Mastodon


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Remission (2002) , 7/10
Leviathan (2004), 7/10
Blood Mountain (2006), 6.5/10
Crack The Skye (2009), 6/10
The Hunter (2011), 5/10
Once More 'Round The Sun (2014), 4/10
Emperor Of Sand (2017), 4/10
Hushed and Grim (2021), 5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Atlanta's Mastodon were put together by two former Today Is The Day's members (guitarist Bill Kelliher and drummer Brann Dailor), vocalist/guitarist Brent Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders. Following in the footsteps of Today Is The Day's In The Eyes Of God, they debuted with the EP Lifesblood (2001), but it was Remission (2002) that introduced their passion for cebebral metal and complex musical excursions. The mood is at turns agonizing (March of the Fire Ants, the guitar adding the melodic touch that the vocals shun), brutal (Crusher Destroyer, Where Strides the Behemoth, Burning Man, Mother Puncher, Trampled Under Hoof, each with its own quirkiness), anthemic (Workhorse, the emotional zenith), and even romantic (Ol'e Nessie, the melodic zenith). The longer compositions can be pensive and introspective (Trilobite, Trainwreck) while still packing a formidable punch. The closing instrumental Elephant Man is even too mellow, bordering on progressive muzak.
While influenced by Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah, they sounded like a unique fusion of stoner-rock, jazzy progressive-rock and southern boogie. More than the guitars the real ace of Mastodon was drummer Brann Dailor, one of the most versatile of the entire heavy-metal universe.

Leviathan (2004), a concept album loosely based on Melville's "Moby Dick", was a work of relentless intensity, despite a slicker production and an obvious penchant for melody. While the previous album was basically a portfolio of songs in a broad spectrum of registers, this one flowed organically from start to finish, each song basically setting the tone for the following one. The wild and barbaric Blood and Thunder, the mildly anthemic Seabeast, the deranged Island, the feverish and rabid Iron Tusk, the fast grinding Megalodon, were stages of a gradually more painful calvary, although the quiet instrumental Joseph Merrick put an odd ending to it. The musicianship was up to the task. For example, the guitar and drums interplay at the beginning of Aqua Dementia is simply spectacular, opening for a pounding hardcore-like rigmarole. While insisting too much on the vocals, the 13-minute Hearts Alive, the album's tour de force, represented the culmination of their lightning-speed guitar improvisations, tempo-free drumming and noisy, intricate harmonies (as if Mastodon were applying the principles of free jazz to heavy metal).

The highlight of Blood Mountain (2006) is the lengthy progressive instrumental ballad Pendulous Skin, featuring Mars Volta's keyboardist Ikey Owens. The ten shorter songs mainly display the acquired maturity of the musicians as well as better production values. The twin-guitar assault and Brann Dailor's acrobatic drumming balance each other, injecting power into intelligence and viceversa. Capillarian Crest, The Wolf is Loose and Crystal Skull pack an impressive number of ideas in one song. But it is the jazzcore instrumental Bladecatcher that puts the band above the crowd of prog-metal.

Call of the Mastodon (2006) is an anthology of their early recordings, including Lifesblood (2001).

A wider range of vocals and a stronger melodic talent surfaced on Crack The Skye (Reprise, 2009), which at times sounds like an emocore crossover album (Oblivion, Quintessence), and sometimes a progressive-rock album (the magniloquent Divinations, the 10-minute jam The Czar that propels a languid hymn), sometimes even bordering on pop-metal (Crack the Skye). The 13-minute The Last Baron is emblematic of how confused and unrealistically ambitious these Mastodon can be: swinging between speed-metal and arena-pop, the piece is practically devoid of any emotion, meaning or purpose. There is very little that is "technical" about Mastodon's music at this point. They are closer to Dream Theater than their fans are willing to admit.

The Hunter (2011) contains their most radio-friendly song ever, Curl of the Burl (nothing but classic hard rock of the 1970s), and a close second, Creature Lives (a latter-day Pink Floyd-ian ballad), signaling a further shift towards the arena. It marked an impressive sell-out, hailed a the non-metal crowd that figured Spectrelight (sung by Neurosis' Scott Kelly) was furious.

Once More 'Round The Sun (2014) and Emperor Of Sand (2017) were mere routine, containing derivative songs that any kid could have made in his bedroom, one or two melodic songs per album (The Motherload on the former, Show Yourself on the latter) and one or two tasty instrumental moments (the guitar solo of Ember City on the former, the multi-part suite Jaguar God on the latter).

Mastodon's eighth album, the 15-song 86-minute double-disc Hushed and Grim (2021), produced by David Bottrill, was their poppiest effort yet despite being one of the darkest episodes in their discography. The core of the album is constituted by the trivial (and tedious) refrains of The Beast, Sickle and Peace, Peace and Tranquility and Tearjerker (the hit). Less trivial is the vocal interplay between Brann Dailor and Brent Hinds in Pain With an Anchor. Best is the way Dagger morphs from a galopping rhythm to a sort of psychedelic raga in a supernatural atmosphere. Similarly, Gobblers of Dregs begins as a stately Pink Floyd-ian hymn and turns into a frenzied Caribbean dance. Other minor highlights include the brainy and explosive prog-metal jam Pushing the Tides, the ominous and shouted The Crux (except for the ecstatic middle invocation), the gloomy litany Gigantium, the Nirvana-esque power-ballad Eyes of Serpents (with a Metallica-esque coda), and the ferocious Savage Lands. At the other end of the spectrum there are the mellow Had it All and the melancholy ballad Skeleton of Splendor (replete with soaring Pink Floyd-ian synthesizer and guitar). The weakest part of the album are the instrumental sections, like all those grotesquely amateurish and derivative guitar solos. The drummer is the only member who is mildly interesting. There is little that is memorable, much that is redundant, and overall it is just a "lite" version of Mastodon's original prog-metal.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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