Monster Magnet - Spine of God - (9/10)
Published on October 29, 2017
Spine of God was Monster Magnet’s first full-length album, for which – depending on your location – you might be celebrating either the 25th or awkward 26th anniversary, for which Napalm Records have reissued it. First released in 1991 in Europe, the record solidified the band’s reputation as one of the most important bands in the newly emerging stoner rock movement that included fuzzed out ‘70s guitar sounds, far-out lyrics, and plenty of mazy jamming. Having already put out demos entitled Forget About Life, I’m High on Dope and I’m Stoned, What You Gonna Do About It?, it probably came as something of a relief to ‘90s teenagers and their parents that this had a more innocuous moniker, though rest assured that the PMRC would certainly have been interested, what with songs called “Pill Shovel” and “Nod Scene”, plus a declaration during lead single “Medicine” of, “Baby, make no mistake, your violation will be televised.”
Those who caught up with the New Jersey four-piece after 1998’s commercial behemoth Powertrip might be surprised what real stoner rock sounds like, since the aggression and tripped out use of effects is far more prominent than on that album, Dave Wyndorf’s voice coming through a multitude of machines as he yowls and croons and does his favourite “Shtum-shtum-shtum-shtum” noise that will rattle around inside your headphones. The howling feedback of guitars, incredibly spacious jam sections, and the barely contained rage on the vocals of “Medicine” make this much harder to get into than anything a supposed stoner band like Queens of the Stone Age have ever made, leaving few easy hooks and plenty of room for experimentation. However, the lyrics are pretty golden despite their controversial nature, lines like “I got meat in my hands, I got an eighth in my head / I’m gonna bleed on this town until it’s red” certainly providing references for listeners, though it’s the freak poetry loaded up with Wyndorf’s jargon that seals the deal, especially this nugget from “Ozium”:
I’m up to my brain in the mire of an ancient swamp
Pteranadon smiles at me and flies up to god
Baby let me drink deep from your globes of reality
Writhe your naked ass to the mindless groove.
For all the appeal of the band’s aesthetic, one would still hope that the nine songs come up to scratch and, somehow, they completely surpass all expectations. One should not rely too much on anything being structured exactly, though that’s the appeal of the longer numbers here, “Black Mastermind”, “Ozium”, and “Spine of God” (“You don’t yank on the spine of God”, in case you were wondering) all wandering up to eight minutes, but being controlled from overspilling into directionless jamming. The recurrence of riffs is key to forming a path through the songs, while the presence of vague choruses – often repeated only once or with alterations – allows for the familiarity to build up faster, even with heapings of effects and extra recordings placed on top. Then again, without a stellar performance from Wyndorf there would still be the danger of disintegration, because his magnetic personality captures attention even during the title track’s meandering clean verses, howling out with his Layne Staley-cum-Rob Zombie voice immortal psalms, such as, “So ride me, baby, in my bed of sweat and truth / And babble and groan words of praise and love / And fry like a pig in the heart of the sun”. That’s poet laureate stuff, for sure.
As such, it would be hard to imagine Spine of God without Wyndorf, especially since the rhythm players don’t come to the fore very often, even if the drumming is pivotal to the energy of cuts like “Snake Dance” and “Medicine”. That means that when he eases up in terms of his own performance on the longer band piece “Black Mastermind” and ballad (which seems an unfitting description of a song with so much distortion and hand drums) “Zodiac Lung”, the results are less intoxicating though still diverting. However, the relaxed closer “Ozium” is the exception to the rule, every instrument softened and smoothed out to allow the lyrics to glide over the backdrop of clean guitar chords and electronic organ in a blissful miasma.
On the reissue, it is a demo version of “Ozium” that forms the bonus content, which is a slight disappointment as the same track was released for the Steamhammer version seven years ago. That said, the bonus track is well-chosen, sounding markedly different to the final version. The faster pace is more in line with the rest of the material on Spine of God, while the more prominent drum beats and regular interjections of lead guitar give the song a looser feel compared to the album track, failing to entrap the listener in the same fragile manner, yet it would be just as enjoyable if Wyndorf’s vocals were brought to the fore in the mix. Therefore, on the one hand, it’s hard to see the purpose in long-term fans getting hold of this reissue, though on the other it’s essential listening for anyone interested in stoner rock, a heavier version of ‘70s psychedelia, or out-there jams with baffling lyrics. One can fully understand why Spin magazine included this in a list of ‘1991 Albums You Didn’t Hear’. It’s time to make that right.