If you had told fans of Muse that their new album would list Timbaland and Tove Lo among its contributors before work began on their new album, many would have dismissed the Plymouth trio’s latest release coming from another band who had forgotten their origins.
However, Simulation Theory isn’t merely another album from a group exhausted of ideas; it is an experience through a different lens, an anomaly that offers escape from harrowing truths through a pseudo-reality. Fans were not immediate in their acclaim of the first single “Dig Down” when it was rolled out to the world in May of last year, but the Devon trio’s new material has always needed time to settle. “The fanbase we have, there’s this time-lag where five years later they get it,” says frontman Matt Bellamy, speaking to the Independent.
“When we put ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ out, I remember there being a huge backlash. The first time we started playing that live, the crowd reaction was absolutely dead… the crowd would just stand there. [Then] ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, for a while, was the number one most streamed song in the UK in the [previous] two or three years, and when we play it live it gets the best reaction, in the top three or four songs we have.”
It could be argued Simulation Theory is the anti-thesis of Muse’s prior work Drones. Obsessed with the rise of technology and the possible threats it posed, their seventh album featured bleak imagery and tone that illustrated the atrocities of mankind. The latest addition to Muse’s catalogue is one that breaks away from that fear and embraces technology in its efforts to immerse itself into an entirely alien existence.
Its opener “Algorithm” sets an appropriate tone for the theme of the album, with its video depicting the protagonist coming to terms with the fact that they had been living in a simulated world and attempts to confront their creator and leave this fabricated universe. If this doesn’t intrigue you, the band have enlisted Terry Crews to help frame their alternate world through a series of futuristically captured scenes.
Lance Drake, director of “The Dark Side” commented on its theme in conversation with Genius, seeing it as a song “about fear, paranoia, mental illness, and depression. Sometimes the dream is a nightmare and grand visions are in fact crumbling illusions”.
“Propaganda” is a funk-infused political message warning about manipulation of the truth by governments and activists to coerce the masses, while “Blockades” is the most quintessential Muse song on the album, drawing on Chopin’s Ocean Etude as inspiration with nods to tracks on previous albums – the synths reminiscent of “Bliss” a fan favourite from 2001’s Origin of Symmetry.
Naturally as the world’s political climate has undergone severe and cataclysmic change, so has Muse’s concept of their next sound. While their conventional style has been altered and toyed with, Simulation Theory still cements their status as champions of music crafted by real people, using their instruments to embed narratives and generate vibrant sounds in an age where programming is becoming the chief weapon for upcoming artists to build their platform.
The fact that they embrace this element of the music scene doesn’t mean they’ve conceded their label as a rock band, for those who truly appreciated Muse for what they are would see experimentation across genres is something that Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dom Howard embrace. The 2nd Law, for example, was influenced by dubstep giant Skrillex.
When extended tour dates are announced it can be expected that a date in Dublin will be included, not that there isn’t the possibility of Pairc Ui Chaoimh being utilised. Bellamy says there’ll be colour, and lots of it. “There may even be elements of, dare I say it, dance. Sometimes I’m awake at night sweating, thinking ‘it’s too late to turn back, s**t, I’m gonna have to make it work’.”
Fears about dance routines aside, it’s safe to say it’ll be one mesmerising spectacle. Muse are back, and more ambitious than ever.