Heavy metal group
Considered one of the most creative, diverse, and hard-rocking of contemporary American bands, Monster Magnet is credited with pioneering “stoner rock.” This stylistic offshoot of heavy metal expands on the powerful, distorted sounds and psychedelic underpinnings of bands from the 1960s and early 1970s like Black Sabbath—a group fronted by vocalist Ozzy Osbourne—and Blue Cheer by including elements from later genres like punk, grunge, and industrial. Although they share some attributes with other stoner bands, Monster Magnet—a five-piece group led by singer/songwriter Dave Wyndorf—are credited with transcending the genre they helped to inspire. Together for more than a decade, the group, once categorized as druggy punks playing sludgy music, now generally is regarded as the thinking person’s metal band, a collective that helped to bring underground rock to main-stream audiences. Monster Magnet are noted for the authority of their sound, their authenticity as a band, their ability to grow musically, and the intelligence and wit of their songs. They have also earned praise for the fervor and excessiveness of their stage shows and for the cleverness of their image, a larger-than-life persona that both celebrates and lampoons popular culture.
Fusing garage rock, progressive rock, heavy metal, punk, and psychedelia, Monster Magnet are influenced by a wide variety of forebears, most notably the English space-rock group Hawkwind; Detroit-area protopunkers the MC5 and the Stooges, a group that featured singer Iggy Pop; shock rocker Alice Cooper; New York 1970s-era punks the Ramones; and 1960s garage and psychedelic bands like the Music Machine, the Electric Prunes, and the Third Bardo. Monster Magnet has covered the songs of some of these artists on their albums and on compilations. In addition to their musical influences, the band has been inspired by comic books, science fiction, horror movies, Blaxploitation flicks, and B-movies by filmmakers such as Roger Gorman and Russ Meyer. They also draw on other archetypes, such as Satanism and drug and biker culture, which they often characterize in a tongue-in-cheek manner. For example, the band’s early slogan was “It’s a Satanic drug thing…. You wouldn’t understand,” and its mascot, the Bull God, is a devil figure that appears on their albums.
Musically, the group—which, in addition to Wyndorf, includes Ed Mundell on lead guitar, Phil Caivano on rhythm guitar, Joe Calandra on bass, Jon Kleiman on drums, and Tim Cronin as band guru and light show operator—is credited for its potent, muscular sound, a commanding blast that showcases memorable riffs while encompassing both concise tunes and epic, feedback-laden freak-outs. As a lyricist, Wyndorf writes songs that are steeped in drug use, mysticism, sexuality, and pop-culture references. Angry, sarcastic, and humorous, Wyndorf’s lyrics often use the language of fantasy or science fiction to reflect his attitudes about both society and himself. He favors intense imagery,
Members include Phil Caivano (joined group, 1998), rhythm guitar; Joe Calandra, bass; Tim Cronin, vocals, band consultant, light-show operator; Jon Kleiman, drums; John McBain (left group, 1992), lead guitar; Ed Mundell (joined group, 1992), lead guitar; Dave Wyndorf (born in 1963 in Red Bank, NJ; divorced; children: Betty), lead vocals, guitar, songwriting, producing.
Group formed in Red Bank, NJ, c. 1988; released single “Lizard Johnny/Freak Shop USA” on Circuit Records, 1989; released EP Monster Magnet, a collection of singles, on Glitterhouse Records, 1990; released first LP, Spine of God, on Glitterhouse and Primo Scree/Caroline Records, 1991; signed with A&M Records, released major-label debut Super judge, 1993; released second major-label record Dopes to Infinity, 1995; released breakthrough album Powertrip, 1998; released follow-up, God Says No, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —A&M Records, P.O. Box 1188, Hollywood, CA 90078; Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Management —Andy Gould Management, 8489 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 501, Los Angeles, CA 90069, website. http://www.agmanagement.com. Website —Monster Magnet Official Website: http://www.monstermagnet.net.
code words, and word associations while exploring subjects such as sexual debauchery, the sorry state of contemporary music, life on the road, religion, and greed. As a singer, Wyndorf has been praised for developing his rangy, raspy baritone; initially considered a shouter, he now is regarded as a more expressive vocalist. A self-styled iconic figure who often is called “the Godfather of stoner rock,” Wyndorf is acknowledged for his swaggering, shamanic stage presence and for the success of his vision for the band.
Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, a suburban community on the Jersey Shore, Wyndorf is one of eight children from a lower-middle-class Catholic family. Early in life, he has explained, he was influenced greatly by the record collection belonging to his older brother, by seeing a UFO with his mother and two sisters, and by going to a Hawkwind concert in New York City. He also discovered comic books—a medium that continues to provide ideas for his songs—as well as sex and drugs. Wyndorf lost his virginity at 13 and became, as he told Rob O’Connor of Guitar, “a drug athlete and proud of it.” He stated to Stefan Chirazi of RIP, “All I wanted was a bag of reefer and the new Hawkwind album.” At 14, Wyndorf started selling pot; by 20, he was using LSD and cocaine regularly. Later, he became an alcoholic. Wyndorf gave up drugs and drinking in 1995.
As a teenager, Wyndorf was invited by Phil Caivano to become the lead vocalist for his junior high band, Hard Attack; years later, in 1998, Caivano joined Monster Magnet as rhythm guitarist, freeing Wyndorf to concentrate on vocals onstage. Hard Attack soon became Shrapnel, a glam/punk/power pop band that dressed in army camouflage, sang about fighting in Vietnam, and employed wild stage theatrics. The group played at the legendary punk club CBGB in New York, released a 45, and produced a self-titled LP on Elektra Records in 1984 before splitting up. Shrapnel now is considered a minor legend among aficionados of hard-core punk.
After the demise of Shrapnel, Wyndorf taught himself to play the guitar. He picked up a fuzzbox and began writing songs in homage to the distortion-filled rock that he loved as a youngster. Wyndorf started recording his songs and releasing them on cassette under the name Love Monster; some of these tunes later became songs for Monster Magnet. Wyndorf discovered a local band called Dog of Mystery, an experimental noise outfit fronted by drummer/vocalist Tim Cronin and guitarist John McBain, two “disgruntled retail guys,” as Wyndorf described them to Chris Ingman in Classic Rock magazine. Wyndorf was asked to play guitar with Dog of Mystery for some of their live shows. A revolving group of musicians—including a sax player—came and went. The band was finalized with Calandra and Kleiman as its rhythm section.
After a series of name changes, including Wrath of the Bull God and Airport 75, the group settled on Monster Magnet, a name taken from a toy—a red magnet with enormous arms and a devil head—that Wyndorf had owned as a child. Monster Magnet developed a sound that relied heavily on feedback and screaming vocals. While opening for the alternative band Jane’s Addiction in Trenton, New Jersey, Magnet played a 45-minute instrumental version of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” as covered by Michigan hard rockers Grand Funk Railroad. After hearing the jam, a hippie roadie approached Wyndorf and described their music as “drug rock”; the description stuck.
When Tim Cronin decided to retire from singing with Monster Magnet, Wyndorf became their lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist; Cronin stayed on with the band as resident consultant and light-show technician. After producing some 45s and cassettes, the group released a self-titled, six-song EP on Germany’s Glitterhouse Records in 1990. The band became popular in Europe, where it still has a strong fan base. Monster Magnet caught the attention of independent label Caroline Records, which in 1991 reissued the group’s first album, Spine of God, on its Primo Scree imprint. Spine of God, a record that is credited with starting the stoner rock movement, laid the blueprint for “drug rock”-era Magnet: tales of sex, evil, and illegal substances unleashed in a bludgeoning, hallucinatory garage/psych mix. Jason Ankeny of All Music Guide called Spine the “metal album for people who hate metal albums. A glorious and unapologetic celebration of pure indulgence… the ultimate stoner goof.” Next, Magnet issued 25 … Tab (also called Tab…25 and Tab), a three-song, mostly instrumental EP that includes the grinding, 38-minute title track. Art Black of Noiseworks Magazine called Tab “[bjonehead art at its apex,” while Ned Raggett of All Music Guide claimed that, for many, the EP “remains the high point of Monster Magnet as extreme downer psych/space rock.”
After signing with A&M Records, Monster Magnet released its major label debut, Superjudge, in 1993; the album is named for a fast car—a 1971 GTO. The band, which now included John McBain’s replacement Ed Mundell on lead guitar, toned down some of their trade-mark feedback while accentuating both Wyndorf’s songwriting and the molten riffs of the band. Mike Gitter of Kerrang! called Superjudge “[a] flower with a knife behind it,” while David Browne of Entertainment Weekly noted that “Black Balloon,” the album’s closing track, “gives psychedelia a good name again.” The band’s next release, Dopes to Infinity, further reduced Magnet’s space rock tendencies, trading them for a darker edge and more varied instrumentation; a single from the album, “Negasonic Teenage Warhead,” became moderately successful. Calling the record Wyndorf’s version of Led Zeppelin’s classic double album Physical Graffiti, a review that appears at CDNOW concluded that Dopes to Infinity “catapults Monster Magnet into the next dimension.”
Monster Magnet’s next record, Powertrip, is often described as its best. Written by Wyndorf in a hotel room near Las Vegas, the songs address materialism and personal impulses in lyrics and music that generally are acknowledged as sharper and more well focused than those on the band’s previous releases. Powertrip usually is regarded as a triumph, a work that features melody and hooks while retaining Magnet’s mind-bending sound and gonzo edge. A reviewer at CDNOW claimed, “I haven’t enjoyed a metal album like this since Ozzy and the Sabbath boys rocked the early 70s,” while a critic from hip online called Powertrip “[r]eal rock & roll reclaimed.” Eventually earning gold-record status, Powertrip includes the title cut—an FM radio hit—and “Space Lord,” a popular single and video.
With God Says No, Wyndorf and company produced what is often called their most mature record. The album addresses sex, power, the entertainment industry, and the dark side of human nature while returning to the band’s psychedelic roots. Although some critics felt that God Says No is overly mellow, most observers have commented that the raw power of the group is still intact. Elaine Rose of the website ATS: At the Shore concluded, “If God Says No doesn’t turn into a metal classic, it’s because all of the headbangers got too darned old.” Monster Magnet has toured with many bands, including Aerosmith, Marilyn Manson, Megadeth, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Raging Slab, Soundgarden, Van Halen, and White Zombie. Tim Cronin and Jon Kleiman also perform with the country/rock outfit the Ribeye Brothers and the rock group Gallery of Mites, while Ed Mundell has played with stoner band the Atomic Bi***wax.
Throughout their career, Monster Magnet have been considered controversial for their music, their image, and their behavior; for example, the group once dosed an audience with LSD. Monster Magnet have been called sloppy, turgid, and self-indulgent. They have been berated for their cartoonish presentation, for Wyndorf’s overblown, expletive-laden lyrics, and for becoming too commercial. However, Monster Magnet usually are regarded as both genuine saviors of rock ‘n’ roll and brilliant parodists of popular culture. The band has a devoted following, and Wyndorf is acknowledged as an exceptional songwriter and frontman. Sharon O’Connell of Melody Maker commented that Magnet “blast decades of accumulated rubble away from heavy rock and tower above the rest. Sure, it’s hairy; the hoariest hedonism there is. And it’s heaven.” Cake of Flipside called the group “the epitome of insanity and brilliant musicianship seasoned with an uneerie sense of humor.” Jem Aswad of Guitar commented that Magnet has “a keen sense of songwriting and a mastery of riff damage that transcends even many of the albums that influenced them.” Writing in Metal Edge, Don Kaye concluded that Monster Magnet “may well be the last real rock ‘n’ roll band.” Wyndorf told Dom Salemi of Brutarian, “It’s great that I’m getting paid for writing and thinking what I want. You can’t ask for more than that.” He confided to Chris Ingram of Classic Rock, “This is the band I’ve always wanted to be in since I was a kid.”
Forget about Life, I’m High on Dope (cassette), Cool Beans, 1989.
“Lizard Johnny/Freak Shop USA” (seven-inch single), Circuit, 1989.
I’m High, What Are You Gonna Do about It? (cassette), Cool Beans, 1990.
Monster Magnet (singles compilation), Glitterhouse, 1990.
“Murder/Tractor” (seven-inch single), Primo Scree, 1990.
Spine of God, Glitterhouse, 1991; reissued, Primo Scree/Caroline, 1991; also released on SubPop.
25 … Tab (also called Tab… 25 and Tab), Glitterhouse, 1991; reissued, Caroline, 1993.
Super judge, A&M, 1993.
Dopes to Infinity, A&M, 1995.
Powertrip, A&M, 1998; also released with a live disc, Viva Las Vegas,1999
God Says No, A&M, 2000 (Europe), 2001 (U.S.).
Love Monster (previously unreleased demos from 1988), Wrong Way, 2001.
Monster Magnet: Maximum Audio Biography (recorded autobiography), Chrome Dreams, 2001.
Bogdanov, Vladimir, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, editors, All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul, 3rd edition, All Media Guide, 2002.
Classic Rock, February 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, April 30, 1993, p. 56.
Flipside, December 1993/January 1994.
Guitar, September 1993; June 1998.
Kerrang!, April 17, 1993.
Melody Maker, April 25, 1992.
Metal Edge, April 2001.
Noiseworks Magazine, January/February 1992.
RIP, September 1993.
“A Tribute to Monster Magnet,” StonerRock.com, http://www.stonerrock.com/magnet/momag.htm (July 10, 2002).
“Biography: Monster Magnet,” hip online, http.//www.hiponline.com/artist/music/m/monster_magnet/index.html (July 10, 2002).
“Monster Magnet,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 10, 2002).
“Monster Magnet,” CDNOW, http://www.cdnow.com (July 10, 2002).
Monster Magnet Official Website, http://www.monstermagnet.net (July 9, 2002).
“The Sounding Board: Monster Magnet, God Says No,” ATS: At the Shore, http://www.attheshore.net/2001/monstermagnet.shtml (September 10, 2002).
—Gerard J. Senick
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