While it's easy to lump them in with the array of theatrical, costumed nu-metal bands that rose in the wake of Slipknot's success, Mudvayne challenged the constraints of that genre with their debut full-length, L.D. 50. With its odd time signatures and sonic influences running the gamut from jazz fusion and prog rock to death and speed metal, its sound has at times been described as "math metal."
Whether everyone in the band put much thought into that descriptor (or any other one) is another matter entirely. "I honestly don't know what 'math metal' is," drummer Matt "sPaG" McDonough told Sick Drummer Magazine in 2009. "I made a joke early on in Mudvayne's career that we used an abacus in writing. It seems I should be careful making jokes in interviews."
The album's title is shorthand for "Lethal Dosage 50," a term representing the level of toxicity needed in a drug to kill 50 percent of a test population. The pharmacological theme extends into its artwork — which features a baby, DNA strands and references to the periodic table — and several song titles.
"We saw the album as our token little drug," McDonough said of L.D. 50 in 2000. "People can ingest it, take it in and grow from it. We adhered ourselves to the idea that our music and the things we as individuals seek to experience ... and hopefully, positively, grow from ... could potentially be destructive. There are some elements in what we do which could be thought of as dangerous, but you've got to be willing to take some risks and face your fears."
Twenty years on, the album remains a standout among its contemporaries. In honor of its 20th anniversary, here are 10 things you might not know about L.D. 50.
1. Slipknot's Clown was an executive producer, but didn't do much other than give Mudvayne a platform
Though credited as an executive producer on Mudvayne's debut, Slipknot's Shawn "Clown" Crahan wasn't directly involved in its creation. But he still played a guiding role in the band's early success. "The only thing I really did was just help them get their start," Crahan said in a 2002 interview in Amsterdam. "They had all their music and they had all their art and their concepts — they had all their shit together. I was just in there in the beginning to reassure they got in. And more importantly, I got 'em tours. That's what no one understands. That's a big part of it. I could give a fuck less who you are, it's what you're doing. I didn't do anything specifically on the album. I gave them a lot of tours to help sell that album."
2. The band was already wary of being seen as Slipknot Jr.
While the members of Mudvayne appreciated the exposure Crahan and Slipknot helped them attain, they were eager to be recognized on their own merits. With stage names like Kud, Gurrg, Ry-Know and sPaG, and a look that resembled Tim Burton-era Batman villain henchmen who went for a swim at ACE Chemicals, it was hard for fans and critics not to make aesthetic comparisons. This likely influenced their decision to largely abandon their make-up and stage names in 2003, during the touring cycle for follow-up The End of All Things to Begin, which at that point had evolved to a more extraterrestrial motif.
"Shawn and the other members of Slipknot have been such a positive influence in my life, and for the band's career, as well, but there's a part of me that's hungry to branch out on my own," McDonough said in 2000. "I love change, and I do want to take the next step. What I am looking forward to is a time I can stand by myself, away from it, and look back, for Mudvayne to reflect on what we've learned ... not only through others, but within ourselves as individuals."
Speaking to Artisan News Service in 2008, vocalist Chad Gray echoed this sentiment, noting they began feeling trapped by the make-up and links to Slipknot. "We wanted to be able to have our own wings and to do our own thing, and we did. Like I said, I'm very thankful for what they did for us because they basically put the stamp of approval on us."
3. Recording the album wasn't a particularly fun process
Limited by time and budget, the band worked around the clock on the album with producer Garth "GGGarth" Richardson (Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers) at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver. "The pressure was insane," according to Gray, who didn't finish writing "Pharmaecopia" or "Nothing to Gein" until the band's final night in the studio.
McDonough has also described the experience as "very, very straining, very psychologically straining, but it was also awesome to realize your vision on that level, to have that kind of equipment available to you, and the expertise from a producer like Garth."
4. The album was heavily influenced by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey
Inspired by the tetrahedral pyramid from Stanely Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, opening track "Monolith" sets the stage for what's to come with a kaleidoscope of alien sound. "The movie was almost directly responsible for the themes of the album — what L.D. 50 actually is," McDonough told RockTribe in 2000. "I had a really powerful experience on drugs watching the movie. It occurred to me that the monolith represented this vertical thing that we were all looking for to transform a person into waking up, to having that experience where their life is transformed and a new life assumed."
"Once I had that relationship with the movie I wanted everyone else to get turned on to it so the whole band was into it with me," he continued. "We all watched it separately and together and I made Garth watch it, and we played it all the time while we were tracking the album in the studio."
"Referring specifically to the concepts associated with what the monolith represents in the movie became a totem, a landmark. It was a physical point of focus with what we were shooting for, and what L.D. 50 really meant to us."
5. Terrence McKenna's "stoned ape theory" was also a core inspiration
Nestled alongside the interstellar collage of "Monolith," and in several other interludes throughout the album, are audio clips of noted ethnobotanist, psychonaut, author and lecturer Terrence McKenna. Perhaps best known today via frequent citation by Joe Rogan, McKenna hypothesized in his 1992 book Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge – A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution that exposure to psilocybin mushrooms served as an evolutionary catalyst that sped up Homo erectus' transformation into modern humans.
McKenna's influence on this front is also evident in the song "Internal Primates Forever."
6. Math did explicitly influence at least one song
Jokey "math metal" label and odd time signatures aside, L.D. 50 features another significant numerical reference: a track named for the golden ratio.
The golden ratio — bear with us — is basically an irrational number also known as phi and is frequently associated with representing perfect beauty or being uniquely found throughout nature. If it sounds familiar, that's probably because Tool — no strangers to genre-defying alt-metal that often eschews the usual standard-issue angst in its subject matter — threaded it throughout 2001's Lateralus.
7. Mudvayne sought to highlight the humanity in infamous killer Ed Gein with the song "Nothing to Gein"
One of the last songs written for L.D. 50, "Nothing to Gein" was inspired by the relationship between notorious necrophiliac grave robber and murderer Ed Gein (also the focal point of the Slayer song "Dead Skin Mask") and his mother, whose death has been said to have resulted in Gein's descent into depravity.
Illustrating this, filmmakers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog discussed collaborating on a film about Gein in the 1970s. At several points, the duo also toyed with the notion of digging up Mrs. Gein's grave to see if her son had exhumed her, as well. One such expedition in 1975 by Morris and Dr. George Arndt resulted in the theory Gein had dug up all the graves surrounding his mother's to tunnel to her grave rather than digging straight down to her.
Having discovered Gein's story in a book on true crime, McDonough and Gray saw humanity in him. "The thing with Ed Gein is, I don't think anyone could ever explain him," McDonough said. "Society has to guard itself, and judge by the concerns and needs of the system at large. He, of course, had to be removed. Still, I think Ed Gein reminds us that we live in a very mysterious, ever-changing, moving, potential universe."
Gray, who was also reportedly working though parental issues of his own during the making of L.D. 50, told Maximum Ink in 2001, "It seemed so impossible [for Gein] to bridge the gap into mainstream society. I found that exciting that I could find humanity in him."
8. Singer Chad Gray's grandmother played a role in the album on multiple fronts
Among the things Mudvayne received praise for upon L.D. 50's release were Chad Gray's vocal range, which can be credited in part to his grandmother, Betty Rae, bringing him to the local choir as a child.
Rae also inspired the lyrics on "Death Blooms," as Gray felt she had been neglected by the rest of the family as she battled cancer in her later years. In 2015, Gray told SongFacts, "My grandma was like my angel, she was everything to me."
9. Lead single "Dig" is about the dark side of the music industry
L.D. 50's enduring opening manifesto and lead single "Dig" roars forth with a cacophonous mix of funky bass, thunderous drums, power chords and gravel-throated vocals. It is a mission statement declaring, quite literally, that the band is set on doing what it wants regardless of the suggestions of music industry suits, who Gray described to SongFacts in 2015 as "people putting their two cents worth into your art that have nothing to do with art on any level; they're completely business, but they think they know the best thing for you."
An intense music video contrasting the vibrantly painted band members against a white background propelled the album to the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart and No. 85 on the Billboard Top 200 before ultimately being certified gold by the RIAA. That success was coupled with spots on major tours including the 2000 installment of the Tattoo the Earth tour and 2001 Ozzfest.
The video itself won the first-ever MTV2 award at the 2001 Video Music Awards, which the band accepted in bloody white suits sprayed with blood, with bullet hole make-up adorning the middle of their foreheads.
10. Mudvayne garnered another, later round of attention due to a meme
Upon L.D. 50's release, the one thing most critics agreed on across the board was the strength of the band's rhythm section, rounded out by bassist Ryan "Ry-Know" Martinie. With a funky jazz sensibility and the stage presence of a demonically possessed Flea, Martinie's slap bass lines immediately became a calling card for the band.
In recent years, his iconic performance in "Dig" also returned to prominence in meme form. Taking it all in stride, Martinie told MetalSucks in 2019, "It's super awesome that people have had a good time with it and have been able to share something that I actually had nothing to do with. I'm as curious as everyone else as to why and where and how and what. Who made up this onomatopoeia? I guess that's the first question. 'Brbr-DENG.' Who actually came up with that? It's me! That would've been a clever trick! But no, I'm not that kind of magician."