Forget the Great Reset: that’s just the babbling of the red-pilled Russian bots. No, according to rock’s most prescient oracle of apocalypse, you need to be prepping for the Great Transition.
“Transition – that’s the word I’d use now.” As the morning staff of The Ivy restaurant in central London scuttle around, wondering if their dress code includes sci-fi bomber jackets, Matt Bellamy, at a corner table, accelerates to verbal light speed as he rockets past climate disasters, energy crises, social disorder and economic collapse, and reaches the crux of humanity’s existential dilemma.
“End is coming,” says Muse’s motormouth of truth, more philosophical at 43 than the yowling young doom-monger of the ’00s. “The end of what, though? It’s not the end of humans. It’s definitely not the end of the world. It’s definitely not the end of evolution. In reality, if we’re honest about it, it’s not even the end of humanity, right? But it’s the end of something. It’s the end of a certain cycle of civilisation…”
Thoughts bubble and burble from the depths of the Muse mainframe; incisive and insightful ideas and observations on our fast-corroding planet. Over a mind-expanding hour, Matt delivers an advanced, updated take on the sci-fi meta-politics that the Devon-formed band have been making rock-like earthbound meteorites of since 1998. These are the sort of concerns that Matt largely put aside for 2018’s ’80s themed metaverse fantasy album ‘Simulation Theory’, but has returned to with a screeching tech-metal passion on forthcoming ninth album ‘Will Of The People’ – written and part-recorded remotely during the pandemic (until Matt, drummer Dom Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme could get together at Abbey Road to finish it) and saturated with its horrors.
Here rising populism, political manipulation, the Capitol insurrection, domestic violence, COVID, online thought control and climate disaster come across the Bellamy pulpit over 10 tracks, concluding with the unflinching assessment that ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’. “Thematically we went into fantasy Metaverse fictional world a little bit on the last album,” Matt says later, “which I like, and I think we’ll go back there again in the future and go even weirder, just become a bunch of avatars and download ourselves into the metaverse. But the idea was: the next one, let’s make it a bit more about what’s actually happening in the world right now. That was the end of 2019 [when] we made that decision. What I didn’t know was what was about to happen.”
“The idea for this album was: ‘Let’s make it about what’s actually happening in the world right now’”
We’ll come to all that. For now, Matt’s train of thought is still hurtling headlong towards the end of civilisation’s tracks.
“If you look through history, it’s just cycles that come and go,” he says, diving deep into a state-of-the-globe address with the merest provocation. “Some people call them ‘debt cycles’; it relates to credit and money and how banking systems work. Cycles can last a few hundred years or they can last a few decades. Essentially it’s coming to a pinch point where there’s going to be a disruption. Everyone’s doing everything they can to pretend that’s not going to happen or to try and maintain the status quo [but] the longer they hold on to this, the worse it’s going to be when it happens. If we can just make the transition a little bit more gradual, it might happen a bit less violently.
“But it’s gonna be a big, big shift. You’re talking about an economic collapse, shift and reinvention, total energy transition. That’s really what we’re dealing with here: a disruptive transition.”
Matt already sees potential triggers for major upheaval everywhere. Referring to the storming of Washington’s Capitol Building last year, he says: “You have the January 6 situation in the United States and everyone for a minute there was like, ‘That could have been it. That could have been the trigger: civil war and boom! We’re off’. A tipping point. Then there’s a little moment where Biden comes in and everyone goes, ‘Ah, OK, let’s all pretend it’s normal again’, but it’s not is it? Then some psychopath comes along like Putin and authoritarianism starts to threaten everything that the West has stood for. It’s starting to get prodded. The system that we’re used to is now getting openly, violently prodded in our face.”
There’s a line in the new album’s glam metal title track that sums up Matt’s mindset: “We need a revolution so long as we stay free”. In the video, too, a group of masked post-apocalyptic insurrectionists pull down the statues of the evil old world order (played by Muse), only to remove their masks and reveal themselves as identical to the regime they’ve overthrown. “It’s a worrying time because there is a chance here,” Matt argues. “There’s a window for a lovely new kind of political model or socio-economic structure that could be really good. A good change is possible, but the problem is you have these authoritarians that are realising that they can capitalise on disruption.”
No prizes for guessing who he means. “[Trump] represents the worst of the worst. It felt like living in another reality when we saw that stuff play out there. How can one of the richest, blatantly greedy people somehow convince the poorest people in the country to vote for them? It just doesn’t make sense.
“And on a bigger level what he did was destroy the country by creating massive division. By any measure, a great leader is somebody who can unify their own people against external threats, and he’s done the exact opposite of that. He made them all turn against each other, and that’s what actually caused the whole of the West to become vulnerable enough where Putin can do what he’s doing now… It’s his complete lack of knowledge about the forces that unify the West like NATO and liberal democracy that has caused this chaos.”
Is Bellamy saying Putin was the shadowy puppet master pulling the strings all along? “I’d say it’s more a case of Putin [thinking], ‘Let’s encourage the chaos – the division’,” he explains. “And the more he could create this dismantling of the West, the more likely he was to be able to get away with what he’s been wanting to do for a long time, which is reclaim the old Soviet states.”
As climate emergency hurtles on and our leaders hide their heads in the sand (or wherever all the fossil fuel backhanders are), Bellamy has been embedded in his rightful place at the frontline of catastrophe, the very edge of chaos – Los Angeles – relishing the scorch of society’s ash on his cheek.
Passing National Guard military trucks en route to the birth of his second child Lovella, and watching Black Lives Matter protests throng the streets of LA from the hospital window, he did wonder “what is this world she’s coming into?”. But with Muse on a pre-scheduled break for 2020 in the wake of the ‘Simulation Theory’ tour (which featured an army of abseiling cyborg dancers and a giant inflatable alien called Murph, and grossed $102 million), nurturing his new daughter through lockdown helped him come to feel comfortable, finally, in his adopted home city. Even as the wildfires licked at his windows.
“One of the strange things about living in California,” he says of the regular calls he gets from authorities to evacuate his family each summer, “is you are on the edge of natural disaster, so you get used to it. Twice we’ve fully believed [the house is] gone, but then come back and discovered that only the garden burned down and it stopped just before the house. It’s always in the middle of night as well. I remember it going, ‘Get out – there’s a fire nearby, you must evacuate’ – it’s an automated message that just repeats itself. I open up the window and look out and it’s raining ash. I thought it was snowing.
“Being in a risky place encourages people to take risks. California is full of dreamers and risk-takers and entrepreneurial people who are just willing to risk everything for some crazy idea. Everyone you meet is starting some Metaverse avatar company or some crazy energy solution. There’s something about that that really suits me.”
Bellamy certainly isn’t taking the collapse of society lying down; he’s going out fighting, Blofeld style. He’s invested in a company planning to use technology under development by MIT scientists to solve the energy crisis (a major Muse concern since 2012 album ‘The 2nd Law’) by, um, firing lasers towards the centre of the earth.
“It vaporises rock and it can go all the way through,” Matt says, explaining the process: essentially shooting microwave millimetre beams 20km through the earth’s crust, followed by water, to create geothermal energy. “Geothermal is basically free, non-dangerous energy. It’s heat from the Earth’s core burning water into steam and turning turbines. There’s no carbon emissions or anything.”
“[Trump] represents the worst of the worst. It felt like living in another reality when we saw that stuff play out”
When NME notes that we’ve seen this movie and the planet blows up, Bellamy laughs: “Haha! You can essentially move this device and create geothermal energy anywhere you want. An existing coal factory or something, get rid of all the coal and just dig a hole directly down. They’ve already got the infrastructure in place to create the energy just from a different source. It would literally solve the world’s energy problem.”
Climate change averted, we order more orange juice and set about revolutionising politics. Strap in.
There now follows a party political broadcast by the Cydonian Meta-Centrist Uprising Party. “We want a new type of revolution,” Matt argues, lacking only a lectern to thump. “I think everyone knows we want a revolution, but we definitely don’t want a bunch of authoritarian lunatics from the right. That’s the last thing we want.
“And also we don’t want a total communist situation on the hard left either. I think what we want is something completely new. I don’t think it exists out there at the moment, but I think there’s a new type of politics that could emerge. I would call it Meta-Centrism. It’s an oscillation between liberal, libertarian values for individuals – your social life, the ability to be whatever gender you are, all that kind of stuff – but then more socialist on things like land ownership, nature and energy distribution. It’s oscillation between the two poles.
“I think there’s a way of doing that but there’s no language that enables people to think that way. You’re either hard left or you’re hard right… I’m not with any of these; I feel like there’s a third way. There’s no existing side that describes what I’m looking for yet…I’m fundamentally anti-authoritarian – that’s just my nature; I was born that way. So if I see certain things, on either side, that [make you think], ‘Don’t start telling me to do that or live like that’, it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from: I will probably resist it.”
It’s a topic tackled on new futuristic synthpop track ‘Compliance’, which confronts the modern with-us-or-against-us, thought-police mentality of “any group that has built itself around a set of weird, irrational beliefs”. He cites gang culture, the “real authoritarianism” of the US Republican Party and the hard left as examples. “Both sides have gone so far away from each other now that they’re both coming up with their own weird, ‘You can’t think this, you can’t say this, you can’t do that’ and after a while that becomes exhausting for people.”
‘Compliance’ is the sort of future-pop freedom fighting that Muse have been doing for decades, but by featuring lines like “fall into line, you will do as you’re told”, “no more defiance, just give us your compliance” and “fear is controlling you”, it sometimes sounds alarmingly like something Ian Brown or one of his fellow anti-vaxx disinformation rockers might come up with today, featuring Laurence Fox, Toby Young and Piers Corbyn as the Fart In Your Trousers Choir. “It’s an unfortunate coincidence,” says a fully-vaxxed, mask-friendly Bellamy. “I could have written that song in 2008 or 2005.”
“Being in a risky place encourages people to take risks. California is full of dreamers and risk-takers”
In fact, as a figure who famously went down many a conspiracist rabbit hole in the early days of the internet – the “first wave” of online truthers, as he puts it – but emerged 10 years later with a far more balanced view of the world and its media, Matt has found it unsettling watching conspiracist ideas become so widespread during the pandemic.
“People [in the ’80s and ’90s] felt like the mainstream media was just a big business that was in cahoots with the establishment,” he recalls, “so when the internet started to emerge the thirst for people saying what maybe the truth is was really strong… By the time we got to the early 2010s, I came full circle. The lack of accountability [online] became obvious to me. It made me realise, ‘OK, this is just some people who can say whatever the fuck they want. This is bullshit’. It’s not freedom of speech; it’s freedom to manipulate. It’s freedom to lie anonymously. The ridiculous irony is, all these people think they’re so anti- this, anti- that, but all you’re doing is making [Mark] Zuckerberg rich.”
As a band built on rousing revolutionary rhetoric and the pulling back of dark political curtains, Muse find themselves in a minefield of their own making in 2022. ‘Compliance’ isn’t the only song on ‘Will Of The People’ with the potential to be misread in the current climate. True: the title track is clear enough, its rallying talk of jailing judges, smashing institutions and throwing the democratic baby out with the Senate bathwater obviously mocking the intentions and consequences of the Capitol rioters. Or, as Matt sneers: “With every second our anger increases / We’re gonna smash a nation to pieces.”
“It’s like a populist parody, almost the antithesis to [monolithic 2009 track] ‘Uprising’,” Matt says. “Whereas ‘Uprising’ was almost populist but taking it seriously, ‘Will Of The People’ is almost, ‘Do we know that we’re stupid now? Do we know how silly this sounds and looks?’ Inside of me, there’s always been this little bit of a conflict between the desire for direct democracy and a bit more actual power to the people, but then at the same time realising that sometimes the people can be mad… Because they’ve had no voice for so long, [populism] ends up becoming distorted and strange and spiting everything. People end up spiting things just because they don’t have any fucking say.”
Piano ballad-turned-Queen rocker ‘Liberation’, though, is rather thornier. Language such as “you make us feel silenced / You stole the airwaves but the air belongs to us / And violence – you’ll make us turn to violence… We have plans to take you down / We intend to erase your place in history” could easily fit into a song called ‘Stop The Steal’ catering to disgruntled Trump supporters. Matt’s a little horrified at the suggestion.
“All this arguing on Twitter – in 50 years, people will go, ‘What the hell were they talking about?’”
“It’s the complete opposite of that,” he insists. “If anything that was more leaning towards what I felt seeing the Black Lives Matter protests. I’m not gonna try to claim to have any understanding of what that culture’s been through or anything, but “intend to erase your place in history” was that feeling of anger… that emotion that you feel in the moment of revolution, where you just want to tear it down and destroy this, even to the extent of changing history itself – people pulling statues down. And “you stole the airwaves but the air belongs to us” – if anything that was a reference to what we were living through, waking up to a mental tweet every day… that hijack of public discourse by one person.”
Elsewhere the album delves into the more human side of the pandemic experience, with the elegiac piano glower ‘Ghosts (How Can I Move On)’ empathising with those who lost loved ones and the spooktronic ‘You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween’ with victims of lockdown domestic violence. But the record inevitably circles back round to the approaching cataclysm. “We’re at death’s door, another world war, wildfires and earthquakes I foresaw / A life in crisis, a deadly virus, tsunamis of hate are gonna drown us,” Matt intones on his latest – and most desperate – anthem of the apocalypse, ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’. The song advises listeners to “stockpile”.
“We’re living in a time where it’s really important to be able to sustain yourself through things like lengthy power cuts, cyberattacks, food supply crises, energy crisis,” he says. “These things are going to start playing out now. But then at the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of the things that hold us together, the social connections that we have.”
He leans back, as if to give himself the broadest picture possible, or to catch a metaphorical ash-flake on his tongue. “All this arguing on Twitter about who said what and how they said it – I’m certain that 50 years from now people will look back at this point in history and go, ‘What the hell were they talking about? How come they couldn’t see the bus that was about to hit them?’.”
Muse’s ‘Will Of The People’ is due for release on August 26 via Warner Records and is available to pre-order now
Styling by Cristina Acevedo