However you label its music, Muse impresses critics, fans

  • By Victor Balta Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, September 6, 2007 3:10pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

A band placing itself firmly among the cracks of indie rock, alternative rock and new metal doesn’t sound like a recipe for widespread success in the music business.

But it could be just crazy enough to work.

The British “new prog” trio Muse isn’t a pure metal band, and it isn’t a pure indie band, and it isn’t getting a ton of radio airplay. But it is filling up arenas across the country, probably because the band has masterfully picked up fans from both the metal and indie scenes, which surely makes for interesting conversations in the beer lines at Muse shows.

The band hits Seattle on Sunday night, following a month-long break after some hugely buzzed-about shows east of the Mississippi. A headlining gig at Lollapalooza in Chicago and its own headlining show in front of a nearly sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd in New York last month are solidifying the band’s place on the proverbial map.

The New York show prompted Vince Neilstein of the Web site to headline his review “Why Muse is the Second Best Metal Band on the Planet, and Why Metalheads Should Pay Attention.” The “second-best” part of the equation is no slight toward Muse the best metal band on the planet in most metalheads’ minds is Tool, and few bands ever get mentioned in the same breath.

Muse has been at it for about 10 years and started to generate buzz in 2000 when it won British magazine NME’s “Best New Artist” award. But it wasn’t until the 2003 release of Muse’s third studio album, “Absolution,” that people really started paying attention. The album, with themes of the end of the world, featured standout tracks such as “Time is Running Out” and “Hysteria,” and set the table for what would become a true breakout.

In 2006, Muse released “Black Holes and Revelations,” which earned massive critical praise and peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The hit single “Starlight” reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Beyond the catchy guitar-riffs, singer Matthew Bellamy’s sweet, high-pitched voice and an increasingly notorious splashy live show full of lights and laser effects, it could be the band’s subversive political message that is tapping into its fan base. The band is following its apocalyptic theme on “Absolution” with a new batch of songs that include some “climate change, oil crisis, global inflagration (sic) paranoia.”

“I think we’re approaching that time,” Bellamy says on the band’s MySpace page. “If you look at those protests in France, the size and level of protest doesn’t really relate to what they’re protesting about. I think there’s something underneath that people are feeling, particularly the younger generation.

“I feel, through this album, that I’m feeling pessimistic and frustrated about it all, but at the same time I’m not against revolutionary moves, and I wouldn’t be ashamed to have incited a small riot, if it’s for a good cause.”

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