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Mastodon probably needs no introduction to readers of this site. Leviathan was one of the defining metal releases of the 2000s, and Crack the Skye proved they could play progressive rock as well as many of the genre's '70s stalwarts. Their blend of progressive metal and sludge earned them a justifiable reputation as one of the most formidable forces in the genre.
This release, however, is not very widely known. Some of the songs here were later re-recorded for their early EP releases Lifesblood and Slick Leg, the former of which is somewhat better known. All of them were later re-released on the compilation Call of the Mastodon, which is also better known than this demo, but with re-recorded vocals by Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds. (This compilation also changed the ordering of the tracks I've been used to since I discovered the band in 2004, which can't be solved by simply reordering my playlist since several of the songs segue seamlessly into one another). The versions on this demo are unique in Mastodon's catalogue for featuring the work of original vocalist Eric Saner.
While I don't think Saner would have been a good fit for the band's later material, his vocals here are a good match for the band's unearthly roar. While the band demonstrates some of the progressive sensibilities that would later stretch some of their songs past the ten-minute mark, none of the songs here reaches much past four and a half minutes. The band is most interested in pummeling you with an endless succession of killer sludge riffs. These riffs often result in unusual song structures (nearly every song changes meter signature at least once, and most of them contain compound meters like 5/4 or 7/4), but compared to their later material (particularly from after they signed to a major label), it's heavy. Saner's unrelenting roar strikes me as a good fit here, though which versions a listener prefers will likely be down to personal taste.
The band's later material is definitely more sophisticated, and a listener expecting an experience like that of Crack the Skye will be in for a huge shock. However, this is definitely recommended for fans of more adventurous sludge.
Mastodon is currently one of the biggest names in metal. While some dislike their sludgy brand of metal, this metalhead really enjoys their style. After recently purchasing their latest, at least at the time of this writing, title Crack the Skye, I decided to go back to their roots and dig out their very first demo. While this particular album has been released under a few different titles with a few alterations intracklisting , there is a very noticeable difference here: the vocals. Unlike all of their material released afterwards, this has vocalist Eric Saner handling all singing duties. One of the chief complaints I tend to find directed towards Mastodon is their lack of a distinctive singer. While this obviously isn't 100% fail-safe, I point to this demo as proof that complaint is a somewhat empty one.
If you need a point of comparison, purchase Call of the Mastodon. That and this demo are more or less the same album, but with different vocalists. With Saner as vocalist, the songs are weighed down by Saner's somewhat generic metalcore voice. He doesn't alter his tone much other than raising and lowering it a rare few times. Very undecipherable and lacking any real punch. CotM , while not perfect by any means, has a noticeable improvement in this area. Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders share singing duties and for the better. While their screaming does get monotonous at times, there are clean vocals popping up and the screams themselves are much better than Sanders though are about the same in the "what are they saying?" scale. The duel aspect does add another layer to the music giving it a feeling of franticness while Saner's plain screams dull the music as a whole. Hinds/Sanders combine to make the music much more interesting to listen to, especially in later records when they become more identifiable.
Instrumentally, the album is a fun listen. Guitars are thick and heavy and often are changing riffs at any given time. Solos, however, are non-existent for the most part though leads appear here and there albeit very rarely. Bass thumps along not adding much to the music, but it's pretty hearable which is a a step above many other bands in metal. Drumming, however, is another contendable point among listeners. Brann Dailor is an extremely technical percussionist and, is in my opinion, another aspect of the band that is irreplaceable. A lot of listeners find his style distracting however, as it seems almost too frantic at times which is something I do agree with.
Production-wise, the album is amazingly clear for a demo. I don't believe much, if anything, besides the vocals were re-recorded for any release in which these songs appear on to give you an idea of it's clarity. Everything is heard loud and clear. For the album as a whole, I cannot recommend it due to it's song appearing in superior forms on other releases. Download it as a history lesson and decide for yourself if the band could have truly progressed to where they are today with a dedicated singer like Saner.
Mastodon's music is sludge with an edge: sometimes it has a progressive edge, and sometimes it's the edge of a battering ram that's pounding on you. Rather than going a wholly progressive route on the one hand, or over-pummeling you on the other, Mastodon strike a good balance between the two. In this balance, Mastodon create a sound not really heard much elsewhere, and it's a kick ass sound they're making. The main negative is that they seem to plug guitar riffs in here and there where they don't fit really well, making it obvious that they're still getting used to playing together.
The vocals on the demo were by Eric Saner, who left the band shortly after this demo was released. They are above average and energetic, though not really too much different than other hardcore yell-singing found in this genre. Still, if you're a fan of the band, it's nice to be able to contrast Saner's approach to the vocals on these songs with Brent and Troy's later approach.
Bill and Brent mount an awesome guitar assault here, nice a sludgy, but aggressive when necessary, and clean when necessary. I think one of the reasons that they've been compared to Metallica so much is not because of any similiarity in sound (which would be stretching it), but rather because they like to mix some slower stuff in with some really heavy stuff, ala Ride The Lightning or Master of Puppets. They can knock you on your ass and get your head banging with their guitar riffs, but they also have some nice clean parts on songs like Battle at Sea.
The bass is fine, getting a few prominent roles in songs. The drums, on the other hand, seem to always have a prominent role, as Brann is constantly beating on them like a mad man throughout the album. It may not be everyone's thing, but if you like insane drumming, you'll like Mastodon.
This is the first slab of metal by a great band. The problem here is that the material on this CD has been rereleased twice now (five of the songs are on the Lifesblood EP, and all of the songs are on the Call of the Mastodon CD). So, the main reason to get this CD is to hear Saner on the vocals, and hear what Mastodon originally sounded like when they first got together. (Note: the score dropped somewhat for the inconsistency at times [using riffs that didn't fit], and also because the riffs just aren't as good as the stuff that they would come out with on the albums that followed.)