Muse – ‘Drones’

It is difficult to classify music in general, but the British rock band Muse may be considered a genre of their own. Muse is not afraid to be experimental in their style and often make creative use of other genres of music. The most prominent example is their album The 2nd Law (2012) which contained Dubstep and EDM influences. Lyrically, the band often touches upon political subjects. Particularly Absolution (2003) and The Resistance (2009) included songs on the political influence of the United States and the United Kingdom. Another re-occurring lyrical theme is the supernatural. Their latest album Drones (2015) uses both of these themes to criticize the dehumanization of modern warfare.

Drones tells the story of a man who’s feelings turn numb and therefore becomes vulnerable to join powerful (military) forces. The album is build up to reflect the complete journey from submission to dark forces to rebellion against the system and its aftermath. The storyline of the unnamed protagonist starts with “Dead Inside” which relies heavily on the beat established by the drums and bass. The middle of the song features a guitar break that emphasizes the emotional aspect of the song. Through the interlude called “Drill Sergeant”, the second single “Psycho” starts. The use of a military call and response introduction relates the implied dark forces immediately to some kind of army. The lyrics imply the military forces to turn the protagonist into a mindless killing machine: “I could use someone like you / Someone who kills at my command / And asks no questions”. The sergeant reappears in the bridge, through a rather disturbing call and response element in which the protagonist admits into becoming a ‘psycho killer’. These two songs immediately set the tone for the rest of the album.

In “Mercy” the protagonist realizes he is caught up in the system: “Help me, I have fallen on the inside”. The use of the piano is significant for the style of Muse, somewhat resembling their earlier song “Starlight”. In comparison to the first songs on the album, Mercy has a more of an hopeful message. The use of the piano has a soothing effect on the verses. Moreover, the song builds towards an impressive chorus through a fastened guitar riff that ends in lengthy vocals.

“Reapers” and “The Handler” are both a bit darker and a reminder of the heavier sound of Muse. The song Reapers features a guitar riff in the pre-chorus that I particularly love. Both of the songs emphasize the idea of ‘human drones’ through electronic, musical cues. “Defector” starts off with a fragment of a speech by JFK, again emphasizing the political aspect. Both Defector and “Revolt” are a turning point in the narrative in which the protagonist takes action. Compared to the rest of the album, Revolt moves away from the heavy rock sound. The vocals during the chorus take on a theatrical style, much like Journey, which creates a style that is unique for Muse. “Aftermath” takes on more of a ballad-style, which proves that Muse is furthermore capable of conveying emotion in their songs. The ten-minute final “The Globalist” sounds inspired by their earlier “Knights of Cydonia”. Although it does not match up with its predecessor, it suits well as an ending to the storyline.

Overall, Drones offers a lot of variation as one may expect from Muse. Their strongest asset is that they do not shy away from experimenting with different styles. Despite experimentation however, their albums constitute an unified concept. Drones provides a fair amount of critique on (modern) warfare and gives an interesting perspective on the future of technology. Throughout the songs, visual and auditory cues establish a futuristic sound, reminding the listener of the theme that flows through the album. Besides instrumental creativity, the album is a poetic masterpiece.

Michelle N.