Muse – Origin of Symmetry and Absolution review


Shane Greenler, Photography

 Muse – Origin of Symmetry (2001)

I’ll come out and say it now. Along with Absolution from 2003, Origin of Symmetry is my personal favorite album within the entirety of Muse’s discography. That fact alone makes it an incredibly hard album for me to give an honest and objective review. But, I’ll try my best.


Muse’s debut album Showbiz from 1999 is often criticized for practically wearing it’s Radiohead influence on its sleeves. Origin of Symmetry is honestly where Muse really starts to come into their own stylistically. 


Taking into account the heavy and iconic riffs, the nearly avant-garde lyricism, the nearly deafening basslines, Origin of Symmetry contains a raw darkness and intensity that is utterly unmatched, even 19 years later. 


As opposed to its predecessor which also suffered from a pretty severe lack of focus, Origin of Symmetry is incredibly ambitious and unique, especially for a second album. We see Muse blending elements from progressive and space rock, and evening leaning towards bits of punk and baroque. Muse pulled absolutely all the stops in this LP. 


Matt Bellamy’s vocals are simply iconic. Although his singing is incredibly impressive, his quirks and mannerisms, especially the lyrics on this LP specifically, are admittedly quite hard for new listeners to get accustomed to. But all of it blends together very well to create a uniquely passionate and soulful album.


The cover art actually has a fairly interesting history behind it. The band commissioned 14 freelance artists to make a piece given the same title of Origin of Symmetry. Matt explains in a 2001 interview, “…even though each piece is in a radically different style, you get a sense of there being some form of continuity through different people’s perceptions of the same theme”.


Of the 14 artists and their many submissions, the final piece the band decided on, painted by William Eager, couldn’t have been more perfect. As well as being the band’s only hand painted album cover, the empty space filled with erect and towering structures work well to visualize the otherworldly feel of the album.


William actually went through nearly eight different designs. These included subjects like tall sentry stations, a mass of tangled landlines, and even crowbar shaped rods smashing through disembodied windows. He finally settled on the now iconic “football goalposts” shaped structures.


All of the tracks on this album are incredibly diverse. Starting with “New Born”, which opens with an almost ominous piano riff that bleeds into a booming hard rock epic. Tie that in with the awesomely complex piano on “Space Dementia”, and quite literally everything about “Plug in Baby”, and you can really see just how dominating the sound on the first half of the album really is.


All of that is contrasted with the entire second half, which consists of relatively much quieter, and slower paced tracks. “Screenager”, “Darkshines”, “Citizens Erased” all work well together to bring on a really desolate and eerie quietness. (Except for “Micro Cuts”, which I can assure you is quite loud). All ending on the beautifully apocalyptic “Megalomania”.


All of it blends together in a really dark and heavy experience. If you’re at all into hard rock or alternative, or have any interest in Muse’s other works, this is a must listen.


  • 9/10
  • Favorite Songs: “Plug In Baby”, “Citizens Erased”, “New Born”, “Hyper Music”, “Megalomania”

Muse – Absolution (2003)


As mentioned in my review of Origin of Symmetry, this is tied as my favorite Muse album, albeit for different reasons. I can’t possibly imagine listening to one without the other. While lacking the harsh and gritty sound the previous album was known for, Absolution positively thrives in its presentation.


Unlike the previous two albums which could be criticized for their very brutish and harsh instrumentals, Absolution marks a turning point in the band’s sound. It drops the grunge feel for a grander and more symphonic rock style that would eventually become the bands trademark. The production value is also noticeably higher, and the album easily has the best flow from track to track within Muse’s whole discography.


While Origin of Symmetry is probably Muse’s most darkest album in terms of sound, Absolution is easily their most melancholic. Songs like “Falling Away With You”, “Sing for Absolution” and even later songs like “Interlude”, “Endless”, and “Blackout” all just tug at your heart in a way that’s borderline indescribable.


The phrase “absolution” means the forgiveness and cleansing of one’s sins, with the main “narrative” behind the album being an atheist witnessing rapture and having to come to terms with being left behind. As one would expect the tracks focus heavily on themes of death, religion, abandonment, and of course (as is almost tradition for Muse) a bit of toxic romance.


Muse originally planned for the album to cover topics like mental illness and insanity, in a similar vein to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon. Ultimately, the influence of the Iraq War would heavily change the direction of the record. But, as producer Paul Reeve said, “…there are still some elements of that”.


This album is, in the simplest of terms, beautifully epic. Dom Howard’s drums, Chris Wolsestome’s bass, the guest musicians working on the strings, and especially Matt Bellamy’s haunting voice all work together to make Absolution a journey to listen to.


The album grabs your attention immediately with its intro “Apocalypse Please”, leading into and out of booming tracks like “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Hysteria”, both bearing some of the most intense and complex riffs Muse has ever produced.


The shining jewel for this entire LP is Matt Bellamy’s piano skills. Nearly every single song on the album has him and his piano taking center stage. “Sing For Absolution”, “Apocalypse Please”, “Stockholm Syndrome”, the closing track “Ruled by Secrecy”, and especially the solo on “Butterflies and Hurricanes” all stand out as some of his best performances on the piano to date.


The only feasible gripe I could possibly have with this album is with its latter half. The track list seems to be a lot less organized than the A-side. Most glaringly, “Fury”, a song with arguably the most intense, provoking and heartfelt chorus Bellamy has ever written, was voted out two to one by Dom and Chris at the end of production in favor of “The Small Print” (my personally least favorite track) with “Fury” instead being made a B-side track to the “Sing For Absolution” single. Bellamy has even gone on record saying how it’s his favorite song off of Absolution


Other than that small discrepancy, it’s simply a brilliant album that is a must listen.


  • 8.7/10

  • Favorite tracks: “Stockholm Syndrome”, “Endlessly”, “Fury”, “Butterflies and Hurricanes”, “Hysteria”, “Blackout”