Queens of the Stone Age are starting to resemble one of those rotating-roster superhero teams, like the Avengers, that recruit new members the way some of us change socks. The group (whose sole remaining original member is singer-guitarist Josh Homme) didn't seem like true men of steel until their third album, 2002's Songs for the Deaf. That disc boasted their best-ever core lineup Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri, singer Mark Lanegan, and moonlighting Foo Fighter Dave Grohl on drums a real fantastic four whose chemistry made Queens an A-list rock band.
Lullabies to Paralyze finds Oliveri gone apparently booted for excessive commitment to the party-hearty lifestyle and Homme running the show with help from A Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo, as well as assorted guests, including Shirley Manson of Garbage, the Distillers' Brody Dalle, and hold on to your ten-gallon hats Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. (Lanegan is back on a few tracks, but Grohl, alas, is nowhere to be found.)
Hammer of the Gods-heavy, this is an album many hard-rock fans would willingly risk deafness to hear cranked up loud; imagine a band led by a guitar-playing Hulk out to smash wimpy rock to pieces. Although ''This Lullaby'' starts things out with acoustic guitar and mournful vocals, the bludgeoning begins on the very next track, ''Medication,'' an exercise in hyperspeed riffology. Aside from the poppy, Foo Fighters-ish ''In My Head,'' Homme & Co. sound like they want to be the modern-day corollary to Led Zeppelin, or at least Soundgarden. Check the mini-opus ''Someone's in the Wolf,'' with its whirling-dervish guitars and swirly ''Whole Lotta Love''-like midsection that features, among other things, the sound of knives being sharpened. (Never mind that distaff name; these boys wanna slay the beast and eat it raw!)
The macho posturing can get obnoxious. Unabashed sex anthems like the wah-wah-infused ''Skin on Skin'' are fine, but when Homme bellows, ''Take that broken p---y elsewhere'' on ''Broken Box,'' you don't have to be a woman to want to slap him. Even the presence of Dalle and Manson on the metal-noirish ''You Got a Killer Scene There, Man...'' can't offset such ugliness.
That said, anyone looking for a band that can mix and match metal, blues, thrash, punk, psychedelia, and grunge as the mood suits will be floored by Lullabies, which may knock you out but definitely won't put you to sleep. Only trouble is, I can't decide if Homme is superhero or supervillain. Maybe, like the Hulk, he's a bit of both.