Welcome back to aMUSEings, where we take a look at each of Muse's nine albums. Last time around we looked at Origin of Symmetry, where I talked about how it was the first of three Muse albums that were just about perfect. After the 2001 release of Origin of Symmetry and finishing up its associated tour, Muse were back in the studio ready for the next album. While the original title from Chris was Universal Melodies, it would eventually be changed to better fit the overall feel and themes from the album. From September 23, 2003, it's the end of the world with Absolution.
Absolution is the darkest Muse album by far. As said by Matt himself, "Showbiz was a bit of teenage angst, "Origin of Symmetry" was about going on tour all the time and losing connection with our family and friends so we don't really know anyone apart from ourselves and even ourselves we didn't know anymore and "Absolution" is more about us being personable, about us being normal people at home". After finally getting home from the Origin tour, the trio began working on Absolution. This album similarly expands on Muse's sound like Origin of Symmetry did from Showbiz. For Absolution, the band leaned into their darker sound which originated with tracks from Showbiz. Themes of the apocalypse, the end of times and the world are largely prevalent. Hell, one of the tracks is even titled, "Time is Running Out." But this album shouldn't just be seen as that. While yes, everything about Absolution is about the apocalypse, the themes of "the end" can be applied to everyday things, like relationships. This creates a personal connection to the listener, which allows for just a phenomenal experience. Just like with Origin of Symmetry, we will now dive into the entirety of Absolution.
Apocalypse Please: Last time I talked about Muse's ability to open an album. Once again, they deliver. Apocalypse Please is a perfect introduction to Absolution. From the dark, low piano to the hard hitting drums from Dom, it encapsulates the apocalyptic theme of the album excellently. Matt's lyrics and guitar are also highlights of the track. His vocals switch between lower register and falsetto harmonies beautifully, while the lyrics themselves are a call to action. This song warns the audience of the end, and begs the listener to do something. His guitar is vibrant, poignant, heavy, and dark. The effects, specifically on Bellamy's guitar, are very different from the previous album. Origin featured grainy, and static filled. For Absolution, some of the fuzz is retained. But the graininess is gone, replaced by heavier, slightly cleaner guitar sound that still has some distortion to it. The result, once again, is a perfect beginning to the album.
Time is Running Out: Themes of apocalypse that can be applied to everyday life. No song from Absolution better exemplifies this than Time is Running Out. Muse have a special way of making epic, hard hitting, powerful songs that can touch on or even focus on relationships. More specifically, they choose to look at breakups and toxicity, and the emotions that appear as a result. The band is able to accomplish this without sacrificing the energy and rocking sound that makes them so unique. Time is Running Out is no exception. The highlight, as usual, is Chris' bass work. The bass for this track is the loudest instrument, along with Dom's drums. Matt's lyrics also work with the instruments to highlight themes of the song. "I wanted freedom, bound and restricted. I tried to give you up, but I'm addicted. Now that you know I'm trapped, sense of elation, you'd never dream of breaking this fixation. You will squeeze the life out of me. Bury it, I won't let you bury it, I won't let you smother it, I won't let you murder it." This song is defiant, tragic, powerful, and a great continuation of Absolution.
Sing for Absolution: Yet another song that highlights the musical range of this band. While known for rocking guitar and bass, the band can also deliver on the emotional hits. Sing for Absolution is a great example of this. Religious Absolution is the forgiveness of sins and a release from guilt. This song explores that idea after the loss of a lover. From this track's perspective, they are looking to be free of the guilt and punishment over their loss. These themes, laid throughout Matt's lyrics and vocals, create such an emotional, powerful atmosphere of a song. The piano also helps in setting the tone, with a little bit of guitar at the end for a change up. Combined with Dom's drums, Sing for Absolution is a rollercoaster of a track that pleads for forgiveness and help, and is beautiful in doing so.
Stockholm Syndrome: Yet another one of Muse's greatest hits. If you don't know, Stockholm Syndrome is a condition that affects people who have been kidnapped. These people, after their kidnapping, eventually develop a bond with their abductors, whether it be romantic affection or friendship. This song is written from the perspective of someone who experienced this condition. Opening with a killer guitar riff for the intro, listeners immediately can tell this is Muse at some of their heaviest work. Bellamy's lyrics are some of his best ever written. "I won't stand in your way.
Let your hatred grow. And she'll scream, and she'll shout, and she'll pray. And she had a name. Yeah, she had a name. And I won't hold you back, let your anger rise. And we'll fly, and we'll fall and we'll burn." While Matt doesn't use his falsetto during this song, his lower vocals shape the dark atmosphere. The entirety of the five minute track is filled with heavy guitar, fast paced drums and dark bass work from Wolstenholme. After every chorus and verse, more and more elements are added. Piano, more guitar effects, drums, and more bass. Each instrument carries weight, even the occasional piano which shows up during the chorus. Stockholm Syndrome is one of Muse's more complicated tracks, but all of the different elements help make it one of their best.
Falling Away with You: While this is one of the weaker tracks on Absolution, especially compared to Stockholm Syndrome and Hysteria, Falling Away with You still is a good song. The intro is played with a Hang, similar to a steel drum, and invokes a feeling of nostalgia and longing. This is accentuated by the lyrics as well. "I can't remember when it was good, moments of happiness in bloom. Maybe I just misunderstood. All of the love we left behind, watching our flashbacks intertwine, memories I will never find." The guitar parts and Matt's energy in his singing give Falling Away with You a distinct sound from the rest of the album. This song is by no means a masterpiece, but still continues the themes of Absolution well and once again delivers emotionally. It also ends with a grainy transition similar to the ones found on Origin of Symmetry that continues into the next track.
Hysteria: This song really belongs to one person. Christopher Wolstenholme is an underappreciated bassist in terms of the rock music scene, which really is a shame considering his work in songs like this. The bass line of Hysteria is the clear highlight of the track. It is by far the loudest part of the song, right ahead of Matt's high pitched guitar. This is another masterpiece by Muse, as it encompasses everything that makes this band special. High pitched and faced paced guitar and drums accompanied by killer bass work, with hard hitting themes. The track is relatively short, at least compared to the other greatest Muse songs, but it accomplishes so much in the three minute runtime. This song is about wanting the unattainable, and the pain and addiction that follows. The agony of these themes shows up across all of the instruments, which transfers to such an angry song without being over the top. Hysteria delivers on everything and more. It fits perfectly with the rest of Absolution.
Blackout: Muse is a band that consists of three members, whose instruments are guitar, bass, and drums. Normally, that would mean that full orchestral pieces, or songs just including string instruments wouldn't be able to happen. Muse once again subverts expectations. Blackout is full of violins and even features the use of a mandolin, a classical string instrument similar to an acoustic guitar. These new instruments give Blackout a flowing, almost desperate vibe. After the first chorus, the bridge features Origin style grainy guitar effects. This song is a lot slower than the rest of the album, but also retains the pain and energy from the rest of the tracks. Matt's darker and lower vocals also make Blackout one of the more divisive Muse tracks.
Butterflies and Hurricanes: This song is an underrated gem. Butterflies and Hurricanes is similar to Citizen Erased in the aspect of different sections based on tempo and overall energy. The whole song is based around one riff, which is played across almost every single instrument. The piano and strings are especially prevalent. Bellamy's lyrics are a call to action. As the end approaches, it is time to take action. If not now, then never. "Change everything you are, and everything you were. Your number has been called. Fights and battles have begun. Revenge will surely come. Your hard times are ahead. Best, you've got to be the best, you've got to change the world." The main bridge of the song features a full on piano solo, which exemplifies Matt's ability to both write and play the piano. Butterflies and Hurricanes often gets overlooked in the greatness of the rest of the album, which is a damn shame considering how great this song is.
The Small Print: After a bit of a slower section tempo wise in Absolution, the energy and rocking guitar comes right back with The Small Print. The main guitar riff is one of my personal favorites. It's raw, powerful, and right up there with the Stockholm and Hysteria riffs. Throughout the entire song, it combines with Matt's lyrics for such a dark tone. The dark and heavy guitar with Matt's vocals combined with Dom's drums give The Small Print a fantastic listening experience. This song specifically highlights Howard's drumming ability. Several drum fills and different patterns allow for him to really show off. The lyrics, which are sung from the POV of the devil who reaps and steals souls in exchange for musical ability, add even more energy to this already bursting track. This is one of the first examples of Muse's views on religion. While they don't outright denounce it, the band definitely has some atheistic views.
Endlessly: Another example of Muse's ability to continue themes across albums while changing up the songs themselves. Endlessly is a love ballad that still sounds like a Muse song, with the highlighted bass and drums. The lyrics promise love forever and the hope for a better future that will never arrive. It's tragic, painful, and beautiful. Matt himself described it as a "simple love song." Endlessly is one of the more abstract Muse tracks, specifically with how the elements are played. When listening, you might notice how weird the middle section of the song sounds. That is due to how Muse mixed the song together, as the piano chords and bongos are reversed throughout the bridge. It gives Endlessly a distinctly weird feel that simply works.
Thoughts of a Dying Atheist: This is one of the darkest Muse tracks that the band has ever released. This song is tragic, hopeless, and a bit heartbreaking. It takes a look at the perspective of someone who doesn't believe in the afterlife or a God who will save them. Now that their time is almost up, the person reflects but also looks forwards to the endlessness facing them. No hope for an escape, and the terror that has been set upon them. It's almost hard to listen and write about this song because of how hopeless it is. The song is fairly simple, but Matt's heartbreaking lyrics really show the despair in the situation. The guitar solo features some fun effects, but beneath it all is the haunting realization that this is the end.
Ruled by Secrecy: This song continues the despair and tragedy of Thoughts of a Dying Atheist. With no guitar to be found, Matt plays this entire track on the piano. His lyrics and vocals are strained, quiet, and sorrowful. The solo on piano for Ruled by Secrecy showcases Bellamy's fantastic piano skills and writing, as it both stands out from the rest of the track and album, but still fits in with the pre-established tones. He plays most of the piano in the lower range, only going higher during the chorus and a bit during the solo. It once again gives way to a dark atmosphere for the song, perfect for closing out the album.
Absolution is usually considered to be a perfect album. In my opinion, Origin of Symmetry is just ahead of it in terms of quality, but both are fantastic. Just the concept of an album focused on the apocalypse and how people feel and act because of it is simply fantastic, but Muse went above and beyond in their Execution Commentary. As for live comparisons, Muse played three songs from Absolution during their most recent tour. The fifth song of the show was an homage to Absolution's 20th anniversary, a special performance of Stockholm Syndrome. This song was absolutely incredible to hear live. The heavy guitar, the drums, the bass, everything translated so well into the live performance. Hearing Matt belt out the lyrics and vocals through an entire stadium was jaw dropping. Bellamy even added some Kaoss Pad effects during the chorus transitions. The band also played Hysteria, which really showed how this song belongs to Wolstenholme, as he went front and center of the stage to open the song. The scraping guitar effects that Matt played also gave Hysteria an amazing live presence. Later in the show, Time is Running Out also made an appearance. The crowd clapping to the beat was an unforgettable experience, and this combined with the crazy synthesizer effects gave way to one of the best moments of the night. Matt asked the audience to sing the chorus, and we delivered. Hearing thousands of people sing along to your favorite band is an indescribable experience.
Speaking of anniversaries, Muse is set to re-release Absolution for the 20th anniversary on November 17th. The re-release will be the "XX Remix", as Muse did the same thing with Origin of Symmetry in 2021. Not much is known about the changes that will be made, but it is exciting to see Muse go back and remaster some of their earlier work.
With the heavy metal inspired Stockholm Syndrome, fantastic bass work in Hysteria, the hopelessness of Thoughts of a Dying Atheist, and the dark energy of the rest of the album, Absolution gets a 9.5/10. Simply incredible.
Next time, we will look at my personal favorite Muse album, Black Holes and Revelations.
“Absolution (Album).” MuseWiki, September 21, 2023. https://www.musewiki.org/Absolution_(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 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!