METAL’S RESIDENT BARBERSHOP QUARTET RELEASE BLOOD MOUNTAIN LITE WHILE STILL SOUNDING LIKE A QUEEN’S OF THE STONE AGE COVER BAND’S TAKE ON WHAT A MASTODON ALBUM IS.
Mastodon is a Georgia-based Sludge/Progressive metal act that have been releasing records since the late nineties. They’ve remained prominent for the last 20 years maintaining an impressive balance of interesting experimentation and accessibility that allow it to stretch their hands in multiple places at once. Their first 2 albums Remission and Leviathan were more traditional Heavy Metal albums (while including Kelliher’s only prominent vocal talents with his guttural growls) which borrowed heavily from bands such as Neurosis, Melvins, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. They were aggressive and fast, as well, in the case of Leviathan, started their streak of concept albums.
Now these aren’t my favorite records of theirs but they did set the ground work for their (arguably) two magnum opuses Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye. These albums were very much more accessible but in turn, allowed themselves to experiment with song structure and riffs that culminated into, plainly, 2 great Metal albums.
The concepts behind these albums are a little too convoluted and absurd to have a proper discussion in this review quite honestly. I view them as just a method in keeping the records cohesive and fluid but maybe you’ll get more out of them than I did.
All albums have remained consistent in the personnel compartment, with Brent Hinds on Lead Guitar/Vocals, Bill Kelliher on Rhythm Guitar/Vocals, Troy Sanders on Bass/Vocals and Brann Dailor on Drums/Vocals. As can be seen, all of the members provide vocals which has been one of my favorite aspects of the band since their inception. The variety of voices being thrown at you gives the music a sense of scale and unpredictability that few other bands have done. Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders have been the primary lead vocalists for the most part but for the last few albums(including Crack the Skye), Brann Dailor has been leading a lot of the band’s work surprisingly as he does on this new album Emperor of Sands.
Unfortunately the offerings from Mastodon, two non-conceptual pieces: The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun have been utter disappointments. There was no ambition in either of these albums, instead deferring to painfully “catchy” songs and boring three and a half minute metal songs that just sounded like a band trying to imitate Mastodon. They went for pop appeal and I would say that they failed in that as well. So coming up to this new album, I wasn’t sure what to expect quite honestly. And I’m not sure what I got either.
Now, I must say that this album is very much an improvement over the last two albums. There is again a concept, of a man wandering through a desert and from what I’ve read its an album connected with the band member’s connection with cancer. Mastodon has never been very emotionally engaging despite often taking on grand themes and tributes. Examples being Crack the Skye’s connection to drummer Brann Dailor’s sister who committed suicide at age 14 or The Hunter’s connection to Brent Hind’s brother who died during a hunting trip. Neither of these albums really gave me too big of an emotional response quite honestly. And that is mostly the same case for Emperor of Sands. Mostly due in part to the instrumentals being at best, emotionally distant and cut and dry.
Don’t get me wrong these instrumentals are much more exciting and dynamic than anything in the past two albums. But at the same time, they don’t sound all that original or inspired. You could never tell that these songs were on a NEW album. They just quite simply, sound like a band imitating Mastodon.
And when they do something different its usually underwhelming. The song Show Yourself is a great example of a band that let’s another musical style shit into it’s mouth instead of actually incorporating it in a meaningful way. Brann Dailor’s wimpy vocals are placed over an instrumental that should be on some Foo Fighter’s album. Quite honestly Dailor’s vocals are incredibly weak throughout the whole album. In fact, everyone’s vocals are lacking. Troy Sanders literally sings in the same tone and pitch for nearly the half of the whole album and Dailor just sounds like a small child placed over these songs.
But in all honesty, I never listened to Mastodon for emotional intensity. I’ve never really listened to them for aggression either, or even the technical ability(which they do have a fair bit of). So that begs the question, what is there to listen to in a metal band without emotion, technicality and aggression? Mastodon is a metal band that stands on the flimsy board of songwriting as their main tool. The songwriting was what really made Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye the classics that they are and it now is the principle reason that Mastodon has fallen off. Instead of songs like Oblivion or Colony of Birchmen, we get songs like Curl of the Burl, The Motherload and Show Yourself.
I have done a lot of panning of Mastodon but like I said, this album has more to show than the past two albums. I would even say that the second half is incredibly solid. Songs like Roots Remain and Andromeda are great and effective metal songs. The ending track is a little underwhelming but it does conclude the sad narrative of the album. Which is another point to make, the lyrics are very well written and though I wish the vocal performances interpreted the lyrics more effectively, I enjoy listening to the words they are putting out there. It gives the album SOME sort of emotional quality that does the theme of the album justice.
But in the end the album is at most, solid. I could see this album being seen as a “return to form” for fans disenchanted with the last albums. But it quite simply doesn’t give me much to think about other than that is sounds like a Mastodon album and the album art looks like a Baldur’s Gate character portrait. Right?
Okay, so the first review is a mostly negative one. Good start. Hopefully there will somewhere around a review a week or every other week as well anything else I feel like writing. And I hope I upset you enough to wanna come back or shoot over an email. Have a great day.