Ever since their formation in the mid-1990s, English rock band Muse has proven to be something of a chameleon. Their first few albums like “Showbiz” and “Origin of Symmetry” showed progressive, nearly psychedelic sensibilities. “Black Holes and Revelations” took on elements of both funk rock and desert rock and even had some radio-friendly piano rock tunes. More recently, “The Resistance” and “The 2nd Law” employed more electronic and orchestral sounds. However, many consider Absolution, their third studio album, to be Muse at their best. With its boldly theatrical, shadowy, and all around epic tunes, that’s not difficult to believe in the least.
“Absolution” opens with the militaristic pounding of a march that flows seamlessly into the first track: the dramatic “Apocalypse Please.” Hammering piano accompaniment, thumping drum fills, and creeping harmonized vocals set the stage for this bombastic yet remarkably dark entry into the Muse catalogue. “Time is Running Out” immediately follows, and it is a perfect continuation of those two characteristics of bombast and darkness. Its chorus is infectious and grandiose while the verses are brooding and almost have a streetwise attitude.
The remainder of the album plays around with these themes in often extreme ways. “Stockholm Syndrome” is relentlessly intense yet ominous, almost like a heavy metal track. “Hysteria’s” verses are driven by a heavily distorted and bellowing bass line until singer Matthew Bellamy takes over the choruses with his soaring, Freddy Mercury-esque voice. “Blackout” feels like a lament in a Broadway musical, even using a mandolin alongside thundering static.
The song “Butterflies and Hurricanes”—in both title and tone—is perhaps the most demonstrative of this powerful duality that defines “Absolution” and makes it so astounding. The song begins with a mysterious yet rapid keyboard part, slowly building with cold, ethereal vocals and beating percussion. Then there is a sudden shift: the piano becoming more directly menacing, the voices bumping up a full octave, and the drums shaking any sense of restraint. The tone then alters once more with a classically-influenced piano solo. A string section is the only accompaniment to this part. The song then reverts to that first enigmatic mood, only to suddenly burst into the bold staginess once again to end the song with a spectacular bang.
“Absolution” balances bombast and darkness with such a deft hand that many have come to define Muse by it. It can be seen in a variety of different ways in their other albums, but it is arguably in its purest form here. With that being said, many are confident Muse can transform and innovate their sound yet again to pull this balancing act off once more in their upcoming album “Drones,” due for release in June.