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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Mastodon

Leviathan

Review by Mike Korn

There is a generation gap in heavy metal that seems unbridgable. The veterans who remember the great years of the 70's and 80's seem content to bask in the music of their youth, giving very little heed to newer bands such as Shadows Fall or Lamb of God. On the other side of the coin, the kids who eat up Slipknot and Tool probably wouldn't give the time of day to progenitors like Rush, Deep Purple or Iron Maiden.

That's what makes Mastodon so exciting, because here is a group that has appeal to both those camps and who may be the best bet yet at bridging that generation gap. This talented four piece has come up with a very distinctive sound that merges the thoughtfulness and epic nature of older metal with the aggression and attitude common today. If Mastodon remind me of anybody, it would be Rush, but a Rush that embraced heavier elements instead of the more pop and synthesizer-oriented songs the Canadians opted for. "Leviathan" lyrically deals with the classic Melville novel "Moby Dick", amongst other weighty subjects, and this use of great literature as a source also reminds me of Rush. And like Rush, Mastodon also possesses an incredibly talented drummer who performs feats of rhythmic dexterity that boggle the mind.

Lest you think these guys are only a throwback to days of yore, there's also a lot of very brutal metal going on, like a sleeker and more cerebral Lamb of God. Mastodon is a band rooted very much in the here and now, and yet they have a lot of respect for metal and indeed rock's grand history. Listening to "Leviathan" is an exhilarating experience for somebody like me who enjoys both past and present heavy music. I have no doubt that this band will emerge as one of the new giants of the metal scene.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Blood and Thunder
This cut has a muscular, nervous energy to it and starts with a bellowing voice announcing "I think someone is trying to kill me". The song is short, compact and forceful with its shouted chorus of "White whale/Holy Grail". There's also a cool twin guitar lick in the middle. It's a great way to begin this voyage.
I Am Ahab
Powerful riffing with maximum crunch detonates this track. The vocals are uniquely rough and rugged but completely understandable. I am completely blown away by drummer Brann Dailor's amazing dexterity...he drives these songs like Ahab urging his men to the kill.
Seabeast
A more mysterious and restrained beginning soon gives way to an unusual sing-song vocal line and more punchy riffing. This is one of the tracks where Mastodon's deep roots in older rock and metal are evident. The song has an epic feeling to it and builds as it moves along.
Island
If "Seabeast" shows Mastodon's homage to the past, this track brings us right back to the brutal metal of today. The heaviest and most aggressive song on the record, this is a real monster of furious drumming and crushing guitar. The track departs from the "Moby Dick" theme to give praise to the Viking colonizers of Iceland.
Iron Tusk
This short and heavy tune has a kind of rolling groove to it that's a little reminiscent of Sabbath in spots. Again, Brann Dailor causes my jaw to drop with his skill and power. The song becomes more dissonant before returning to that strong groove.
Megalodon
Megalodon was the 80-foot killer shark that cruised the ancient seas. This particular song begins to show a more progressive and complex side to Mastodon without losing the essential heaviness. There's an insane part where the band sounds like they're ready to break into a cheerful country music jam only to kick in with some killer fast thrashing that will get your neck sore in a hurry. A strong climax brings this to a great conclusion.
Naked Burn
The opening guitar work on this is unlike anything else on the album and gives way to an extremely cool "crooning'" vocal line and some bruising power riffing. The catchiness of the riffing on this album helps make it stand out amidst the squalling chaos of bands like Slipknot or Dillinger Escape Plan.
Aqua Dementia
The guitarists get to show off with some precision shredding here. The rasping harsh vocals are reminiscent of black metal and in fact, there's a strong feeling of classic Norwegian coldness on this fast-paced track, but melded with Mastodon's own melodic sensibility.
Hearts Alive
Starting exactly where the previous song left off, this is the album's 13 minute plus epic. Much more melodic than what we've heard before, this has a dark and haunting feel to it while still having its heavy moments. I personally feel the song is too long, but it's still a fine number and it reminds me of mid-period Rush in a way. For a band that arose out of the death metal scene, this song is a real surprise, but not as much as the next one.
Joseph Merrick
This eerie and lush instrumental is named after the unfortunate "Elephant Man" and features some very atmospheric organ work in addition to the low key guitar and percussion. It's quite a contrast to the opening bombast of "Blood and Thunder" but seems a quite fitting finisher.
 
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