MASTODON: MOVING METAL FORWARD

Check out Mastodon performing "Capillarian Crest" live.

Words by: Chris Pacifico


Mastodon
If you look back to about fifteen to twenty years ago, metal music was for outsiders. Fans of the genre only followed metal music, only bought metal CDs and only attended metal shows. It really wasn't until the mid '90s when Tool got out there and started blowing minds that metal began to creep into the mainstream. While there are some who may disaffirm this, it was a few years later in the autumn of 2004 when Atlanta's Mastodon dropped their sophomore full length Leviathan that metal became a style of music anyone and everyone could get with.

Leviathan, a concept album which was inspired by the band's love of author Herman Melville's Moby Dick was not only an angular assortment of pummeling riffs, stoner metal guile, and a hardcore thrust, but it was the album that expanded Mastodon's fan base far beyond your average head banger. It was also the essential album which created a ripple effect that has branched metal out to the masses. It was a pinnacle moment for all hard and heavy music. Leviathan was Mastodon's "water element" album (their debut, 2003's Remission represented fire) and was recorded on a low budget during a one month time span in which they "tried to get the best out of each song as humanly possible," notes guitarist Bill Kelliher. Immediately following its release, Mastodon embarked on a grueling tour schedule that found them on the road for thirteen straight months, touring alongside the likes of Isis, Slayer, Yakuza, Iron Maiden, as well as landing spots on the Jagermeister Tour and 2005's Ozzfest tour.

After the taxing time on the road, all members went home and took a month off from each other in order to go on vacation and spend time with their families. After the brief respite the band came back with fresh fire and went into the studio to record their recently released Blood Mountain - the album which clearly symbolizes Mastodon's finest shining hour. Mastodon affirms that Blood Mountain (the earth element album) has brought out each of the four member's own distinctive personalities, characteristics, individualities, and musical influences. "We all pretty much like the same kind of music, but we all have different sides as well," says Kelliher.

Like Leviathan, Blood Mountain is a concept album that revolves around the theme of embarking on a trek to reach the top of a mountain and all the trials and tribulations that are endured in the process. "When you're climbing a mountain, there are crazy creatures you can run into - you get caught in an avalanche, you're starving and hunting for food, you're hallucinating because you're going crazy. And with stuff like that, the ideas for lyrical content is endless," Kelliher explains. "When you're trying to get to the top of this mountain, it's kind of like an obstacle that's in front of you that you want to overcome." Kelliher is also keen on how albums which revolve around a concept can get the creative juices flowing. "Sometimes when you need to get some ideas flowing, you kind of think of a concept which can make it easier to come up with lyrical content and get a range of ideas to flow."


Troy Sanders - Mastodon by Ryan Russell
The riffs on Blood Mountain churn more this time around where as on Leviathan they just managed to rain down all over the place. While exhibiting a broad palate of stoner metal, the album is also more psychedelic with hints of medieval folk droning, jazzy textures, and zig-zagging grind core here and there that takes the listener into a greasy, kaleidoscopic overdrive. Tracks like "The Sleeping Giant" exhibit hints of Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, while on "Circle of Cysquatch," the group brought in a Cylon Raider from Battlestar Galactica to serve as the voice of a one-eyed yeti that can see into the future.

Mastodon's live performances are something that cannot be explained but must be seen in order to grasp. All four members look like parolees that work at your local Maaco and moonlight at chop shops except for guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds whose weather-beaten face, ogre disposition, and forehead tattoo make him seem like a much feared enforcer of a biker gang. Drummer Brann Dailor goes to work on the skins like a multi-armed serpent whose percussion skills stand out and provide the backbone of Mastodon's musical dexterity, which is led by the growling and haggard vocals of vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders.


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