That feeling of nostalgia for an event you didn’t attend—it is hard to explain in words my feelings about missing Muse’s 2011 Reading and Leeds set, where they treated the masses to Origin of Symmetry in its entirety, in celebration of its 10th anniversary.
Loved by fans and critics alike—even ranked 74 on Q’s ‘Best 100 Albums of All Time’ list in 2006—it is bittersweet to revisit the album twenty years on, since this Muse, dazzling in symphonic metal, has left us. No longer do we hear the fateful tones of Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building’ before the first frantic arpeggios of ‘New Born’; we are rarely treated to Matt Bellamy’s vocal stratospherics in ‘Micro Cuts’, and not since that 2011 weekend has a bellowing organ transported us to the musical dystopia of ‘Megalomania’.
Yet, within Origin of Symmetry, we can see the origin of Muse’s rise to the status of rock deities. The suspenseful, Rachmaninov-inspired piano intro to ‘Space Dementia’—before the track explodes into utter frenzy—finds relatives in ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ (2003) and the band’s three-part ‘Exogenesis: Symphony’, which rounds off 2009’s The Resistance. Meanwhile, the anthemic ‘Plug in Baby’, which has survived best the twenty-year cull, paved the way for groove-driven hits such as ‘Assassin’, ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Time is Running Out’. Running throughout the record too is constant experimentation with synths; this indeed reached its climax in their most recent LP, Simulation Theory, which saw the band ditch their usual sounds for a deep dive into 80s synth-pop revival.
But what’s so special about Origin of Symmetry, then? Fundamentally, the record represents this era of ‘Early’ Muse—the typical label which fans use when trying to justify their favourite bands, only to see the sour reactions their opinions receive. Yet, it allowed the trio to escape the constant ‘Radiohead 2.0’ moniker which had bedraggled their debut, Showbiz, with a concept album which explored for just under an hour all their musical upbringings—from Bellamy’s classical piano and operatic studies to bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s penchant for metal. True, the second half of the record may veer slightly into more experimental zones (such as the flamenco/soft rock mashup ‘Screenager’) but stick to it and listeners will be treated to a multidimensional musical world.
But don’t just explore the album itself. Live recordings and concert videos give added depth to what the band were trying to achieve. The tracks are best experienced live and in-the-flesh; only a stage of such proportions can do justice to an album intended to push all the limits of drama. A snippet of ‘Bliss’ at Leeds 2017 was enough, though we might dream of another entire live rendition sometime soon.
For now, the record speaks for itself. Twenty years on, Muse’s revered sophomore effort stands the test of time and audiences can only wait for it to find its proper place on a platform among its devoted fans. Until then, we are left to imagine it—and imagine it I shall.
Words by Matthew Prudham
This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.
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