Mastodon

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Remission

Mastodon - Remission ©2002 Relapse
1. Crusher Destroyer
2. March Of The Fire Ants
3. Where Strides The Behemoth
4. Workhorse
5. Ol'e Nessie
6. Burning Man
7. Trainwreck
8. Trampled Under Hoof
9. Trilobite
10. Mother Puncher
11. Elephant Man

Mastodon's roots can be found in the travelling horror show known as Today is the Day. Gwar may think they are the kings of stage mayhem, but Today is the Day is a considerably more terrifying entity. If you've seen them live, you know exactly what I mean. Back in 1999, members Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher left Steve Austin's troupe and began jamming around the Atlanta area. Over time, they found a couple more likeminded members in bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hines and formed Mastodon, a rare band that truly lives up to the name of their outfit. Having already recorded an EP called Lifesblood, Mastodon finally begins trampling the world with this full length debut, Remission.

Remission is the type of CD that will both bludgeon and entrance listeners with a blend of truly heavy, crushing metalized hardcore and inventive guitar tapestries. From a swirling, busy rhythm section to the layers of powerful guitars, Mastodon falls slightly into the same category as perhaps Isis, but without resorting to the artistry notions of that band. Remission is an unrelenting, battering sort of CD that also has the ability to sneak up on listeners with drawn out passages of slower, intriguing guitar meshing. This results in an album that doesn't spew out fifty minutes of soundalike material and call it "brutal". The ups and downs in intensity give this album a wide sense of dymanics, which is highly necessary for any hardcore type band to employ lest they become dull in their attempts to punish listeners. From beginning to end, Remission blends their styles together in a seamless barrage, creating a satisfying piece of work.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2003

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Leviathan

Mastodon - Leviathan ©2004 Relapse
1. Blood And Thunder
2. I Am Ahab
3. Seabeast
4. Ísland
5. Iron Tusk
6. Megalodon
7. Naked Burn
8. Aqua Dementia
9. Hearts Alive
10. Joseph Merrick

Mastodon's first EP, Lifesblood, had so completely failed to impress me that I had no recollection of the band's sound other than a dim memory of being slightly annoyed by its utter lack of distinction. As such, my expectations weren't very high when I embarked on the discovery of this pelagic concept album, and I must say the band didn't disappoint on this count: they are exactly as mediocre and prodigiously unremarkable as I thought they would be. At the risk of exposing myself to flurries of misspelled hate email in all caps, I shall now elaborate on why that is the case.

But let's stop for a moment and describe the music as best I can, lest I get chastised for my lackadaisical dismissal of a very popular album. The songs are essentially hoarsely-bellowed, semi-technical, relatively fast post-Sabbath sludge thrash/death with a lot (and I mean a LOT) of drum fills. The influence of early 1990s rock/metal sensibilities is clearly apparent here and there, and the band has clearly listened to a lot of classic metal, as evidenced by their (ugly) Gibson SG rhythm guitar tone and harmonized lead lines. I also suspect Pestilence got some airplay during the musicians' formative years.

In principle, there's nothing wrong with that combination of influences and styles, and the album could very well be quite enjoyable. Alas, quite the opposite is true. First of all, that singer has one of the worst set of pipes in the business. I'm all for hoarse vocals when they fit the music (Isis, for example, sounds perfect with hoarse shoutgruntbellowyells) and when the vocal delivery itself is compelling. But this guy just sounds like an old lush with strep throat, and you get the feeling the band elected to have hoarse vocals because everybody else is doing that right now, so why exercise a bit of creativity and come up with something else when the default settings work well enough, eh?

And what about that oh-so-great drummer who seems to make every metal fan's underwear all twisty and soggy? Well, he's quite simply the epitome of tasteless overplaying: every single thing he does is a fill, and he leaves absolutely no breathing space in the music at all, thereby completely stripping the songs of any sense of dynamics they may have if he didn't play so damn much. He's the drum equivalent of an all-night Yngwie Malmsteen solo jam session, without any of the fiery brilliance Yngwie is (or used to be) capable of mustering on occasion.

The songs themselves wouldn't be so terrible if it weren't for their excessive repetitiveness ("I am Ahab") or the fact that other people in Seattle wrote the same vocal lines 10 years ago, and they weren't all that to begin with ("Seabeast"). If that weren't enough, the album's production is teeth-gnashingly hideous, with shrill rhythm guitars, trebley drums and underprocessed lead guitar sounds. A raw, organic production can be wonderful, but this is definitely not the kind of album that benefits from grainy lead guitar sounds, particularly not in harmonies.

Every one of this album's ten plodding songs is a monument to the undistinguished, and the record as a whole reaches previously uncharted heights of middling mediocrity. Once again, Relapse brilliantly confirms their inability to release a single album worth listening to. A complete waste of time and airwaves, and best avoided with all your might.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 01/2005

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Call of the Mastodon

Mastodon - Call of the Mastodon ©2006 Relapse
1. Shadows that Move
2. Welcoming War
3. Thank You For This
4. We Built This Come Death
5. Hail to Fire
6. Battle At Sea
7. Deep Sea Creature
8. Slickleg
9. Call of the Mastodon

Mastodon made waves when they first put their hairy, drunken, acid-tripping, tattooed heads together and released the Lifesblood EP in 2001. Call of the Mastodon, which culls together the aforementioned EP as well as a few tracks from their self-titled early demo, is a very, very good indicator of where the band was at the genesis of its existence. While the bludgeoningly intense and lurching sludgecore found on Remission was the more preponderant style here, there still existed that very slight penchant for melody beneath the lumbering and atonal Sabbathy-sludge, as well as the occasional fiery, proggy fretwork that Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds would throw around with reckless abandon on subsequent releases. The roaring and grunting of Hinds and Troy Sanders are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and the one track featuring original vocalist Eric Saner ("Call of the Mastodon") sounds absolutely no different from that of his former bandmates. All the same, for what the band was trying to accomplish at this stage, the vocals fit snugly within the bedrock of heaving riffs, attention deficit-drumming, and tales of mythical beasts and sea creatures.

While it is not as ambitious or far-reaching as Crack the Skye (the most surefire contender for album of the year so far, easily), Call of the Mastodon is a great example of the seething aggression and intensity that Mastodon would give more breathing room on each album that followed.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 04/2009

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Crack the Skye

Mastodon - Crack the Skye ©2009 Reprise
1. Oblivion
2. Divinations
3. Quintessence
4. The Czar: I Usurper, II Escape, III Martyr, IV Spiral
5. Ghost Of Karelia
6. Crack The Skye
7. The Last Baron

Mastodon's first two or three records left me colder than a dead mammoth encased in Siberian permafrost. I described Leviathan as "a monument to the undistinguished" and got a number of amusing hate-mail messages in my inbox from that period. My main beefs with Leviathan-era Mastodon were the awful grunty singing, the horrible, thin production, and the drummer's annoying tendency to unleash the Malmsteen fury on his kit every three seconds.

Somehow even the band seems to agree: around 2006, they started toning down the grunts and writing much more interesting songs, leading to their very enjoyable 2006 release Blood Mountain. It's now 2009, and the grunts are gone, the songs are excellent, and they got a big-name producer (Brendan O'Brien) who's not afraid to turn the melodic vocals up and the drums WAY down. The result is a serious contender for the 2009 album of the year title.

Mastodon is one of those bands whose influences are obvious to anyone with a pair of ears (classic Black Sabbath, in particular, is so thick on the ground the singer almost sounds like Ozzy), but who still manage to bring in enough novel ideas to make them somewhat unique in the crowded field of mainstream, part-time-grunt, post-stoner metal. Some of their hyperactive riffs are somewhat reminiscent of the crazy mathcore school out of Sacramento (think Hella and their ilk); "Quintessence", like its predecessor "Capillarian Crest" off Blood Mountain, is all over the guitar neck, yet carries the record with outstanding melodies and great dynamics. The closing epic, "The Last Baron", manages to conjure up shades of both early Soundgarden and My Kantele-era Amorphis, and manages to feel too short even though it's over 12 minutes long--the multiple sections mesh so well you want them to go on forever.

Don't let this glowing review, clean(er) vocals and quieter drums scare you into thinking Mastodon has suddenly turned into a top-40 Danger Danger cover band--they're still distinctly Mastodon, and still sound like a big old F-350; they just got new tires and an oil change.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 03/2009

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