A little while ago I talked about how 1998 was not a great year for metal. Some loyal thralls disagreed with me, but you know what? I was right. However, I should add to that point the fact that, while 1998 wasn’t a great year, when the music was good it was really good. Bruce Dickinson, Opeth, Blind Guardian, and Iced Earth all released great albums, as did a few other bands I’m sure will surface (again) in the comments here. And yeah, I suppose King Diamond could be included1. Not to be overlooked in all of this is Monster Magnet’s grand fifth album, Powertrip. Now, the four previous albums were all great in their own rights, particularly the 1995 predecessor Dopes to Infinity, but the band’s songwriting acumen, performances, and style all coalesced brilliantly here on Powertrip.
This is in evidence right from the beginning. “Crop Circle” is an example on all fronts as to what Monster Magnet are best at: simple, catchy riffs, out-there lyrics, earworm choruses, and near-perfect arrangements. And to be honest, damn near the entire album fits into this assessment. Of the thirteen songs on Powertrip, I only ever skip the trio of “Tractor,” with its annoying chorus, “Atomic Clock,” which is just too slow-paced to hang with the big boys on the album, and “Goliath and the Vampires,” which is really just a four-minute instrumental trip. None of these songs are bad: rather, the rest of the album is so good I can’t be bothered. Eliminate those three songs and you’ve got a perfect record.
Most everyone is already familiar with the popular cuts here, being the title track and the hit “Space Lord,” but Powertrip goes way deeper, and better, than that. Several of my all-time favorite songs regardless of genre are found here. “Bummer” is ruled by a riff that’s stupidly simple, but catchier than anything band founder Dave Wyndorf ever caught while writing this album in Vegas. And lyrics like “You’re looking for the one who fucked your mom, it’s not me” and “Some people go to bed with Lucifer, and then they cry when they don’t greet the day with God” are priceless. The short, trippy “Baby Gotterdammerung” was my kids’ favorite song in the car back in the day. “I looked in the mirror, and somebody blew up” induced fits of laughter for year, but was also a perfectly arranged number. And the dark weirdness of “See You in Hell” was exactly what The Doors would have been if they’d been fronted by Wyndorf instead of Morrison.
Those five songs along make any album worth purchasing, but the deeper cuts are equally enjoyable, and through it all Wyndorf and his band at the time – Phil Caivano (still in the band) and Ed Mundell on guitar, Joe Calandra on bass, and Jon Kleiman on drums – exude perfect chemistry, leading us along anthemic passageways and into drug-induced hazy jams. “19 Witches” is one of the album’s homages to 60’s psych, with the slappy twang of guitar and sci-fi B-movie effects, and “Your Lies Become You” is the perfect mellow ending to such a sweaty, massive album. The slow burning acoustic cut features even more great lyrics: “How did I get here without you? It’s a miracle we’re all sane” kind of sums up the whole record.
Twenty years on, Wyndorf and Monster Magnet are still churning out the albums, and doing a pretty decent job of it. However, Powertrip remains the band’s high water mark, and certainly one of the best albums of ’98: a true masterpiece in a genre that, while not often known for brilliance, nevertheless has such an album here.