Review Summary: Ten years later, 'Black Holes and Revelations' remains a tour de force for modern rock music.
The murmur that formed around 'Origin of Symmetry' became a full-fledged movement after 'Absolution' declared we, the human race, were doomed. This is when Muse stepped out of their shadow to pursue a more bombastic, unrestrained rock sound that welcomed the nuclear blast on the horizon with delectable melodies indeed fitting as an end of the world soundtrack. The ambition of 'Absolution' is streamlined and realized on the follow-up 'Black Holes and Revelations', showcasing musicians no longer afraid to play it safe while transcending genres as if it were a simple hat trick.
Beginning this intimate odyssey, 'Take A Bow' centers around an unrelenting synth, building into an anticlimax of slow doom chords. The minimalist approach gives way to an epic, spine-tingling ending you won't soon forget, laying the groundwork for what will be forged ahead. The done-to-death singles 'Starlight' and 'Supermassive Black Hole' follow, but the emotional, sleek appeal of the former and sickening groove of the latter will be stuck in your head forever regardless of any disputes you may have with the overtly pop-oriented songwriting. 'Map of the Problematique' changes direction with its 80s inspired synth, being the best Depeche Mode song you've never heard, four piano keys being driven into you subconscious while soaring falsettos abound around shimmering guitars. The interlude 'Soldier's Poem' cools things down while also delivering some of the best lyrics on the album, simultaneously breeding calm and anger in its melancholic wake. One of the more misunderstood, even critically hated, tracks, 'Invincible', appears to be defeated by its cliche lyrics at first glance despite its powerful delivery. If you take the time to read interviews and let's be honest, you don't have time to do all that, which is why I'm here, Matt Bellamy has stated it is intentionally overbearingly optimistic. It's a tongue-in-cheek jab at people pretending everything will be okay even while the world burns around them. I wouldn't call it a standout but it does not receive enough praise for its well-written escalation into the final chorus that truly does, dare I say it, make you feel...
I may be in the minority here when I say 'Assassin', kicking off the second-half of the record, might be one of the weakest tracks with its bland chorus and lackluster 'Stockholm Syndrome'-revisited riffing falling short of the mark. It lacks the 'oomph' displayed during the first-half, sounding like a stadium burner that burned out before hitting the stage. The following alien overlord anthem, 'Exo-Politics', blows its predecessor away; its infectious song structure begging you to sing along even if you don't know the words. Every riff is a hook to sink your teeth into with nasty grooves pulling at your head to get you moving. After returning from space we arrive in the 'City of Delusion'. An intentional slow burner that hangs on the message of escaping from fallacy, 'City' is a somber cry to all that accept their own reality as someone else's. 'Hoodoo', which serves as another interlude of sorts, is built on the precedent of piano until it meanders into flamenco guitar all the while pulling heart strings with its confused tone touching on a love that should be abandoned but is too important to let go of. But this mainly serves as a segue-way into the almighty:
'Knights of Cydonia'.
It has been called 'ridiculous', 'over-the-top', 'silly', 'a modern guitar anthem' and 'new age classic rock' and all of those descriptors ring true. Apply any or all of these terms and it will still be one of the best Muse songs ever written. Its hokey western themed musical tropes accompanied by Matt's balls out falsetto are not only enjoyable but riveting in a way that is hard to describe. Cultivating feelings of triumph, power, and happiness, the vocal harmonies are tremendous, the gallop of the rhythm section literally makes you feel like you're on horseback, trumpets scream out like the desert is on fire and its lyrics are wonderfully poetic for the only verse even if the refrain towards the end is a bit cheesy no matter how you slice it. This is what you've been waiting for the whole time and you didn't even know it. In all honesty, 'Knights' should have been the end of the album but we are left with 'Glorious' to shuttle us off into the black hole. A good song in and of itself, but after traversing time on intergalactic horseback it doesn't stand up to the former glory that preceded it which is a slight shame, especially given its name.
This brings me to the other flaws permeating a near-perfect record. The lyrics are sometimes contrived, lacking the depth they are attempting to achieve. This shortcoming can be overlooked easily because Matt's voice makes even the most mundane sounding lines pop with incredible force. The sheer conviction and intensity on display are convincing enough even when the words aren't up to par with the music. The drums are another slight issue, Dominic never stepping outside his comfort zone. However, when you consider their past work, I believe he has made a conscious decision to come in second to the caliber of the other musicianship being presented, merely serving as a driving backdrop for Matt and Chris to play around with everything under the sun without things getting too complex. Whether or not the drumming is 'amazing' seems beside the point when you put the lump sum together. The guitar is also not as prevalent, which can be a drag if you're looking for the guitar killing riffs that dominated the two albums before but the songs are cohesive enough to forgive this with the vocals stepping in to fill out space, becoming the fourth wall of sound if you will.
'Black Holes and Revelations' is an excellent album. Though its direction pushed Muse into an even more mainstream sound (the cringe-worthy single 'Uprising' comes to mind) it is a unique record and the finale of what most consider their three best albums starting with 'Origin of Symmetry'. There are definitely shortcomings to be had but they're not so glaring as to take away from the majestic rock operatics within or the enjoyment one can attain if you suspend critiques and take the journey through this lovesick dystopian alien shadow government world. Let that ship take you far away from the people who care if you live or die. You might just be glad you did.
'Knights of Cydonia'
'Take A Bow'
'Map of the Problematique'