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The British are coming: Muse lays down 'law'

English rock band Muse is back with its new album The 2nd Law. The record marks the group’s return to the studio after its successful Resistance tour, which passed through Charlottesville in 2010. The 2nd Law is bold and futuristic, experimental and traditional, showcasing the band’s iconic musicality while at the same time testing out new waters. Muse proves on The 2nd Law that it is capable of branching off into new territory while still delivering its characteristic and enjoyable sound.

Don’t worry, Muse fans: From Matt Bellamy’s falsetto to epic power guitar solos and virtuosic synthesizers, that unmistakable Muse sound is still here. Songs such as “Madness” echo the romantic tenderness of older songs such as “Starlight,” while tracks such as “Animals” evoke the arpeggio-filled days of Origin of Symmetry (2001). Album track “Survival” even became one of the official songs of the Summer Olympics.

And yet something seems awfully awry. At times, you will undoubtedly ask: “Is this really Muse?” To understand why, we must ask again — what is ‘The 2nd Law?’ Look no further than the last two tracks of the album, where the vocals not only explicitly state the Second Law of Thermodynamics but also demonstrate the law musically. “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” the penultimate track, breaks down from a barrage of strings and choir of “ahhs” into a down-tempo dubstep beat. “The 2nd Law: Isolated System,” the album’s final song, takes off from a quiet, consistent piano rhythm into a cacophony of sound, before finally dissipating into nothingness. Both songs illustrate entropy, albeit crudely. In an endeavor to push the record’s theme of descending into disorder, Muse ends up delving deep into new territory.

Should we be happy that Muse is making dubstep? Initially the correct response seems clear — no, we absolutely shouldn’t. Muse isn’t a dubstep band, it never has been, and there’s no reason to start now, other than the fact that nowadays dubstep sells. Muse doesn’t do dubstep much justice, evident from “Follow Me” and the aforementioned “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” where Muse appears to have tried to mimic Skrillex but was too afraid to go all out in true dubstep fashion.

And yet, for all the mockery Muse’s dubstep makes of the genre, it works. Between the thematic elements of chaos, the heavy use of synthesizers, quality lyrics and the band’s throwback to its old rock sound, the dubstep proves another layer in the band’s sonic arrangements. The increased use of electronica and dubstep isn’t in your face as much as it sounds like it’s floating around the track.

Muse proves with The 2nd Law that it’s ready for the next decade. By channeling its reliable rock charm and also diving into a more experimental sound, Muse makes the grade on its latest effort. I have no idea where Muse will go next, but with The 2nd Law, it’s earned my confidence to experiment as much as it pleases.