Mudvayne gets down to bare essentials

ON POPULAR MUSIC

March 23, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

When I was in high school (class of '96), the music you dug dictated which clique you fell into. Since grunge was king at the time, sorrowful Kurt Cobain sympathizers abounded. And we're talking about Arkansas, so the country crew - with super-starched rodeo shirts and super-tight Wrangler jeans - was strong. The hip-hop homeboys dressed like West Coast gangsta rappers: chucks, long shirts and low-hanging Dickies.

The metal heads were few, but they stood out. The guys wore black fingernail polish; the girls sported combat boots. Maybe two in the tiny circle were outstanding art students.

With my dashikis, fixed scowl, crown of nappy twists and a devotion to '70s funk, the rarer the better, I was an outsider. But I was curious about heavy metal and what the brilliant young artists heard in the crazy, frantic music. It wasn't until long after graduation that I checked out some of it.

Though I'm not in love with the genre, I can get with a little metal sometimes: vintage Black Sabbath, Metallica and System of Down.

Though not as daring as the aforementioned bands, Mudvayne, which plays 1st Mariner Arena Saturday, is sharp. Last April, the group's latest album, Lost and Found, entered Billboard's pop album chart at No. 2. On the CD, the quartet's fourth, Mudvayne peels away the layers. Literally. The alien makeup and strange aliases are gone. The music is decidedly leaner, more melodic. "I think it's more of a personal record, representing the human spirit, the trials we go through," says Chad Gray, Mudvanye's lead vocalist and chief lyricist. He's calling from a tour stop in Long Beach, Calif. "We write very open-ended songs, so it's not specific. I was trying to be just Chad Gray, writing about the essence of the human spirit."

Despite Gray's deep philosophical intentions, the expletive-laden lyrics aren't exactly profound. Sample "IMN": "No one/No one could ever understand/This life's exhausted." But musically, the band (with Greg Tribbett on guitar, Matt McDonough on drums and Ryan Martinie on bass) seems invigorated. The leadoff track on Lost and Found, the explosive "Determined," is a standout, probably one of the best cuts Mudvayne has done.

"We worked on this album for four months," Gray says. "We literally went into isolation to write this record, working around the clock for four months. The last thing we want to do is jump on a bandwagon."

This time around, Gray says the guys just wanted to get real. He says the main reason he and his band mates decided to lay off the over-the-top makeup was to bring more attention to their fine musicanship.

"We did the makeup as an additive to the recipe that was Mudvayne," Gray explains. "It wasn't the main ingredient. But we still throw the makeup on from time to time."

The process of writing the record was more organic this time, the performer says. Unlike Mud- vayne's previous projects, the musical and lyrical intensity of Lost and Found wasn't fueled by anger.

"You can't deny world instances," Gray says. "But I'm not hung up on them. I was angrier as a younger person. ... But I'm more frustrated with the world now than angry. You don't have to play the my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God game. The human spirit is more than that."

In the song "Just," Gray's frustration is better expressed: "Just a few seconds away from everyone/From everything ... A second of your time and an inch of my own space/Silence/Quiet/Need a little peace of mind ... "

The more melodic turn the group has taken is showcased on "Happy." The big hit off the record, the tune feels like two songs meshed together: a blistering metal jam with chilled acoustic pop breaks. The song is one of Mudvayne's biggest radio hits. Although the group certainly appreciates the commercial success, Gray says what matters most is that he and his boys continue to grow musically.

"There's a lot of music in us, you know," he says. "The band has shown we can do intricate stuff and write good melodies. We hope we can challenge ourselves and evolve as artists and as human beings. At the end of the day, that's life."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

Check out Mudvayne with Korn at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St., Saturday night at 8. Tickets are $34.50-$42.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting ticketmaster.com.

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