For those unfamiliar, Mutoid Man began in 2012 as a two-man project featuring vocalist/guitarist Steven Brodsky (Cave In) and drummer Ben Koller (Converge). Their debut EP Helium Head displayed a love of gigantic riffs, effects pedals, and 1980’s video games (the band’s very name comes from the boss of the NES classic Smash TV). More recently, the band became a trio with the addition of bassist Nick Cageao, and released Bleeder, a more fully realized version of the sound displayed on the EP.
Mutoid Man combines Koller’s spastic drum work with Brodsky’s knack for melodies and riffs, resulting in music that often sounds like it was made by completely insane people. To my surprise, Brodsky can actually shred, throwing in far more lead guitar and general technicality than I remember hearing from his previous bands. Combined with production by Koller’s Converge bandmate Kurt Ballou, the result is a ridiculously huge-sounding record, with tons of low frequencies and hyper-aggressive drum tones (although those of you who are sticklers for dynamic range might not enjoy this). If the Toxic Avenger had a band, it would sound like Mutoid Man.
“Bridgeburner” kicks the album off with Cageao’s subwoofer-rattling bass intro, leading into a mutation (pun intended) of 1980’s metal riffage. “Sweet Ivy” comes close to a traditional blues progression, yet subverts it with odd time signatures and mountains of guitar effects. “Dead Dreams” recalls Voivod, of all things, with its counterpoint between skronky guitar and grinding distorted bass. “Soft Spot In My Skull” and “1000 Mile Stare” are built upon riffs that are the very definition of “stupid fun,” yet wholly redeemed by the Koller/Cageao rhythm section and Brodsky’s persuasive way with a melody.
Despite its side-project status, Bleeder is easily the most focused songwriting to come from Brodsky in over a decade. With 10 tracks over a mere 29 minutes, this album is completely devoid of filler, with an agenda and a stylistic approach that ties everything together. And most of the bad habits Brodsky acquired during later-era Cave In actually start to make sense here. His penchant for groan-worthy lyrics and awful plays on words (worst offender: “Pop culture…with a pin,” from 2003’s Antenna) hardly complemented Cave In‘s music, but works well with Mutoid Man‘s party vibe. Similarly, his vocal over-emoting and Hetfieldesque ad-libs were obnoxious before, yet he takes it even further over the top on Bleeder‘s title track, and to my amazement, it works. I had given up on this guy after Cave In‘s unlistenable “comeback” White Silence, but he clearly still knows what he’s doing.
Cave In will always be an important part of my musical background, but realistically, their days of making awesome albums are probably over. Mutoid Man, however, sounds vital and urgent, despite Brodsky and Koller’s veteran status. It plays to its members’ strengths and results in a unique, bizarre sound. Mutoid Man is a perfect vehicle for where these guys are at now musically, and I look forward to hearing more from them.