Review: Monster Magnet ‘A Better Dystopia’

Full disclosure: Monster Magnet are one of my all-time favorite bands. They’ve been in my periphery since 1994. I’d heard the name. I was aware of the ‘it’s a satanic drug thing you wouldn’t understand’ slogan as seen on many a t-shirt in the early 90s. I loved the Negasonic Teenage Warhead song and video that got pretty decent airplay on both the radio and MTV. However, by late ‘94 my musical tastes were elsewhere. I embarked on 4-year-long garage rock/punk kick.

Monster Magnet 'A Better Dystopia'

Powertrip shook me out of that abruptly. That record, at that time, was just what I was looking for. Huge, Sabbath-meets-The Stooges riffs, off-the-wall, did-he-really-say-that lyrics, Trans Ams, Aviator sunglasses, American flags engulfed in flames, naked ladies, Las Vegas, the whole nine yards. It was the last, great, big, real, corporate heavy rock & roll album, of the 1990s and it was all wrapped in Monster Magnet’s psychedelic 70s aesthetic. Monster Magnet brought the riff back for me, and really were my first ‘stoner rock’ band. They were the ones who opened me up to this genre of heavy rock & roll which, at the time, was still in its infancy.

It was Monster Magnet, not Kyuss, not Sleep, not Corrosion of Conformity, not Fu Manchu, that introduced me to stoner rock. Whether we’re talking the stoned-out, heavy-space-psych of Spine Of God, the genre-defining classic of Dopes To Infinity, the cosmic journey of Last Patrol or now in 2021 with A Better Dystopia, Monster Magnet has never put out a bad record in my opinion. I consider Dave Wyndorf to be a genius on multiple levels, certainly as a lyricist, and definitely as a song writer, and believe him to be as much of a figurehead for stoner rock as Matt Pike, Brant Bjork, Scott Hill, Neil Fallon, Pepper Keenan or Lee Dorian.

So, with that backdrop, I eagerly dove into A Better Dystopia, Monster Magnet’s first covers album. A Better Dystopia came to fruition, due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Barely getting out of Europe as the continent was going on lockdown, the band were forced to cancel all touring plans like every other touring band on planet earth. Wyndorf, ever the restless creative spirit, suggested the band do an all-covers record of obscure late-60s/early 70s hard rock, and garage rock, as well as some weirdo-punk nuggets and contemporary music that fit nicely with Wyndorf’s song sections.

Going in, I was pretty familiar with most of these songs, so I couldn’t think of a better curator for a record like this than Dave Wyndorf. Monster Magnet have been mining bands from this era for inspiration since their inception. They’ve covered Hawkwind, Grand Funk, The Stooges, MC5, Donovan, The Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath over the years as it is, so this isn’t new territory for them. We get started with The Diamond Mine,a psychedelic freak-out-rant originally from late 60s radio personality Dave Diamond. The irony is, if I didn’t know this was a cover, I’d automatically assume Wyndorf wrote this, as its pretty out there.

This record rules, and although it’s not a record of new material, it sits nicely in their catalog, and follows the vibe Monster Magnet established on 2013s Last Patrol…

Next up is a fairly predictable, yet awesome cover of  Hawkwind’s Born To Go, I only say predictable as Monster Magnet have covered Hawkwind three times prior by my count (as well as Ejection off Mindfucker by Captain Lockheed & the Starfighters, who Hawkwind in turn covered), and Wyndorf has cited them as one of his main influences dozens of times. Epitaph For A Head originally by The Fuzztones is a swirling freak-out, put through the Magnet vortex. Solid Gold Hell is an early favorite, originally by Australian, proto-grunge, punk-weirdos The Scientists. A nasty, sleazy The Stooges riff hammers into the listeners skull as Wyndorf channels his inner Iggy Pop. All sorts of weird echo’s, sounds, and was that a rattlesnake rattle (?) permeate and fade in and out of the music.

We get a glorious take on Pentagram’s Be Forewarned and Monster Magnet shine on this track, really putting their stamp on it. Poobah’s Mr. Destroyer and a particularly killer take on Jerusalem‘s When The Wolf Sits are total 70s, fuzzed-out bangers, sequenced perfectly, as Monster Magnet sets the listener up brilliantly for their epic, sitar-and-psych take on The Pretty Things Death. Wyndorf’s vocals sound fantastic, and I do have to mention the fact the man is 64. He sounds more alive, emotive, and vibrant than vocalists a fraction of his age.

Josefus’s Situation brings the mood back up, before we get to the real eye-opener on A Better Dystopia, Monster Magnet’s take on UK garage punk bashers, Table Scraps Motorcycle (Straight to Hell). This song fucking rocks. I could listen to Wyndorf announce ‘Devils blood for gasoline, prettiest thing I’ve ever seen’ through a fuzzbox/echo machine to The Stooges-style-stomp all day long. Dust’s (featuring one Marc Bell, better known as Marky Ramone) Learning To Die is the centerpiece for me. A stellar take on an all-time early 70s headbanger.

Monster Magnet is not just Dave Wyndorf, and I must heap massive praise upon Phil Caivano, Wyndrof’s longtime partner in crime/guitarist/riff master/bassist/engineer/producer as his fingerprints are all over this record, as are guitarist Garrett Sweney’s. Drummer Bob Pantella, owner of Freakshop Studios where the record was recorded, has a stellar performance here as well, both as drummer AND producer. The drums sound fantastic, the entire record sounds fantastic, warm, fuzzy, heavy, crunchy and trippy.

At this point these guys are lifers. They know how to make a record like this. They know how to achieve these sounds, as they’ve spent decades honing their craft. This record rules, and although it’s not a record of new material, it sits nicely in their catalog, and follows the vibe Monster Magnet established on 2013s Last Patrol. A Better Dystopia is a fantastic record, and fits the feeling of the music it covers, as well as our paranoid, politically-unstable, plague-ridden times. A welcome edition Monster Magnet’s legendary career.

Label: Napalm Records
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Scribed by: Martin Williams