Be a music journalist for long enough and you’ll soon learn what a band say in the studio, teasing their work-in-progress next album in excited chunks of hyperbole, isn’t always how things pan out. More often that not, when a band start wailing on about having “totally reinvented ourselves” it’s before a wily label exec has stepped in to suggest maybe their fan base don’t want reinvention, ‘so how about putting a pin in your ambitious new Witch House-meets-medieval lute opera sound for now and writing some more three-chord punk songs, hey guys?’ “Gone back to our roots” is another one commonly trotted out, usually by bands glumly aware they’ve never bettered their seminal first album. Then you buy that new record to discover it has about as much in common with their debut as Sleater-Kinney has with Dapper Laughs.
All of which made industry types take Muse’s recent promise to release a “heavy” new album in 2015 with a cholesterol-bothering fistful of salt. After all, their last outing, 2012’s ‘The 2nd Law’, lurched violently away from their riff histrionics of old for bolshy symphonies and, controversially among fans, womping dubstep noises. In places it was more in keeping with Skrillex than Slayer. And yet here falsetto-ing frontman Matt Bellamy was, pledging to “strip away the additional things that we’ve experimented with on the last two albums, which is electronics, symphonics and orchestral work and all that kind of stuff” in favour of punishing guitars.
Well, turns out that might not be just talk after all. Muse’s Download booking, announced today (November 18) after weeks of rumours, is near-confirmation the Cornwall trio’s as-yet-untitled seventh album will indeed be a rockier affair. The news they were working with AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ producer Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange on the album earlier this year was a tip-off, but Lange has also worked with not-exactly-monsters-of-rock Lady Gaga and Nickelback recently so you’d be forgiven for not getting too excited. Their Download booking, however, seems the real deal. Why else would the two-time Glastonbury headliners who, let’s face it, have the commercial heft to pretty much pick and choose which festival bills they top, launch their new record at the notoriously loud Donnington weekender, right? Though there’s undoubtedly heavy songs in their discography – 2002’s pummelling ‘Dead Star’ and the fuzzy-riffed ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ spring to mind – it’s unlikely they’d make their Download debut if their arsenal of new songs continued their ascent into the grandiose cyber-opera territory of their last few albums, in particular 2009 misfire ‘The Resistance.’
Returning to UK festivals three years after playing ‘Origin of Symmetry’ in full at Reading and Leeds 2011 to mark its 10th anniversary, Muse probably could have returned to Melvin Benn’s festival – strictly speaking, they didn’t need to adventure out of their comfort zone, to play in front of audiences braying for low-slung, down-tuned guitars and guttural screams. Download crowds aren’t adverse to a bit of the trio’s theatricality, as German loons Rammstein’s 2012 headline spectacle at the festival went to prove, featuring strap-on sex toys and a 10-minute sequence in which a band member mimes being cooked in a stew, climaxing (almost literally) in giant mechanical phalluses spraying white foam over the crowd. But where Rammstein had bruising sonics to hang their surrealist pantomime performance art on, radio-friendly proggers Muse have more to prove. Don’t bet against Matt Bellamy and co living up to the challenge, though – especially if they come armed with new songs that, 20 years after forming, return to their thundering guitars of old.