"I'm afraid, Dave..." --HAL the computer, 2001: A Space Odyssey There's reason to be afraid. There's very good reason indeed, if you're someone who likes their music unchallenging, simple, and easy to define and digest. But if you want something dark, mysterious, savage, and unsettling, something that will force you to confront the unknown and possibly alter the way you look at the world, then prepare yourself for Mudvayne.
It's no coincidence that the opening track on Mudvayne's stunningly heavy debut album, L.D. 50, is titled "Monolith," after the brooding alien artifact at the heart of Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
"The overall theme of the album reflects and embodies ideas about the evolution of consciousness, transformation, and the risks involved in experimenting with things that can change a person's point of view, internally and externally," says drummer sPaG. "And the monolith in Kubrick's film was also a representation of that."
Like that cryptic black object, Mudvayne keep their secrets well-even their faces are hidden in hallucinatory colors and symbols-but make no bones about their desire to fuck with your head. Taking the intensity of the new school of heavy rock one step further, Mudvayne has left a long trail of shattered preconceptions and blown minds in their wake. Next victims: the world at large.
"L.D. 50 is a medical term used by pharmacologists to measure how toxic a substance is," explains sPaG about the album's enigmatic title. "It stands for Lethal Dosage 50, which represents how much of a chemical it takes to kill fifty out of a hundred test subjects."
"The metaphor is that the things that can potentially open your mind, expand your consciousness, and show you a new vision of yourself and the world also have a risk involved in them and a consequence. It's about how far you can push the envelope before it gets dangerous, which is a way we'd like to see our work perceived as well."
sPaG and his cohorts have been pushing the envelope for four-and-a-half years, ever since Mudvayne first conspired together in the forbidding wastelands of Peoria, Illinois, circa 1996. sPaG, Kud, and Gurrg, with a different bass player (Ryknow came aboard two years later), found each other after ten years in the usual maze of local outfits, immediately sharing a vision of their own musical apocalypse.
The band began gigging regularly, winning over audiences from Denver to Philadelphia with an unmatched intensity and a musical attack that was increasingly intricate and brutal. Somewhere along the line, the four members began painting their faces as well, adding an extra layer of mystery to their dense, foreboding approach.
"We always wanted to try and bring some visual aspect to what we did, but of course our budget limited what we could do," says sPaG. "The makeup thing just came upon us." But the drummer also cautions not to read too much into the band's war paint: "It doesn't necessarily symbolize anything, and I'd really hate to see things like that taken too literally," he insists. "I feel the same way about our music - we try to leave it up to the listener to make their own opinions about what it is we're really doing."
The concepts behind Mudvayne's music - a twisting roller coaster ride comprised of gargantuan, demonic riffs, serpentine rhythms, and Kud's expressive, multi-dimensional vocals, offset by kaleidoscopic effects and samples taken from subjects like evolved consciousness guru Terence McKenna - were generated organically through the band's shared interests.
"The band has been really influenced by movies and directors, that sort of thing," reports sPaG. "Kubrick's work in general has influenced us, but 2001 especially - some of the metaphors in that movie were a real big influence on the writing of this album. It was just a natural progression for us to pull each other into exploring these ideas together, which is exciting for us because we're still at the beginning of exploring how we work together as artists."
Having recorded one self-released album, Kill I Oughta, Mudvayne was more than ready to take their ideas to a larger platform, and Epic A&R exec Steve Richards was happy to oblige them. Next began the real alchemy of getting Mudvayne's dizzying energy and technicality properly recorded, with famed producer Garth Richardson (Rage Against The Machine, L7).
"It was the most horribly beautiful experience I've ever had," recalls sPaG. "It was very, very straining, very psychologically straining, but it was also awesome to realize your vision on that level, to have that kind of equipment available to you, and the expertise from a producer like Garth.
"We worked around the clock, and some of the engineers we had with us literally went for days with-out sleep. It was very, very time-intensive. We didn't party. We were recording in Vancouver but didn't get to see the town-we were just there and we worked and that was it. It was very intense, and Garth ran a tight ship."
"Making the record was crazy. It was all about work," recalls Kud, a Clockwork Orange fanatic who claims to have gargled gravel in his youth, about which details are sketchy.
"There were songs I left alone and didn't mess with until we were in the studio, which was not a smart idea considering the time and budget constraints we were under. I wrote 'Pharmaecopia' and 'Nothing To Gein' on our last night in the studio, before the tapes were sent to New York to be mixed. The pressure was insane."
But the end result was worth the harrowing experience, with Mudvayne's music already earning the accolades of fellow musical shock therapists Slipknot, whose percussionist Shawn "6" Crahan serves as executive producer on L.D. 50. The two bands have also been sharing the stage this past spring on Slipknot's headlining tour and this summer's Tattoo The Earth mega-fest.
"They're a great band and they're great people," enthuses Kud. "Shawn's seen something in us that was very genuine, and I also hope that people can see that the music is very passionate and honest. We stand behind it and we believe in it."
One thing is certain: The frontal assault of Mudvayne's music may be too lethal a dosage for some to take. "I really feel like we're trying to do something different and test the waters here," concludes Kud, before warning ominously: "If you're scared of it, don't buy it."