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I don't usually write here but for Mastodon I'll make an exception, as few bands seem quite so divisive. Fans on one side rampantly defend their every questionable action thinking they're the best thing since bacon whilst haters think they're... well whatever the opposite of bacon is. Metaphors sadly aren't my forté. Am I the perfect intermediary for this argument? No, probably not; I think they began pretentious and now they're overrated and pretentious, yet somewhere between deciding to write sludge with a few extra wanky bits and prog rock the likes the world has been listening to for decades already, they struck upon that perfect balance. Egos in check, they managed to work together to create a musical soundtrack that does justice to one of the most epic novels ever written, the mighty Moby Dick, with this standing as the pinnacle of all their accomplishments.
The most important thing to begin with is 'what the fuck do they sound like.' Haters will call them bland “metalcore,” whilst fans – and indeed this very site – call them “progressive sludge.” The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between. Those that know their genre etymology should be aware that “sludge” originated primarily as a blend of “doom metal” and “hardcore punk.” “Metalcore” (as we know today) on the other hand, arrived from “groove metal” and “hardcore punk.” If a “sludge” band were to try to, I don't know, give their riffs a bit of a groove to them, well hey now, is this “metalcore” or “sludge” I'm hearing? Say hello to the sound of Mastodon. Does it sound similar to 'Lamb of God?' Why yes it does. Already I can feel rabid fans heavy breathing down the back of my neck, so let me make this abundantly clear: this song is awesome, Lamb of God (hereafter abbreviated to LoG) most certainly are not. Similar does not mean 'as bad as,' and in this case it would be a grave misinterpretation to make.
Lets begin with the vocals; both have a gruff rasp and both utilise a damn near identical vocal register. The difference is, where LoG sound like a teenager beating his chest and swearing too much, Mastodon manage to channel the energy of the man blinded in his ambition to capture this beast, roaring his lines through the thunderous guitars with a fervent belief in his abilities. Score one for Mastodon. The drums, too, bear quite the resemblance; a basic bombastic beat laden with fills. The difference is LoG once again come across as that teenager, attention starved and crying 'Mummy! Mummy! Look what can I do!' Mastodon don't give a shit; he's too caught up in their endeavour, wailing on his war drums with a fluidity that would make them sound odd if he wasn't throwing out fills left right and centre.
This brings me to my third and final point of comparison: the melody. Yes, both have an element of groove to their riffs and rhythms, and yes both intend to be as epic and catchy as they possibly can, but why on earth is this a bad thing? Surely the opposite – being instantly forgettable – is rather insulting; if five seconds after the track has ended you can't remember the first thing about it. A song should be somewhat catchy and memorable, and this is possibly one of the catchiest songs I know. The moment those two opening chords come crashing down, you know exactly what's coming next, and you can't help but smirk and wonder if maybe, just this one time, you'll be able to resist the urge to start roaring 'Blood and Thunder' along side, causing everyone on your commute to look at you like you're a psychopath and slowly back away. By comparison, the only track I can recall from LoG is something vaguely about laying down to rest; hardly a topic that gets the blood pumping. So yes, Mastodon and LoG do sound rather similar, but in a single effort Mastodon have done what LoG have been failing miserably to come close to accomplishing in their entire career; are still trying to accomplish in fact. Mastodon in the mean time have moved on. They nailed it years ago, and since then they've done nothing but think, 'how shall we try to be awesome next?'
Written by Thomas Bawden (Axis of Metal / LiferTheReviewRoom)