He’s always had it in him, as evidenced by early Muse bangers like New Born and Stockholm Syndrome, which helped make Muse one of the most successful alternative rock acts of the modern age. But with this album the singer/guitarist is really going for it in terms of sheer sonic weight.
Will Of The People is a head-twisting celebration of heaviness. It’s the sound of a group finding new ways to catch lightning in the bottle, and hard-wire galactic riffs into stadium-conquering anthems.
Tracks such as Kill Or Be Killed and Won’t Stand Down live up to the metallic defiance of their titles, while You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween – despite being a synth-led throwback to the group’s electro influences – features the most overtly shred-guitar run ever heard on a Muse album, a throwback to the 80s heyday of game-changing guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert.
There are some classic Muse traits on the album’s title track – the down-tuned single-note riffs, a generous helping of octave fuzz...
It’s pretty much a traditional blues riff. That’s one thing I learned from Rage Against The Machine. You can get away with straight blues riffs as long as you make the production unique. That’s the key. Sometimes you’ll sit down and play a riff and think: “Oh, that sounds very familiar, something from the sixties or seventies, like Hendrix” or whatever.
I think we first learned this approach on Supermassive Black Hole, where we did everything we could to make a blues riff sound as futuristic and strange as possible. We took the same kind of production approach with Will Of The People, because it’s mainly one main idea the whole way through and one of the simplest tracks we’ve done, at least on this album.
With its thrash metal feel, Kill Or Be Killed could be one of the heaviest tracks you’ve ever done.
For sure! I’m trying to think of where exactly it came from. I mean, metal has always been around for us. When we were growing up we were listening to bands like Iron Maiden. And though we connected more through Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and the Smashing Pumpkins, we always had this love for eighties metal. Metallica were also a big one for us, but Iron Maiden were the British band and also felt a bit more punk rock in ways.
Especially on those early albums.
The song Phantom Of The Opera [from Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut album, 1980] doesn’t feel as bloated or overtly classical as other metal songs. There’s still something quite angry and scary about it. That’s why Maiden are a band we’ve always looked up to.
That usage of the harmonic minor scale and the progressive approach to arrangements is something that we share, even if we never sounded like them and live in a different genre. We have a lot of respect for them as musicians, especially Steve Harris, who is one of the best bass players around.
After that I got into bands like Deftones. I wouldn’t call Rage Against The Machine metal necessarily, but they’re one of my favourites. Someone played me some Gojira a while back and I really got into them. I’m sure some of that crept in.
There’s a solo in You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween that ends with what sounds like an Yngwie Malmsteen lick. Is he someone you’ve ever listened to?
Oh, brilliant! I haven’t listened to him in a while, but Yngwie was one of those people I got into in the early nineties when I first started playing. Clearly back then, I thought there was a chance!
After a while I realised I simply couldn’t get to where he was, and sort of veered off towards more classical and flamenco guitar styles. Then I started listening to players like Hendrix and Cobain and felt: “You know what? I can do chaos. I can’t do this unbelievable technical precision, but what I can do is create a mess."
So I went down the road of noise, chaos and carnage... and little elements of the other things stayed with me. And I think you’re probably right, some of the fast-moving harmonic minor ideas will have come from players like that.