Monster Magnet are coming up on their 30th anniversary—the original lineup of the group, featuring singer/guitarist Dave Wyndorf, guitarist John McBain, and drummer/singer Tim Cronin, formed in 1989. Members came and went with virtually every release, though, as the band slowly established themselves. Things didn’t really stabilize until 1992, when they signed with A&M Records and released Superjudge. The lineup on that album—Wyndorf, lead guitarist Ed Mundell, bassist Joe Calandra, and drummer Jon Kleiman—would stick together for close to a decade, with the addition of guitarist Phil Caivano on 1998’s Powertrip and 2001’s God Says No. Superjudge and 1995’s Dopes to Infinity were the band’s creative peak; their sound combined ’70s hard rock (they’ve covered songs by or borrowed riffs from Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Cactus, Captain Beyond and Sir Lord Baltimore) with the garage punk of the Stooges, and Wyndorf’s lyrics were a hazy swirl of science fiction and comic book references, combined with a giddy stoner nihilism and a world-swallowing ego. There was (and is) nothing like them.
Beginning with 2004’s Monolithic Baby!, members started to come and go, and the music became inconsistent. Wyndorf’s personal problems, including a 2006 drug overdose, rendered them erratic. Since 2010, they’ve released two albums—2010’s Mastermind and 2013’s The Last Patrol—and re-recorded/reworked versions of each: Milking the Stars: A Re-Imagining of Last Patrol came out in 2014, and Cobras and Fire (The Mastermind Redux) appeared a year later. In each case, the reworking of the music dragged it in a druggier, more psychedelic and retro direction, stuffing the mix with echo, reverb, sitar and Farfisa organ, and in the case of Milking the Stars, including brand-new songs and live tracks.
Mindfucker (get it from Amazon) is the first proper Monster Magnet album in five years, and they’re coming harder than they have since 1990’s Spine of God. The opening track, “Rocket Freak,” is a stripped-to-the-chassis garage punk explosion, barreling along at full speed, and the follow-up, “Soul,” is even more aggressive, a sustained explosion of guitar-bass-drums power. The lyrics have lost the brain-damaged wit of earlier albums; they’re almost Rob Zombie-level filler, with “Soul” basically an excuse for Wyndorf to shout “Well all right!” a bunch of times. But the blazing riffs and nerve-scraping guitar solo makes up for any other deficiencies.
The album’s title is another example of Wyndorf’s descent from brilliant dumbness into regular dumbness. Any time you find yourself using “fuck” in an album title, you should go back and rethink. And the song “Mindfucker” should have been more of a Side Two filler track than a title track. But “I’m God,” despite heading back into psychedelic garage rock territory, is an improvement.
As the album progresses, things slow down and get a little less heavy. “Drowning” is the ballad, somewhere between Alice Cooper‘s “Eighteen” and the Stooges’ “Dirt,” and “Ejection” is a quick, punky romp. Still, this is the most boot-on-your-neck Monster Magnet album in two decades; it could have come right after Powertrip, and the final track, “When the Hammer Comes Down,” swings a riff so heavy it could have been written for Superjudge or Dopes To Infinity. And the lyrics are as close to political as Wyndorf’s ever gotten. He sings,
Tell me if you’re a monkey
Or tell me if you’re a man
You’re waving a rag from a pickup truck
Like it was Custer’s last stand
Well you just keep on rocking, alpha
From the dumbass side of town
And may I advise that you cover your eyes
‘Cause the hammer’s coming down
They’re still not at full strength, but it’s good to have Monster Magnet back.