Review Summary: Unless this album is just an anomaly - a fluke, even - and not a harbinger of things to come, 'The New Game' signifies Mudvayne's transition from elite metal juggernaut to their inevitable fade into obscurity.
If there's any record that damns Mudvayne to swim amongst the cesspool of the genre's rejects, The New Game
is it. It's nearly impossible to fathom that a band who pushed the envelope at the start of this decade with its immensely technical, borderline schizophrenic major-label debut L.D. 50
and blossomed to a melodic juggernaut with 2002's The End of All Things to Come
can deliver such an abysmal mess of a record. Even the polarizing Lost & Found
, which saw the Peorian quartet shift to an arguably more radio-friendly, polished sound, had its redeeming qualities for new and longtime fans. Of greater importance, however, is the band's resounding success in reaching a greater audience: triggered by a #1 single ("Happy?"), the album had nearly hit platinum status within a year. Mudvayne's notoriety increased by more than just word-of-mouth, and deservedly so.
happened, which could predicate an argument that this is where Mudvayne's retardation to derivative, sterile music began. Vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett went off with Vinnie Paul and members of Nothingface
to create a Southern-tinged supergroup that later released one of the worst records of 2007. It's tough to criticize the band for inherently paying tribute to the slain Dimebag Darrell, and it's clear the band enjoyed what they did, but there was one obvious dilemma: the album sucked. Realizing he had to appease fans of Mudvayne and not fans of a band who wrote songs like "Alcohaulin' Ass
," or "HellYeah," Gray took it upon himself to spam the hell out of anybody who was friends with Mudvayne on MySpace with bulletins that contained all sorts of irrelevant bullshit
from sites like SodaHead.com or Meez.com. There was also the fan-generated By the People, For the People
in 2007, but aside from The Shining
-themed "Dull Boy" and a Sting & The Police
cover of "King of Pain," no new music was found on the record, just a bunch of demos interspersed with Chad Gray stumbling through introductions of each demo. Eventually, the band spearheaded a short-lived viral marketing campaign to generate some interest in the new record, and producer Dave Fortman would routinely make super-specific claims that The New Game
would be "heavy" and have "great hooks" with some "old-school rock" thrown in for good measure.
All aboard the vague train!
The reality of The New Game
is that, for ten new songs (plus the puzzling re-emergence of the dreadful "Dull Boy," which wasn't supposed to show up on record to begin with) and three years to write material between releases, there is barely anything worth salvaging on this record. The New Game
is like a patient on life support, and bassist Ryan Martinie (and, to a lesser extent, drummer Matt McDonough) is the machine that's keeping him or her alive. Gone are the labyrinthine time signatures, the innovative lyricism (sadly, terms such as "ain soph aur" and "skrying" will likely never be heard from this group again), or the innate aggression that manifested itself in Gray's diaphragm for the better part of a decade. What listeners will get instead is forty-plus minutes of lazy, unimaginative drivel with some rare, these-should-be-happening-more-often moments of gumption and ingenuity.
Throughout Mudvayne's discography, it's been widely accepted that Tribbett and Gray are the weaker members of the group, but never has an album exacerbated the talent divide. On The New Game
, Gray's vocals are at their worst. Whether or not three years of seasoning and a stint with HellYeah contributed to his fraying is up for debate, but his shouts and screams, which characteristically held a unique vibrato and powerful, lasting sustain, are truncated and lack the gusto and vigor heard on albums past. Conversely, Gray's lyricism is on form: Lost & Found
form, to be specific, not L.D. 50
or The End of All...
form. Mudvayne's vocalist is as pissed as ever: tracks like "Have It Your Way," which more than likely will not be used by Burger King anytime soon, point out the ineptitudes of the outgoing American administration ("Was it for your father, did you get a little pat on the head? / 'That's the way to go, boy!' / Clean up this mess" . . . "Welcome to the new wave, New World Order Part II, but I'd be damned if they would ever die for you / The world is crashing down all around us, all around you / The world is falling down - have it your way - we have nothing to say") and album opener/highlight "Fish Out of Water" exemplifies how simplistic writing can nevertheless yield a powerful message ("All these falling angels, skeletons of what they once were, hanging in the closet for the world to see / And now they're fallen angels faced by demons on their judgment / Hanging from the gallows for us all to see / Buy my soul so you can sell me"). "The Hate in Me" echoes similar sentiments to "Have It Your Way" ("Lend me your children to borrow, I just need to send them away / Long as the tears of sorrow, I promise we'll keep them safe . . . Agnostic for the greater good, where the good things seem to be few and far between"), and Gray's harsher vocals are at their best in the song's chorus and in the chaotic bridge, where pinch harmonics and one of the better Tribbett riffs take place on the record.
And yet, Gray's writing is not without fault on The New Game
. On previous records, he may offer a putrid line or atrocious verse, but this time, entire songs are devoted to deplorable lyricism. Look no further than the appalling "Same Ol'?" which, at nearly five minutes, runs way too long, especially with the confusing chugga-chugga metalcore-esque segues and lyrical gems such as "Same old problem, same old day, same old story, same old game . . . what? So what? What? So what? What? So what?" repeated ad nauseum. This might be the token moshpit mover (much like the superior "Determined" is from the Lost & Found
sessions), but that's reserved for "A New Game" and especially heavy album closer "We The People," where Gray sets forth his anemic constitution: "We the people can have a plan, we the people can make a stand . . . everyday, there's something new to try; everyday, there's something new to buy / Everyday, there's a new American dream in the land of opportunity . . . send me your tired, your poor, your broken / Send me your life so I can break you [also alternated with "own you"]."
Tribbett deserves recognition for progressing on The New Game
to do more than just palm-muted verses and the occasional noteworthy main riff; in fact, this album is easily his best work to date. While not completely impressive, his main riff and subsequent solo in lead single "Do What You Do," his swift licks and thunderous riffs in "Fish Out of Water," and blistering, yet short solo at the 3:47 mark of "Same Ol'" are ideal examples, as are his clean opening arpeggios in "Scarlet Letters" and "Never Enough." Tribbett's continued reliance on his accustomed songwriting does lead to insufficient, emptier-sounding tracks, and his insistence to chugga-chugga is a strange trend.
Meanwhile, McDonough's relative disappearance throughout a majority of The New Game
is distressing. For a drummer with one of the most impressive kits in mainstream metal, he doesn't use it to its maximum potential, relying on the same toms, snare, and cymbal combinations to generate his fills, which have dramatically decreased on this album. While he's still a technician and a brilliant musician, his creativity has been stifled for some bizarre reason. The distinct lack of double bass in comparison to previous albums is troubling, because many of The New Game
's poorest songs could be saved by McDonough's resourcefulness behind the kit, so whether this was his personal decision or a group decision is open for discussion. Ultimately, Mudvayne's rhythm section is revered throughout the music community - to this day, Martinie and McDonough form one of, if not the best tandems in the genre - and Martinie's performance on this record will continually substantiate these claims. The man is still an absolute monster on the bass - he slaps and pops with reckless abandon and his basslines are absolutely stunning, bolstering the music with a mellifluous, earthy tone. To be honest, one has to wonder if he's the only member who dared to challenge himself further on this record. While his bandmates either played it safe or regressed or improved only in certain facets of their musicianship but not in others, Martinie stands head-and-shoulders above them all: he is a total workhorse and one of the most accomplished and complete bassists in metal today.
Unless the album is just an anomaly - a fluke, even - and not a harbinger of things to come, The New Game
signifies Mudvayne's transition from elite metal juggernaut to their inevitable fade into obscurity. It's bewildering to believe that the band is poised to release an album of brand new material half a year from now. Always one to deliver an inside look, Fortman postulates that the band will adopt a "metal approach on some of the songs" on the forthcoming record, but speculation runs rampant: given Mudvayne's proven track record and three years to write and record new material, and The New Game
is just a taste of the new material? What an atrocious forecast for a band that has released such stellar material in the past. Yes, it's understood that bands evolve and change for personal reasons as well as to adapt to what's the newest popular trend, but "Dull Boy's" presence on this record exemplifies that By the People, For the People
was nothing more than a cash-grab masquerading as an album made with the fan's best interests in mind. What's next for Mudvayne remains up in the air, but if their 2009 effort is anything like The New Game
, the band seems destined to eat dust in metal purgatory alongside hundreds of forgotten-about acts.
Do What You Do
Fish Out of Water