Mudvayne proves there's taut talent behind the make-up
by Mike Gibson
Mudvayne is not your father's shock-rock band; nor your little brother's; nor do they really merit the title at all, for that matter, visual evidence notwithstanding.
Mudvayne made its first popular impact with the "Dig" video off their major label debut L.D. 50, a chaotic performance clip notable for the band's ferocious musicality, but more obviously for its visual presence, all leering man-monster makeup and wicked psychedelic costumery.
But while Mudvayne most certainly owes some cultural debt to the likes of proto-shockers such as Kiss and Alice Cooper, and have a relationship with modern mask-rockers Slipknot ('knot percussionist Shawn Crahan served as executive producer on L.D.), they've fashioned a soundpart prog, part trad metal, part post-thrash savagerythat is truly and wholly their own.
"Metal is a tradition that's been going on for decades now, and for us, we pay tribute to those clear defining factors that put metal on the map, especially in the late '80s," says drummer sPaG, speaking via phone during an off-day on the band's current headlining tour.
"I think we carry that spirit ourselves, and contribute to metal as a musical and cultural movement as it evolves. There are aspects of any art form that show up, come in for a while and then go away. I think for us, if there's something timeless about metal, that's what we're embodying."
Paradoxically, Mudvaynewhich includes sPaG, vocalist Kud, guitarist Gurrg, and bassist Ryknowis a product of prosaic Peoria, Ill., where the fellows came together as a foursome nearly six years ago. They found common ground, says sPaG, in the thrash and post-alternative-nation metal of bands like Pantera, Tool and the Deftones. A couple of years into their existence, they began the process of conceptually reimagining themselves, donning the menacing war-paint that would become their striking visual trademark.
"Artistically, the visual aspects gave us another medium and another tool to express ourselves," sPaG says. "It allowed us to view ourselves as a visual as well as musical entity, almost in the theatrical sense, delivering something like theater to the audience."
And though the band prefers to maintain their colorful stage names in the press, sPaG says that has more to do with presentation and continuity than some shrill costume-rockers' pretense.
"It's not like we have a problem with our real names being used, but there's a lot of identification, a consistency associated with our stage names," he says. "It's also a good marketing tool, although we didn't initially view it that way. We started wearing make-up years before we got signed, and on a local level, you can imagine it didn't do us a lot of good. It brought us a lot of scorn, a pretty negative identity."
On the flip side, the drummer notes, listeners more sensitive to the musicalrather than visualside of the Mudvayne aesthetic have occasionally reduced the band to some sort of mutant prog-rock status, drawing crosshairs on the taut musicianship, architectural song arrangements, and the occasionally florid poetry of some lyrical passages.
Says sPaG, that assessment is just as myopic as that which looks no farther than the warpaint. "The 'prog' description some people have of our music is based on the fact that we're technical, and that's something that really hasn't been appreciated in metal recently. Back in the '80s, technicality was a defining factor of metal.
"For all the technical and cerebral content of our music, there's also a very clear emotional content that's just as important. 'Prog' was traditionally cold, unemotional."
But perhaps Mudvayne's startling record, more than anything else, explains the band's larger raison d'etre, drawing the lines that connect costumed theatrics with tormented thrash-metal intensity with prog-rock structures, with sci-fi conceptualism and otherworldly melodies.
Hear, for instance, L.D. 50's "Death Blooms," the record's fifth track, a seamless interweaving of mournful melody and anguished metal attack, carried into the next song by a spoken-word sliver of Kud's whispering, disenfranchised metal verse. There's a synergy between all the elements, an intuitive melding that seems to enable in full the possibility of these four lurid metal thespians creating music that's at once terrible and dream-like and sad.
"When we put on the make-up and play together, it's allowed us collectively to disassociate from our normal everyday lives, from our mundane everyday personalities, to connect on a very disconnected, otherworldly level," sPaG says. "It's not Matt and Greg and Chad and Bryan; it's four aliens, four beings, four warriors from the same army, fighting together.
"The defining point for us is attitude; that's why it's easy to see us differently from other bands who've used this medium. We're ultimately not identifying with the makeup. The characters are not masks we're hiding behind. It's a tool."
November 8, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 45
© 2001 Metro Pulse