Rising from the ashes of ’Nam-themed CBGB also-rans Shrapnel, New Jersey’s Monster Magnet arrived on the scene like low-budget psychedelic cartoon supervillains, spewing a thoroughly ancient form of acid rock but somehow sounding like something from seven hundred years in the future.
Led by David Wyndorf – a creepy-moustachioed culture vulture with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything cool, from underground comics to Z-grade splatter flicks and dungeon-dwelling metal acts from the dawn of time – Monster Magnet presented an alternative world far away from anything else in the ether at the dawn of the 90s.
Most of the street-rock dirtbags who first heard Monster Magnet had no idea who Hawkwind, Bang, Sir Lord Baltimore or any of the other deep-space/ downer-rock cuts Wyndorf had rattling around in his head even were. And while an entire cottage industry of be-denimed retro-rockers sprang up in their wake, Monster Magnet were it; ground zero in the dope-rock-proto-metal revival wave.
They didn’t invent shit, but they reinvented practically everything. After a few head-spinning indie releases asserting their feral dominance in underground rock circles and a wild tour with rising grunge stars Soundgarden, Monster Magnet signed to major label A&M – desperate to get a jump on the 90s alt.rock train – and the band took full advantage, crafting big, beefy, arena-rattling monster albums like 1995’s Dopes To Infinity and, more significantly, 1998’s Powertrip, the band’s apex predator move, an authentic gold record with an equally authentic smash hit in the timeless earth-rocker Space Lord.
If nothing else, it provided the only time the word ‘motherfucker’ was on mainstream radio every fifteen minutes. The story from there is as old as time eternal. They toured relentlessly over the next few years, smoked whatever was around, made music videos with half-naked models and piles of somebody else’s money, and generally lived the rapidly fleeting dream.
And while the venues and budgets eventually got smaller as the decades wore on, Monster Magnet remained the preeminent stoner rock band on the planet, the wiggest-out dope smokers and space streakers to ever rip off Amon Düül, Jack Kirby and Dario Argento all at once. Monster Magnet’s discography is legendary, on purpose.
Spine Of God (Napalm, 1991) (opens in new tab)
One of the greatest ever debut albums, Spine Of God still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did when it was first released 30 years ago. An improbable but perfect melange of Stooges abandon, planet-eating psychedelia and punk venom, Spine is a total immersive experience, a dark and penetrating funhouse ride that’s as spaced-out and psychotic as Chrome and just as satanic as any Norwegian church burners.
Ostensibly a satire of over-the-top metal albums, Spine goes so deep undercover it basically becomes the greatest over-the-top metal album ever. Recorded for $3,000, although it sounds like a lot less. In a good way.
Powertrip (A&M, 1998) (opens in new tab)
Anchored by the outrageous acid-metal masterpiece Space Lord, Powertrip is Monster Magnet’s magnum opus. By far the band’s most straightforward hard rock album, it hammers your skull with hit after hit, from the sleazy grunge of Bummer to the biker-metal bliss of 3rd Eye Landslide.
Wyndorf’s lyrical skills were off the charts at this point (’I’m grabbing her knees like a worm with a mission’), and each song is a cinematic experience in itself. Unlike the band’s earlier material, which always delivered the goods with a knowing wink, Powertrip feels all-in. With Spine Of God they made fun of rock gods; with Powertrip they became them.
Superjudge (A&M, 1993) (opens in new tab)
Superjudge was Monster Magnet’s second album, and the first to feature the searing, corrosive leads of Ed Mundell. This is the record that cemented the band’s demented genius in the burgeoning ‘alt.rock’ world of 90s rock.
Melding Black Flag and Black Sabbath into one sonic steamroller, and tossing 60s space rock into the mix, Monster Magnet created the ‘stoner metal’ blueprint that hundreds of other bands would follow. It features unapologetically excessive dope’n’roll classics, as well as covers of Howlin’ Wolf and Hawkwind songs that teased out the band’s still mysterious back-story.
Tab 25 (Gitterhouse, 1991) (opens in new tab)
Technically an EP, recorded prior to Spine Of God but officially released only after that record made a splash, Tab is the band at their most excessive. The title track – with a 32-minute (!) running time – is a brain-melting, couch-of-woe classic that not only predates monolithic longest players like Sleep’s never-ending Dopesmoker, but also manages to toss everything from Krautrock to creepy field recordings in its winding sonic spew.
The rest isn’t quite as out-there but it’s wild, heavy teenage nightmare stuff nonetheless, full of woozy acid rock like the seasick Longhair and the subtle creep of the VU-inspired Lord 13.
Dopes To Infinity (A&M, 1995) (opens in new tab)
While their ascent to the big league was still just out of reach here, the band already sound like they’re playing for the stadiums. Dopes To Infinity sounds both thoroughly mainstream and hopelessly obscure all at once. It’s like an echo from some alternative dimension where the Flower Travelin’ Band were as big as The Beatles and Judas Priest were actual priests.
Lead single Nagasonic Teenage Warhead was their first hit, and for good reason; it’s like pouring hydrochloric acid directly into your brain. A relentless monster of a record that drips cool from every greasy pore.
Monolithic Baby! (A&M, 2004) (opens in new tab)
The last gasp of the band’s arena-rock era. All indications suggest they knew it too, since this album wrings out every last over-the-top rock’n’roll cliche it can. There’s a song on here called Slut Machine, for Chrissakes. The absolute banger on Monolithic Baby! is undoubtedly the hook-heavy sleaze rocker Unbroken (Hotel Baby), which somehow evaded hit status, with the positively Kiss-esque strutter Master Of Light not far behind.
Quite honestly this is the band’s best album since Powertrip, and it’s bursting at the seams with righteous 70s motor-rock. Monolithic Baby! is the forgotten gem of their catalogue.
God Says No (A&M, 2001) (opens in new tab)
Well it wasn’t quite the smash follow-up to Powertrip that everybody expected. That’s probably because only one song on the album, the fiery Heads Explode, followed that record’s Super Rock formula. The rest of God Says No is pretty eclectic, even by Monster Magnet standards.
There’s a bunch of solid, Mudhoney-esque garage-grunge head boppers like All Shook Out, Medicine (a Spine redux) and Melt, and there’s also 60s psych-pop (Kiss Of The Scorpion), discordant gut-bucket blues (Gravity Well) and even lo-fi new wave (Take It). Given the stakes, Monster Magnet probably should of zagged instead of all these zigs, but still, it’s a real adventure.
4-Way Diablo (SPV, 2007) (opens in new tab)
Dave Wyndorf overdosed on anxiety meds in 2006 and spent some time in a psych ward. If rock history was any indication, we’d expect some kind of From The Inside-esque confessional drivel from 4-Way Diablo.
Well, fuck that. Apart from grunge-ballad I’m Calling You and the – well, okay, you got me – overly dramatic confessional drone-pop of Little Bag Of Gloom, the rest of the album is prime Magnet gonzola. Witness absolute belters like MC5 homage Wall Of Fire, slinky sleaze-rocker Slap In The Face and the blistering You’re Alive. Mountains of churning riffs and defiant howls from the man who just cheated death.
Mindfucker (Napalm, 2018) (opens in new tab)
Generally speaking, nobody’s asking much from anybody’s eleventh album, but Mindfucker is a surprisingly solid late-period entry in the band’s catalogue. Borrowing heavily from the snarly space-punk of their Spine Of God days, Monster Magnet are in full scorched-earth mode here, blasting out acid-fried room shakers like Rocket Freak, I’m God and the paint-peeling title track like they were still young and hungry.
The only real divergence from the Saturday-night-forever vibes is the dark, free-floating space-prog ballad Drowning. The album could be weirder, for sure, but if you’re looking to get your face melted then it will certainly do the trick.
And one to avoid...
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Milking The Stars: A Re-Imagining Of Last Patrol (Napalm, 2013) (opens in new tab)
With their heavy touring days behind ‘em, latter-day Monster Magnet projects tend to involve a lot of fucking around. This album is them at their most fucked-around. Essentially a 60s psych-rock revamp of their already sorta plodding 2013 album Last Patrol with a few new scraps and live tracks thrown in to make it a ‘new’ album, MTS is ‘experimental’ in the most commercially crass way possible.
It’s not awful – it’s not Hot Space or anything – but it’s a million miles away from the breathless excitement of their 90s heyday.