There comes a time in every band’s life when it must accept its fate. For Queens of the Stone Age, that means embracing the old- (as opposed to new-) metal wrought-iron heart that beats at the center of the band’s roomy melodies. Anointed as the new Nirvana in 1998, the California quartet was actually proof of how much the pop scene missed Nirvana. With Songs for the Deaf, the Queens get louder and weirder and let their bone-bred artiness run loose. This is prog grunge for the unpretentious, and it’s funny as hell as the band settles into the arena-rock stylings that come naturally (singer-guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri are two of rock’s most elaborately accomplished musicians). The acid-rock-style “Millionaire” is a mild-mannered headbanger, as are the boogieish “Now One Knows” and “God.” “Song for the Dead” has enough weighty speed metal to reanimate the subjects of its title.
The repetitive heavy pop of Queens’ earlier work is manifest mostly in the second half of the album, on “Go With the Flow” and “Gonna Leave You,” but only Homme and Oliveri would treat a power ballad such as “Mosquito Song” as if it were a folk tune, with guitar and plangent accordion giving way to a dignified march of strings, piano and martial drums. By emphasizing nothing — vocals are growly and satanic or handsome and workmanlike as needed — Queens push the songs themselves out front. Whether the ace metal is speedy or onerous (or both, as in the case of “Six Shooter,” with its shrieking insanity), it is always deployed in the service of the eccentric song structures, and every track becomes a splendid, mysterious thing.