posted on 9/2006 By:
Because I know my words here are going to be misconstrued, I’d like to get a few things straight from the first. I don’t hate it when bands alter their sound, and I don’t have any animosity towards progressive music in general. Rather, many of the bands I like most are experimentation-minded acts known for significantly changing their style from album to album (Neurosis comes to mind). I mention this because, if you hadn’t already figured it, I’m a Mastodon fan who is painfully disappointed by Blood Mountain. Now, like I said, this isn’t just because it’s so different from their previous output, and in fact I loved Leviathan despite the major stylistic gap that separated it from Remission. The fact is, for all of the added intricacies and ambitious experimentation that these wildly successful Atlantans have shoehorned into their new material, this is easily the least tasteful and thus least enjoyable Mastodon album to date.
To be perfectly honest, this frustrates the living shit out of me. Not only is this the least potent of a young band’s otherwise stellar catalogue, but I can’t even take the satisfaction of completely writing Blood Mountain off as a total shitpile. The entire first half of this disc is littered with prodigious riffs and the band’s signature dexterous arrangements, proving that they’ve still got the spark of excellence in’em. Opener “The Wolf is Loose” roars out of the gate in a manner that reminds of nothing so much as fan favorite “Crusher Destroyer” off of Mastodon’s new-age classic debut, and “Crystal Skull” integrates both high-gravity chordwork and some mincing twin-guitar hooks into a swaying, loping pace that’ll remind listeners of this band’s ability to craft spectacularly effective hard rock songs that demand as much contemplation as they do headbanging. Things start to go a little sour on “Sleeping Giant,” which leans on extended soloing and guitarist Brent Hinds’ decidedly questionable singing voice for efficacy. Bad move, but hey, they could just be playing around a bit before bringing the rock back, right? It certainly seems that way for the next two tracks, especially on “Circle of Cysquatch,” whose relentlessly confrontational rhythms and absolutely devastating conclusion make it Blood Mountain’s strongest cut.
And damn, if only they could’ve held on. Immediately after the closing chords of “Circle Cysquatch,” Mastodon go completely to pieces on “Bladecatcher.” I’ll be direct: this song is fucking atrocious. Hinds’ cheesedick scrambler’d vox skitter all over a throwaway Slayer riff before the band launches into an ungodly embarrassing stop-start guitar duet that sounds like Jethro Tull doing group technique exercises to a broken metronome. Then it repeats, and that was about where I had to take a breather the first time I played this album. The effect is pretentious as all get-out and extraordinarily annoying; I know these guys have always had a prog dimension to their sound, but this shit honestly has no place in their music. Seriously, this is like Spastic Ink-level songcraft except without the excuse of being written to cartoons.
From that nadir, Blood Mountain kind of trails off into mediocrity. “Colony of Birchmen” is another chorus-driven rocker whose attempts at vocal harmonies only reinforce my belief that this band seriously needs a dedicated singer if they want to continue to deviate from their hollering, instrumental-heavy roots, while “Hunters of Stone” is more instrumentation-oriented but uncharacteristically dull for a band who’ve long subsisted on their ability to craft high-class riffs. “Hand of Stone” and “This Mortal Soil” are both exercises in nimble but ultimately dull prog metal that even Brann Dailor’s ever-stunning percussion can’t save, and by the time Cedric Bixler (The Mars Volta)’s laughably brief and incomprehensible ‘guest appearance’ rolls around on “Siberian Divide” I’ve long since lost interest.
Blood Mountain isn’t a complete catastrophe, but it’s got me awfully worried about Mastodon’s direction. As I said earlier, this is absolutely a very ambitious album, and for all their talent these boys seemed to have finally outstripped themselves. A technical marvel, as always, but the more song-oriented listeners amongst you may well be disappointed by the extravagances that Mastodon have allowed themselves here.
And seriously, guys, get a singer. Please?
posted on 9/2006 By:
One of the first reviews I ever wrote, for any publication, was a Minion Opinion (remember those?) for Mastodon's Remission. This was about three years ago, and I still recall starting the review by scoffing at the notion that Mastodon were the band that was going to save heavy metal. I stubbornly rejected the notion that heavy metal was even in any need of these so-called Messiahs. Well, it's 2006, and I want you, the reader, to ask yourself, "What really excites me about modern extreme music?" Is it the kids mixing Slaughter of the Soul with Breed the Killers five years too late? Does the revival of classic doom still turn you on? Are you thrilled by the tech-death arms race? How about Europeon power metal bands working on the seventh incarnation of Painkiller? I don't want to degrade the accomplishments of any of the bands carving out little pockets of originality within those scenes, because they're not without their merits. But, again, ask yourself, "Who's making the timeless albums? Who's making the albums my generation will remember twenty years from now?" The answer is Mastodon. And, whether or not that makes them the saviours of heavy metal is irrelevent. But, it does necessitate that you pay attention when they put out a new album, or be left holding the bag.
First of all, anybody who's really interested in hearing this album, has already heard it. Blood Mountain leaked about a month ago, and at this point what I have to say will either confirm or reject what the Internet hordes have already cooked up. The most prevalent knock against this album is the perceived commercial lean the band's sound has taken since hooking up with a major label (Warner Brothers). And, while I don't agree that generally shorter songs (there's no "Heart's Alive" type mammoth on here, sorry) and some more melodic vocal passages make for a more commercial effort, I'll admit that the initial spin of Blood Mountain is far more welcoming than either Leviathan or Remission. While both those albums required a little more initial active listening to get to the guts, their latest is something most listeners can probably find themselves singing along to once the second chorus hits. But, here's what I think those who cry foul are missing. If you keep listening, you'll keep hearing more. First off all, Bassist/Vocalist Troy Sanders, (who is often only mentioned in print as the voice who keeps people away from the band) has become such a solid but insidious contributor to this band that it's fair to say anyone who's not paying attention to his basslines is missing out on a large percentage of what makes this album so monstrous. While his instrument always rumbled with a percussive, sediment loosening force, he's developed an almost secondary ease as a melodic counterpoint, most notably on "The Wolf Is Loose," and "Capillarian Crest." For those who look at the visage of Blood Mountain, and see something a bit too commercial, or too accessible, I urge them to dig a little deeper and immerse themselves in the bass work of Sanders. And with the sandy, bass negating production of Leviathan rectified, doing so will be a lot easier. Additionaly, his partner in the rhythm section Brann Dailor puts on another spectacular performance, which will mostly be taken for granted by fans who've come to expect nothing less of him.
Blood Mountain sees guitar duo Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher at their most confident as exhibitionists. And while the scope of this album may pale in comparison to the properly titled Leviathan, their brazen exchanges gives this album a character distinct from the band's previous releases. Their acrobatics inside these more streamlined compositions will make or break the album for all the geeks out there. If you're searching for the kind of contemplative build-ups and atmosphere serving arrangements that were so prevalent on Leviathan, then you will be disappointed. This is a generally more up-tempo, rocking affair, and as such the work of Hinds and Kelliher is less about moving each song forward to a stirring conclusion, and really more about giving the listener a series of chances to get lost in particular passages. For me, the finest of such moments come during the grooving guitar interplay halfway through "Crystal Skull," the Allman Brothers conjuring "Bladecatcher," and the dancing, phsychadelic main riff of "This Mortal Soil."
There are less satisfying moments, but they're never symptomatic of a larger problem, rather brief hiccups of misguided songcraft. "Colony of Birchmen," which actually displays what I consider breakthrough vocal performances by Sanders and Hinds (with help from guest Josh Homme), is hindered by a pretty pedestrian and lazy riff. "Sleeping Giant" is mostly a beast of a tune that recalls the Lifesblood days, but resolves kind of pointlessly with some flimsy riffing and spoken word vocals.
Aside from nitpicking at a few superficial faults, I'm powerless to deny the vision or execution of Blood Mountain. Some may consider the band's decision to focus on shorter more memorable songs as a step back - and who could blame them? Leviathan may very well be this band's Dark Side of the Moon, the masterpiece to which the rest of their catalog will pale. For me, however, the band's ability to regroup and dive so confidently into focused, compact, and aggressive songwriting is a major achievement, and one that isn't overshadowed by anything else they've created, or any other album I've heard this year.
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