as a call and response element. The song wraps up with one of Muse's best acoustic guitar solos, with a bunch of slide guitar elements and more funky riffs thrown in by Matt. 


Break It To Me: Keeping up with some of the more unique instruments and funky rhythms, Break It To Me combines tribal drums, classical bass, and theremin with a Rage Against the Machine inspired guitar part. While that sounds like a complete mess of an instrumentation for a Muse song, each part combines together to create one heck of a song. The inclusion of a theremin makes this song especially fun to listen to. Combine that with some back and forth vocals from Matt and Chris, and you've got yourself one crazy Muse song. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the guitar solo. Dominic Howard would later say in an interview that Matt was, "doing loads of crazy noises" for the solo, which is perfectly accurate. It almost sounds like a riff the band played live, just spontaneous notes and rhythms all over the place. 


Something Human: Time to slow things down a bit. First, this song is one of few that sometimes pop up at the bottom of Muse's discography. A lot of fans weren't the biggest fans of this album or this song in particular. I think that they should really give not just Something Human, but Simulation Theory another chance. Every single song on this album provides something unique, distinct, or fun to listen to. As for Something Human, it's equally divisive. This song was the first written after the Drones World Tour, and it shows in the message and lyrics. Our main character, Matt, is tired of being on the road and simply wants to return home. To quote Matt himself, "Life on the road can bring out your inner beast, this song and video is about taming that beast, desiring a return to something human." The band was burned out after touring for months on end, and so they made a simpler song. With some simple tribal drums, a folk style acoustic guitar, and some easy going lyrics, this song perfectly fits the vibe Muse were going for. Something Human is a very chill track to listen to, and works as a great transition into the second half of the album. 


Thought Contagion: Inspired by certain news stations and the idea that thoughts are contagious like a disease, Thought Contagion combines elements previously established throughout both this album and previous ones and combines them into one wild song. Opening with bass and guitar backed by percussive claps, the song dives into the themes of propaganda, media bias, and the harmfulness of false beliefs. The main riff, a vocal part sung by both Bellamy and Wolstenholme, originated on theremin before being changed to vocals. The band continues to get divisive with their music, using a full whammy effect for the guitar solo that is layered with the vocal effects and bass. Given the similar themes, Muse described Thought Contagion as Fury Part II. 


Get Up and Fight: Just like Thought Contagion is a second part to Fury, Get Up and Fight could be seen as a sequel to Starlight. The main theme behind this one comes from a personal level for Bellamy, as his uncle was dealing with cancer at the time of writing. That's where the emotion, passion, and energy in his vocals come from. Get Up and Fight also features a rare third singer for Muse. Guest singer Tove Lo provided the backup vocals for a majority of the song, giving this album yet another unique element to its repertoire. Matt even brings out the falsetto at the end of the song, really showing how emotional this track was for him. Maybe not the most popular or liked Muse track, but a pretty decent inclusion on Simulation Theory that has some really solid vocals. 


Blockades: We're back to classic Muse with this one, only with a modern spin. With a synth line that sounds eerily similar to Bliss, drums like something from Black Holes and Revelations, and guitar from Reapers, Blockades has something for everyone. The drums are easily the highlight, with some of Dominic Howard's best work on display here. Chris also gets more of the spotlight for his backup vocals, as they feature predominantly during the chorus. Between the Bliss inspired synth, rocking drums from Dom, and a bit of falsetto from Matt, Blockades is one of the songs almost guaranteed to please fans of older Muse. Their signature sound is present, along with an electronic, retro yet futuristic twist for a new generation of fans. 


Dig Down: One of the rare songs from Muse that doesn't predominantly feature some kind of guitar. Instead, Dig Down is closer in style to the Muse Stadium Jams. These are live tracks played by the band where Chris and Dom are the two main features, while Matt takes a break to let them jam. With the focus on drums and bass, the other two musicians are able to flex their chops and showcase their skill. In addition to his bass, Wolstenholme added the Misa Kitara, an electronic controller attachment that allows for a wider variety of sounds to be played. This is what allows for the warped, more stylized bass sound in Dig Down. Matt isn't completely left out of the song, as he provides the main vocals as usual. Combine that with more top notch drumming from Dom, and you have yourself the opener to most Simulation Theory Tour shows. 


The Void: An album full of "sequels" and homages to previous works, Simulation Theory closes with what many fans call Exogenesis Symphony IV. Considering how phenomenal those three songs were, The Void certainly lives up to the hype. After being inspired by the works of John Carpenter and other 80's space movies, Muse created one of their simplest yet best songs. The bass from Wolstenholme is back and forth, almost like a loading sound effect. Matt's vocals are raw and filled with soulful emotion. The lyrics he is singing are also fabulous. "They'll say the sun is dying. and the fragile can't be saved. And the cold, it will devour us. And we won't rise up and slay giants." Dom also brings his best on the drums, giving The Void a palpable energy. The synths after each chorus charge the atmosphere even more, contributing to the already insane levels of energy. The song ends with some piano from Bellamy, accompanied by these lyrics. "They believe nothing can reach us, and pull us out of the boundless gloom. They're wrong, They're wrong, They're wrong." For the final lyrics, Chris goes absolutely nuts on the bass, tearing through the space with the warped bass sound from earlier. An absolute gem to close out Simulation Theory, and another underrated masterpiece from Muse. 


Normally, this is where the review would come to an end. However, Muse's Simulation Theory has a second version. This Deluxe Edition contains different versions of the main tracks from the album. So here's a quick look at Simulation Theory: Alternate Reality Version.




Algorithm (Alternate Reality): For the opener, Muse took the already epic Algorithm and dialed everything to eleven. The overall structure remains the same, the lyrics, vocals, and format all remain from the original. But this version changes things quite a bit in the overall style. With more synth and electric guitar, the Alternate Reality Version feels like a Hans Zimmer movie score. Grand, and orchestral, Algorithm is probably the most epic song Muse have ever released. It's Simulation Theory meets The Second Law, with all the best elements from each included. The bridge out of the chorus is perhaps the best part of the entire album. Building drum hits back some crazy electric guitar from Bellamy, as synthesizers join in to crescendo into the second verse. This motif is repeated throughout the remainder of the track, until a fade out of synth closes the song. Absolutely epic stuff from Muse.


The Dark Side (Alternate Reality): The previous song sounded like a combination with The Second Law. For The Dark Side, it sounds straight out of Origin of Symmetry. The rocking, call to action epic from the original has been replaced by a cry for mercy. Instead of electric guitar and synths, piano takes center stage as the main instrument. Rather than upbeat, powerful vocals from Bellamy, Matt instead is singing through a voice of pain and agony. The lyrics themselves remain the same, but are absolutely brutal to listen to this time. This more depressing version of The Dark Side is a tragedy, and perhaps one of the best Muse have to offer. 


Pressure (Alternate Reality): The overall tone of this one isn't so much changed, but rather slightly modified. And by slightly, I mean an entire freaking marching band is now present. This version of Pressure features the UCLA Marching Band, expanding on the brass elements from the original. Matt still provides vocals, but the band takes the place of the guitar and synths. While I still prefer the original, Pressure (Alternate Reality) is a nice touch of something different for the band. 


Some of the other songs were included on the Simulation Theory: Alternate Reality Version, however these are mostly acoustic versions that don't change much from the original songs. Still worth a listen however, as hearing even more of this album is a treat. 


After all of that, we have now reached the time for live comparisons. Muse played three songs from Simulation Theory in Denver. The first was Thought Contagion. The main highlight of this one was definitely the vocal effect. In the original recording, Matt and Chris' vocals sound like a crowd singing together. Hearing thousands of people singing that effect live was magical, and of the best parts of the night. The second song was The Dark Side (Alternate Reality). Matt perched himself high on stage with the acoustic guitar and played his heart out on this one. Unfortunately, the band opted for the instrumental version without vocals for their live shows. Still, hearing Bellamy play the riffs and motifs from that song live were incredible. Finally, Muse played Behold, The Glove as an intro for Uprising. You might be thinking, "What is Behold the Glove?" This song is an amalgamation of the main riffs from Simulation Theory, all combined into a short and sweet track. As for the glove part, Matt Bellamy wore a "Power Glove" during the Simulation Theory Tour which acted as a synthesizer controller. This transition/introductory track was used between Plug in Baby and Uprising, and was a true visual and auditory spectacle to watch live. 


This album is just so much fun to listen to. With the futuristic yet retro style of every song, the rocking energy behind Algorithm and The Dark Side, to the callbacks to previous albums, to having a second version of the album included, Simulation Theory earns a 9/10. Just a remarkable piece of work from Muse.


Next time will be the penultimate edition of this series, where we cover Muse's most recent album Will of the People. Until then, Cheers. 


 

Sources:

"Simulation Theory (Album)." MuseWiki, 2022

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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