Monster Magnet - Spine Of God

Monster Magnet
Spine Of God

Released 1991 on Glitterhouse/SPV
Reviewed by griddell, 02/06/2006ce

Imagine what kind of music the (un)holy trinity of Sabbath, The MC5 & Hawkwind would make blended together

No, in fact, don’t imagine it - just get hold of this album.

The full influences behind Monster Magnet are more complex - psychedelia and rock/metal excess sit side by side in a way no other MM album manages, or few other bands manage come to that. True, it’s a fucked-up, dark psychedelic, more Manson than Floyd, but it works.
Crucial to their early sound is guitarist John McBain who co-wrote a third of ‘Spine’ in addition to co-production, but more about his genius later.
First off, what DO you make of an album that proudly states on the back sleeve ‘It’s A Satanic Drug Thing - You Wouldn’t Understand’??? Secondly, what to make of an album that opens with a song most others would end with?
A 30 second speaker to speaker drum intro leads into the crushing sludge-riff of ‘Pill Shovel’. The mix of McBain’s guitar and Wyndorf’s psyched vocals is the blueprint - excessive for the most part, but capable of subtleties that make it well worth the listening. Stick with it, as the term Stoner-Rock could have been invented for this lot.
After that ‘freak-out‘ opener, 'Medicine' is the garage rock dose of un-reality needed. A spoken/whispered intro with double-tracked Wyndorf weirdness sets it up before the riff crashes in accompanied by a Funhouse style scream Iggy would‘ve been proud of. The guitar sound here has to be highlighted as vintage McBain: heavy but raw, metal but with a 60’s fuzz-edge, and when the double-tracked guitar solo lets rip on this song it is truly incredible sounding. Plus - what the fuck is he singing - ‘Mud-stack soul’???
Which brings me on to the mind and lyrics of David Wyndorf. Probably not advisable to delve too deeply. You have to believe some of it is obviously tongue-in-cheek (name any clichéd rock subject and it’s in there: dirty women, drugs, er…devil-worship), but there’s a certain edge to the guys singing that at it’s scariest and best makes you think he must actually live that life.
All of which is really a side-issue when he’s capable of producing a track like ‘Nod Scene’ with it‘s inhale-sound intro and delay-deluged geetar. I have to recommend you turn up the volume for this track. True, plenty of bands have used the quiet/loud formula. True, many bands have replicated a killer Sabbath riff, but have any done it so well and done so accompanied by the following lyrics?
‘Goofballs & 70’s nipples…bought another copy of Zoso, seeds were bustin’ up the spine….Think I’ll wet my pants doing whippets.’
There’s a fine line between ludicrous/epic - Monster Magnet get it just about perfect.
The vinyl side one closes with ‘Black Mastermind’, a return to stomping rawk. Maximum heaviousity all round here on what begins as a Dave rant (another speciality) then 2 minutes in mutates into an uber-jam where the spirit of Geezer lives. What follows is about 4 minutes of unadulterated musical joy that builds layer on layer, not unlike the freakiest George Clinton/Hawkwind production. McBain’s guitars are a mix of great riffs and squealing, sweet lead that culminate in possibly the best double-tracked guitar solo - EVER, Wyndorf’s vocals become an incomprehensible moog-type noise in the mix, and finally a false ending sees the song return in an even MORE chaotic style. Glorious stuff.
‘Zodiac Lung’ provides some kind of audio-respite. Musically it’s mellow - guitars and percussion only. Just so you don’t relax too much, it’s another Wyndorf pissed-off rant song, most notable for the line ‘It’s fuck-ups like you that always seem to get it all’. One thing I love about Monster Magnet is that amongst the stream of consciousness ‘nonsense’ lyrics, you make out a line that makes you think ‘I know what he means.’
And then there is the title track.
‘Spine Of God’ begins in 60’s sitar stylee, the riff not un-like ’The End’, but if it’s a trip, it’s a Woodstock bad-acid un for good measure. Again, we’re in quiet/loud territory, the hippy riff eventually drowned out by a grinding chorus. In amongst more moments of McBain genius and real spine-tingling singing/screeching, you can hear some hilarious lyrics that sum up ’Spine’s’ schizoid-style - ’Don’t be surprised there’s a bug in your eyes’ gets followed later by a drony chant of ’I love everyone’. Sure you do Dave. In purely musical terms, it’s a mind-melt - another psychedelic/metal classic.
If you’ve persevered with the album this far, you’ll be surprised to hear that the next two tracks are, well pretty normal heavy rockers. ‘Snake Dance’ is a simple but head-bangingly effective riff, ‘Sin’s A Good Man’s Brother’ is even simpler!
Both have that groove, along with more ear-splittingly raw guitar tones while Snake Dance features the occasional immortal line (If satan lived in heaven, he’d be me.’, or the roared ‘I‘m so fucking stoned!!’). There’s also the first mention of Monster Magnet’s own Motorhead/Eddie - the Bull God. Can I confess at this point I love the OTT metal artwork of said Bull-God on the cover. Fine as the jazzed-up SPV CD re-release is, the vinyl had a fantastically amateurish feel to it as if Wyndorf himself drew it in a particularly messy state. OK. Moment over. Nearly forgot to mention that ‘Sin…’ is a Grand Funk Railroad cover - a blatant nod to 70’s rock and a truly fine song given some special guitar treatments.
After these two relatively normal rockers, ‘Spine…’ just had to end on something mind-expanding.
Your first thoughts on hearing ‘Ozium’ may be that it could have been on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Ozzy-um, anyone?) Well, there’s a lushness, string sounds, a softly strummed riff &, whisper it - keyboards. In fact, Wyndorf almost sounds happy as his voice glides in with an incredibly catchy melody, so what‘s happened??
Just enjoy the temporary break your ears and mind are getting. You get a few minutes of trippy build-up with hints at what‘s to come, including a great chorus. Then about the 4 minute mark, it all kicks off. Volume increases, the guitars get more fuzzed-up, vocals likewise. Blink and you’ll find yourself in another space-rock masterpiece - normal Monster Magnet service has been resumed.

Interesting to hear the demo version of Ozium on the cd re-issue too. Described as ‘more psych’, that’s putting it mildly: it starts mental and descends/ascends from there, depending on your point of view. Also features MM’s own John Sinclair figure, Tim Cronin on 2nd drums.
It’s certainly more akin to the Kraut meets Space-rock noise of Monster Magnets previous recording, ‘25 Tab‘, also with McBain, but that’s a whole other unsung review….

Dave Wyndorf: Vocals/Guitar
John McBain: Guitar
Joe Calandra: Bass
Jon Kliemann: Drums
Tim Cronin: Dope/Lights/Centre of the Universe

1. Pill Shovel
2. Medicine
3. Nod Scene
4. Black Mastermind
5. Zodiac Lung
6. Spine of God
7. Snake Dance
8. Sin's a Good Man's Brother
9. Ozium
10 Ozium (Demo) (Bonus Track on CD re-issue)

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