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The heat is off Mastodon these days (only 4 reviews for 2014's Once More Round the Sun compared to 17 for The Hunter), but it doesn't stop their 00s output being highly influential on the new wave of metal that has appeared since. Their sound never quite had a specific focal point, though originating from sludge metal, and expands to include a terrifying array of different influences and aspects on an album such as this, Blood Mountain. Perhaps a testament to the band's creativity, the mountain has never been mined fully, leaving many ideas here that remain unique and instantly recognizable.
Firstly, it's key to point out that Mastodon were never as accessible as their mainstream reputation suggested, particularly evident when listening to a song such as 'Sleeping Giant', which uses its latter half to twist and turn mazily on fleeting guitar melodies, extended drum fills, and frequently switching musical ideas. Nothing ever stays still for any great length of time, though the band never descend into total self-indulgence or allow their jamming to carry too far, finishing most of the songs in under 5 minutes. If you're eyeing that 22:15 runtime of the closing 'Pendulous Skin', then fear not, because most of that is silence spent waiting for Kyuss/QOTSA guitarist Josh Homme to read a tongue in cheek fan letter to the band. However, packed into those tight songs, expect a lot of dazzling guitar runs, deliberately tricky polyrhythms, and many-legged riffs that crawl off sideways the moment you blink. For technical skill and attention to detail, Blood Mountain is still gobsmacking 10 years after the event.
What seems a bit strange about the album is that it tries so hard to be head-scratching. There are all sorts of weird and random things left scattered across the musical space, not least the gobbledigook tape-rewinding words in 'Bladecatcher' that appear over hyper-speed death thrash, which breaks for a wonderfully light and fun melody/riff/guitar thing and then thundering chords. Forget about a bloody mountain, you feel like Mastodon are taking you on a tour through the Amazon rainforest, displaying the world's largest natural selection of sludge, thrash, extreme, prog, shred, and mainstream metal. Arguably the most straightforward song is 'Colony of Birchmen', which has one of the catchiest mid-paced riffs you're likely to hear and a kind of Metallica strut to its progress, despite still feeling otherworldly and atmospheric. The songs mostly function as discrete pieces of music, though the themes overlap to some extent (lots of creatures and far-flung places), leaving us slightly confused by the whirlwind progression of ideas and the many changes in direction.
In her review, NausikaDalazBlindaz mentions that Mastodon don't always achieve the "sense of wonder, awe and majesty" they are aiming for, which I must agree with to some extent. She highlights the sometimes lacklustre vocals, provided here mostly by Troy Sanders (as opposed to Brent Hinds who would sing more on Mastodon's later albums), as one of the factors in that failure and that also holds true, since there are several moments when his delivery - and Hinds's on 'This Mortal Soil' as well - fails to meet the atmospheric requirements of the music, resulting in a loss of sense of place and spectacle as much as a sense of wonder. Nevertheless, this weakness also highlights the album's key strength, which is that the majority of the music can transport the listener away to another place and opens itself up completely to the imagination. The only other complaint that seems pertinent is that there isn't a great deal in the way of hooks, partly caused by the vocal performance, though there are more complex features to hold onto once you get under the surface of the songs.
Looking back at my relationship with this album, I must say that I neglected its quality for a long time, but when I really listen deeply to it I can find a great deal both to enjoy and admire, as well as knowing that it has a fairly unique position in metal. None of the 12 songs are poor, though 'Hand of Stone' and 'This Mortal Soil' seem to be lacking something. If searching for pure enjoyment and great songwriting, 'The Wolf Is Loose', 'Colony of Birchmen', and 'Crystal Skull' should do the job for you; fans of instrumental madness and progressive wanderings will drool at the feet of 'Capillarian Crest', 'Siberian Divide', and 'Sleeping Giant'. That said, it's difficult to see why you wouldn't enjoy Blood Mountain and you will probably be blown away by some of it too.
So if Remission got Mastodon noticed and Leviathan made them popular, I'd say Blood Mountain solidified them as a premier mainstream metal band. Around this time, they were about as on top of the world as they could imagine. They managed to jump ship from Relapse (one of the biggest and most recognizable labels in metal) to Warner Bros, which is most certainly not known for their impressive roster of metal bands. So they went from a major label to a major label, and after ripping shit up on giant nationwide tours like Ozzfest, damn near everybody knew who they were at this point.
Prime ingredients for a sellout, naturally.
Blood Mountain says "Fuck that" and proceeds to hammer a whopping nine excellent tracks in a row into your skull before any real misstep. All that fine tuning that took place on Leviathan was perfected on this 2006 release, to the point where I'm not even sure what to consider it from a musical standpoint. I was never comfortable with referring to Mastodon as a sludge band, since to me, sludge is the stuff like Grief or Eyehategod, clearly worlds apart from our media darlings here, but at the very least I could understand why that tag got tacked on to them early on. But here? It's gone. They're like mid-era Death where I guess they could be called prog metal if you wanted to call them that, but they weren't really all the way there. I mean, there's still a huge High on Fire groove going on here, plus whatever other stoner and hardcore influences, but for the most part they've just kind of become their own nebulous entity at this point. In fact, mid-late-era Death is actually a pretty decent comparison at times when you think about how frequent the harmonized leads play a central role in the music. Almost every track is crammed full of minor tapping melodies and harmonized runs, very similar to what Chuck fell just a little bit too much in love with around the Individual Thought Patterns era. And of course, Kali is still the drummer, so there are still an abundance of skin pounding theatrics.
I'll admit, I was being slightly facetious when I said that we get nine tracks in a row before the album ever stumbles, as "Sleeping Giant" is merely a shorter version of those long stoner jams I disliked so much on Remission, but it manages to keep pace with the rest of the album and doesn't overstay its welcome. It ends up being a neat little idea as opposed to a flow breaking intrusion, so I can't really stay mad at it. In fact, the album as a whole actually contains a lot of singular experimental ideas that I'd normally despise, but mostly work out pretty well, like the trippy jam of "Sleeping Giant", the weird talkbox insanity in "Bladecatcher", and most obviously that stupid fucking Tron voice that Cynic used so much on "Circle of Cysquatch". Oh man that will never sound cool. Seriously, somebody needs to sit on some council that reviews every single recorded album before it's released, and if they hear the Tron voice they should give the bands a light slap on the bottom with a fucking sledgehammer. The last quarter of the album suffers a bit too from being much more laid back than the rest of the album, not to mention a frankly bizarre vocal performance by the Mars Volta guy in "Siberian Divide". Plus "Pendulous Skin" has that fucking stupid thing that bands do where they tack a bunch of silence on to the end of the album just to stick in some little joke at the end. Man that shit can fuck itself with dynamite. It's normally pretty easy to ignore but it's so bloody pointless that I can't help but get upset with it.
Those quibbles aside, everything else about the album is great. There are an abundance of guitar solos (at least in comparison to their early work) and they're all tasteful and well done, the riffs are among the the most infectious they'd ever write, and the songwriting in general is just leaps and bounds ahead of where they were before. I mean, nothing was written poorly on the previous album, but here it's written superbly. Every track flows beautifully from one section to another, never feeling like a haphazard mess despite each track containing so many different ideas. The overwhelming heaviness is mostly gone, replaced instead with a very infectious and aggressive, yet still fairly poppy mentality. Everything here can pretty safely be considered inoffensive while still clearly being hard, heavy, and aggressive, and it's rare that a metal band can manage to strike such a remarkable balance between legitimacy and accessibility. Mastodon here nails it, with the kinda-progressive-kinda-stoner-not-really-sure style lashing out both extreme melody, extreme aggression, and weirdly effective (for a change) psyched out trippy parts, though they're still the weakest link of the album. The neat style of riffing that Mastodon had always used but never really established as their own finally comes to life here, coming off as a high energy mix of High on Fire and Between the Buried and Me. "The Wolf is Loose" pretty much sums up the entire album in a nutshell, with it's blisteringly high octane pace, ascending bridges, and vocals split pretty evenly between the manic shouts of the past and the Mudvayne voice of the future. The album on the whole seems to use that goddamn Mudvayne voice most of the time, but at this point it's still firmly in the territory of Mastodon, and doesn't sound as silly as it could.
Apart from that beast of an opener, there is the "hit single" in "Colony of Birchmen", which is a great, midpaced melodic number with a very catchy main riff and instantly memorable chorus. It's moments like this that foreshadow the more melodic and accessible direction Mastodon was pointing towards, and yet it showed how great they could potentially be with such a mindset. Then there are tracks like "Capillarian Crest", which show case a more progressive, aggressive style, rife with tapping leads and frantic melodies. Again, it showed that they were pretty good at most of the styles they toyed around with, even though they were mainly just reaching to other areas for inspiration in their own defined sound, as opposed to trying desperately to appeal to everybody. Despite it's weirdness, my favorite track my actually be the instrumental "Bladecatcher". It flows in a very creative fashion from each disparate section to the next, and the fast part with the weird whammy-ing talkbox strangeness just manages to work masterfully. I wish I could explain how so many different, noodly sections end up sounding so brilliant to me, a guy who generally can't stand noodly prog, but Mastodon somehow manages to master it by basing the music instead around an accessible stoner/prog/modernwhatever hybrid. "Hand of Stone" also gets special mention for the surprisingly thrashy riff it closes on.
Blood Mountain can basically just be summed up as "Mastodon". That's it, this is what Mastodon had been building towards since their inception, and it just reached its apex here. I'm still not entirely sure what genre to classify this as, as to my knowledge it's a style that started getting aped later by horrid modern bands that Liquid Metal likes to fellate. Give it a listen, if only for the fact that it's one of the few definitively "modern" metal albums I can think of that both completely exemplifies the new sound of heavy music in the mainstream and is also not utter shit. Mastodon managed to somehow strike gold here, and they were certainly on the upswing. They'd hit their stride, surely they'd ride the momentum and creativity from this album into an illustrious career as both media darlings and legitimately good songwriters, right?
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
After springing into existence fully-formed with the fantastic progressive post-sludge (or whatever) of Remission, Mastodon injected more melody and ambition into its accomplished and worthy follow-up, Leviathan. Their proggy tendencies became even more prominent on Blood Mountain, though they weren't really sure what to do with the influence.
This is a frustrating record because some of the tracks are excellent, some have fantastic parts mixed with moments of questionable taste, and there are a couple outright overreaches. The opening track "The Wolf Is Loose" and single "Crystal Skull" are particularly raging examples of what Mastodon's best at: heavy, catchy riffing, bonkers drumming, and impassioned vocal delivery. The melodic singing is integrated well in these tracks, just as it was on "Naked Burn" from their previous record.
The problems start when those first two tracks end. Mastodon clearly wanted to branch out and try new things, but they mar songs with a goofy spoken word section ("Sleeping Giant"), a sore-thumb robot voice ("Circle of Cysquatch"), a honky-tonk country lick ("This Mortal Soil"), a pitch-shifted Cedric Bixler-Zavala ("Siberian Divide"), and dumb fantasy lyrics (almost every song.) There's "Bladecatcher," a cool title desparately seeking a song. Some of Mastodon's earlier songs, such as "Trainwreck," "Workhorse," and "Hearts Alive," had evocative and emotional lyrics that made the band more than just a kick-ass metal group, but they all but abandoned earnestness with this record and embraced fantasia and nonsense.
It became clear on this album that none of the members of Mastodon has a strong melodic singing voice. Anyone who has seen Mastodon live in the last six or seven years or listened to their Live at the Aragon album can attest to this, and it's been painful to see them descend from one of the most powerful live metal bands in the U.S. to a bunch of dudes straining to hit the high notes. There's lots of clean singing on Blood Mountain, and though it's been Pro-Tooled to melodic accuracy, it doesn't suit their strengths. Troy Sanders' roar is the best vocal delivery for their sound, and there isn't nearly enough of it.
When it was released, Blood Mountain broke my heart. They lost the impeccable taste that made their first two records such unimpeachable statements and wandered into the wilderness. Though some sharp riffage remained, the power of their sound was diluted by the missteps and the album fell short of their previous accomplishments.
Well, as the saying goes, the third times always the charm. And with Blood Mountain, the band has shown us they’re able to whip out another fantastic album with a bunch of new surprises sprinkled throughout, and yet stay true to their roots.
Released on September 11, 2006 in Europe and the day after in North America, Blood Mountain did extremely well. Total Guitar ranked it the number one album of 2006, while magazines like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer thought it was just was epic as Leviathan, if not better. It was also featured on many websites' and magazines' 2006 countdowns. It was also Mastodon’s third highest debut on Billboard 200, at #32, behind Crack the Skye and The Hunter. Guitarist Bill Kelliher considered this album to represent the earth element, and at the time, bassist Troy Sanders said it was "sonically the best album we have done."
The story behind Blood Mountain is relatively simple. The main character wants to place the Crystal Skull at the top of Blood Mountain, but along the way deals with the problems, that according to bassist Troy Sanders, that can happen when ‘you’re stranded on a mountain, lost in the woods, and you’re lost.’ And on their DVD, it was said that the Crystal Skull is supposed to eliminate ‘the reptilian brain’, allowing its owner to have the ability to achieve the next step of human evolution.
Sonically, I liked this album a LOT more than Remission and Leviathan for a few reasons. Firstly, I loved the raw emotion found on Remission, and was a little disappointed when Leviathan didn’t have the same intensity. With that being said, Leviathan allowed more influences, like sludge, prog, and I even dare to say a little old fashioned heavy metal to seep into the sound and it was the diversity in the overall sound I enjoyed the most. Blood Mountain was a good medium between the two – the sheer rage from Remission and the well-rounded, developed sound of Leviathan married quite well. I really enjoyed ‘Crystal Skull’, especially with the tribal-sounding drum intro, and the guest vocals of Scott Kelly just top it off. ‘Sleeping Giant’ is another favourite; I like the vocal rhythms in it, and it seems to allude to what they’ll be doing in Crack the Skye. And opening with ‘The Wolf is Loose’ was a good call on their part – the drum solo in the beginning instantly reminded me of ‘Blood and Thunder’ and got my blood pumping. It got me so excited for what the rest of the album also had in store, and it didn’t disappoint.
If you were just to give Blood Mountain just a quick skim, it would sound like this: 70’s prog rock and Meshuggah meet up with NWOBHM and get drunk with some good old fashioned thrash metal. There are also some outbursts of guitar virtuosity (which never is overdone in Mastodon’s case), and great atmospheric pieces, like the intro of ‘Sleeping Giant’.
It should also be noted that there was a significant improvement in the lyrics. The vocabulary wasn’t a problem; it wasn’t as simplistic as the stuff found on Remission, but at the same time, it wasn’t insanely technical and difficult like what some tech death metal bands do. For me, it was more of how the ideas were presented that Mastodon got better at. For some of the songs, in particular, ‘Hunters of the Sky’ and ‘Siberian Divide’, feel more like miniature stories as opposed to older songs found on their older material. I like that!
Overall, I really enjoyed Blood Mountain. I love the story, I love the sound, and I love the lyrics. I love it all! After a miniature disappointment with Leviathan, I was glad to find Mastodon had found their footing within the metal scene with Blood Mountain, and I think the scene was happy they were able to come out with another fantastic album.
Holy mackerel, Mastodon! You're trampling my mind like an enraged Cysquatch after blunt knife castration! That's one of the most energetic albums to ever emerge from sludge, or even whole modern metal scene. I got into Mastodon's music not so long ago and I must admit that there are both things I love and dislike about their music. However, Blood Mountain is definitely an album that contains mostly the things I like, oh yes. In my opinion, it's the second best Mastodon's release after Crack the Skye.
Production of the record is good but honestly, could have been better. While drums, especially bass drum, sound heavy and organic, there's something in the way they're produced, that irritates my ears. I guess the snare drum is to be blamed for that as it sounds a bit flat. Also, guitars does not sound as heavy and massive as they should. Anyway, the album sounds clean and isn't painfully overproduced. Still, I think both Leviathan and Crack the Skye have better production.
As many reviewers have already stated, the record can be considered as a transitional episode between sludgy and aggressive Leviathan and spacey/progressive Crack the Skye. Stomping sludge element is still most prominent one, but experiments with song structures and spacey/psychedelic and progressive rock influences have become more noticeable. Most tracks are galloping sludge metal songs with Mastodon's typical leanings towards punk-ish aggressiveness combined with stoner metal feel (especially in the case of Brent Hinds' vocal delivery). Numerous tempo changes, complex structures and incredibly compelling, unmistakable drumming by Brann Dailor determines Blood Mountain status as a modern progressive metal album. I think the biggest drawback this record has, is the lack of real, compelling masterpieces. Tracks are short and a little bit too uniform for my tastes. Mastodon's great talent for long and complex compositions manifested in their following release, but here - despite a few absolutely fantastic and catchy songs - it's still underdeveloped. Besides, I found some tracks to be simply uninspired or even terribly annoying ("Bladecatcher"- what the hell is that? electro-grind-core-stoner metal?).
All in all, Blood Mountain is a very good eclectic progressive metal album, deeply rooted in sludge metal genre. If you're into aggressive and energetic metal with a stoner element, this record is for you.
TRACKS BY RATINGS: 9/10[fantastic!]: Crystal Skull 8/10[great]: The Wolf Is Loose; Sleeping Giant; Capillarian Crest; Colony of Birchmen; Siberian Divide 7/10[very good]: Circle of Cysquatch; Hunters of the Sky; This Mortal Soil 6/10[good]: Hand of Stone; Pendulous Skin 3/10[poor]: Bladecatcher
-- Originally written for Metal Music Archives [www.metalmusicarchives.com] --
Mastodon have a tight and technical style of metal that can be very thrashy at times. The band's interest in nature that's red in tooth and claw combined with science-fiction fantasy and a tendence to soar on long flights of guitar-melody indulgence puts the guys firmly in the prog rock category. No wonder Mastodon has sometimes been described as Metallica-meets-Rush! Technically the music is good and the skills involved are astounding but the songs are not distinctive and the whole album sounds like 12 movements of one major opus.
For a band that's been on the cusp of breaking into mainstream stadium metal for a long time, "Blood Mountain" has few songs that can be called catchy and which have melodies and riffs that audiences can latch onto and claim as their own. Nearly every song is jam-packed with virtuoso string-pulling, breakneck-speed drumming and a complex choreography of riffs and melodies that must require a special Google program for the fingers to navigate. Stunning lyrical imagery in many songs is let down by fairly ordinary singing. When all is said and done, I feel blown away by the members' technical chops and the music's dense nature but I'm disappointed that not much room was left on the album for emotion and a feeling of soaring and flying high and fast with the guys and their prehistoric prey on tracks like "Hunters of the Sky" and "Siberian Divide". A sense that we're riding with godly power and creatures born of fire, metal and refined clay is lacking.
One day it will dawn on Mastodon that they don't need to bust their guts trying to out-play and out-do everybody else and they should just let the music breathe and take them where it will. With an injection of easy, natural flow, some mood, atmosphere and a sense of wonder, awe and majesty, the music will achieve the greatness the band has been gunning for.
An original version of this review appears in The Sound Projector (Issue 19, 2011).
Many metalheads and critics consider Leviathan to be Mastodon's magnum opus. I see their point as it is a very creative and inspired album, however there's something more polished and finished here than the raw energy of Leviathan. Rather than feeling as if you are far out in the ocean hundreds of feet below the surface, you feel as if you are following a primitive man on a hunt through a mythical, prehistoric forest.
The band's songwriting is premium here as every note belongs. From the fast, technical riffs of 'Crystal Skull' and 'Capillarian Crest' to the chaos of 'Bladecatcher' and even to the moments of beauty, 'This Mortal Soil', everything is original and done well. The lyrics are not the highlight of the album, but they fulfill their purpose by supporting the imagery and concept - "hunter, gatherer/ridden from the cave". The vocals are nice, although I don't consider them to be excellent by any means.
One of the things that is showcased on this album from beginning to end are the interweaving guitar harmonies. Now, there are many bands in all types of metal that employ this technique. What many metal bands concentrate on is shredding as fast as humanly possible or playing a handful of palm-muted grooves. What Mastodon does differently is focus on melody while also being innovative instead of using the same formula over and over.
Critics of this album often complain about the band's drummer, Brann Dailor. His style is chaotic and maybe even ridiculous at times, and I understand that, but I think that's what individualizes him, even placing him in the same category as Danny Carey. Dailor is the driving force of the music, his drumming leading the band into more interesting territory, at least on the faster songs. His fills add a new facet to every song while never leaving the other instruments in his wake. Mastodon would be an entirely different band without him.
Mastodon's skill at painting pictures with their music is strong here. Even during the first few seconds of the album during 'The Wolf Is Loose', the protagonist is being chased through the trees. This motif is continued through nearly every song. In 'Colony of Birchmen', he is slaying the beasts that attack him, but feels remorse. As this character ascends the mountain, new threats face him, his supplies are low, and he begins to freeze to death. As the album ends, our hero breathes his last breath and the heavens beckon him to enter their warm, inviting realm, and he sails away.
Although this is the third Mastodon album I've experienced, I will say that it is the first that I've really felt a connection with; my own rosetta stone so to speak, for this Atlantan metal quartet.
After two sludgy albums- the latter of which propelling Mastodon to the forefront of the metal scene- Mastodon's third record 'Blood Mountain' is the logical follow-up to their breakthrough; an album that takes the sound they became famous with, and turns it on its side. While there is still the aggression and edgy vibe here that gave 'Remission' and 'Leviathan' the power to succeed as records, there is a new, progressive approach the band takes, emphasizing technicality and a deeply psychedelic dimension now.
The sheer 'out there' nature of the album and trippy overtones makes the album special for Mastodon, even when compared to their more generally acclaimed album 'Crack The Skye'. Opening with a number more traditional of the band's older style, 'The Wolf Is Loose' kicks off the album in a fairly deceptive fashion, while it is evident that the band has tightened up their act from 'Leviathan', things are very riff-based and sludgy for the first two tracks. While generally quite good, charged and fiery songs, 'Blood Mountain' doesn't hit its real stride until 'Sleeping Giant' (the third track) rolls around. The intro sounds like something a dark psychedelic band would do, although the heaviness is still kept in check. From there on in, 'Blood Mountain' continues to develop it's unique sound.
'Capillarian Crest' shows the album's blistering technicality, a trait more often attributed to progressive metal than any sludge act out there. The weirdness culminates with the odd instrumental 'Bladecatcher', whose freakishly chaotic nature features electronic ramblings that almost sound like WALL-E (yes, of the Pixar film) is doing a guest feature. My personal favourite track on the album is 'Colony Of Birchmen', which seamlessly flows between deep grooves and more emotionally resonant sections.
Sporting their newfound fame, there are also a couple of very notable guest vocalists on the album. Of most interest to the metalhead would be Scott Kelly, of post-metal titans Neurosis. Also here is Cedric Bixler-Zavala of latin-tinged prog rock band The Mars Volta, an overt statement by Mastodon and their new alignment towards psychedelic music. Unfortunately, neither of these vocalists are used nearly as well as they could have been. While the singing done by the band members of Mastodon works quite well here, hearing a part from Zavala beyond some ambient wailing in 'Siberian Divide' would have made it quite a bit more than being merely worth having the guest's names on the packaging.
'Blood Mountain' has plenty of fantastic moments and a very fresh sound for metal, but it does so at the expense of cohesion, a problem that would later be fixed by 'Crack The Skye'. Partially due to the fact that the album is so ambitious with its sound, the album often feels very over the place, and many of the transitions between tracks feel half-baked and ineffective.
The fact remains however; before listening to Mastodon's 'Blood Mountain', I did not readily consider me a fan of the band, even a mild critic of what I perceived to be a fairly overrated act. After hearing the band in their element here however, I have been able to appreciate the band as a whole, and especially their most musical work 'Crack The Skye' so much more. An excellent, adventurous piece of work.
A few weeks ago, I penned a nice little review of Mastodon's "Leviathan," in which I described it as the only album worth seeking out by this band. Since that time, I have spun a few more listens of "Blood Mountain" and come to a reformed opinion. While I have never, nor will likely ever praise this band as a force of innovation done right, "Blood Mountain" is getting a better response out me. I still wouldn't consider it a more worthy listen than "Leviathan" was, much less hailing it as one of the best albums of the 21st Century.
Considering that categorizing this band has led to genre names like groove metal, metalcore, sludge and progressive being thrown out, its only natural this band would sound rather original. Yet originality doesn't always equal quality, as Mastodon has proven in spades over their relatively short career. Unlike "Leviathan," which had a few discipherable song structures that proved quite enjoyable, "Blood Mountain" often ventures off into the world of random noise. This noise, when taken as a whole, attempts to create something out of its technicality and creative processes, yet in the end usually conjures up something that is both unpredictable and boring at times. You do get a few instances of traditional songwriting trying to punch through the random noise, such as "Crystal Skull" and "Colony of Birchmen," so its none too surprising songs like these are some of the better songs this album offers.
While "Blood Mountain" is more organized and moves less into the world of outright random suckage that "Remission" often fell into, the album seems to magnify the flaws present on "Leviathan." I applaud the band for mixing in a few new influences into the game, such as taking a whack at stoner metal tendencies on "Sleeping Giant," which is pretty decent minus the obvious meandering. This same kind of influence can be heard on "Siberian Divide," though to a lesser extent. Its not surprising Mastodon would include these influences on this album, considering the album artwork looks like a bad acid trip through a psychedelic backwoods hell. Still, just like the cover art, the music succeeds in grabbing your attention and interest, then leaving you wondering what in the hell this all means.
As I said before, the best songs off this album follow a more traditional approach to music. Keep in mind during my analysis of the songs that the key flaw in this band, Brann Dailor, continues to be self-indulgent on the drums and showboats like no tomorrow. I'm with hells_unicorn on this one, as Dailor often ruins the experience for me considering on some songs he is constantly changing the beat and throwing drum fills out the ass. However, that doesn't stop songs like the speed metal of "The Wolf Is Loose" or the groovy (and at times, meandering) "Crystal Skull" from being enjoyable. "Colony of Birchmen" is also pretty decent, though the vocals and the song itself often remind me of something out of a heavier alternative rock band. "Sleeping Giant" hits with the stoner influences, as I said before, and besides the usual meandering that Mastodon excels at, the song is also fairly good. Of course, this wouldn't be a Mastodon release if there weren't an abundance of pointless and often comical noises and music sections thrown into the mix. Since I sometimes tend to enjoy Mastodon, this does not outrightly bother me, but I will say it gets pretty fucking annoying on repeat listens.
Aside from some decent metal songs and plenty of meandering for your enjoyment, we also run into some problems. These problems usually carry over from album to album with Mastodon. However, the commendable efforts of "Leviathan," which corrected many of the randomness issues of "Remission," have been lost and the band has relapsed into a musical game of Russian Roulette, sometimes you're spared, sometimes you get the bullet and wish you could just end it all. An excellent example of this is "Capallarian Crest" which is so damn hard to follow and recall its not even funny and this song is awfully hard to stomach. The other example of this is "Pendulous Skin," which goes on for 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes of Mastodon's usual aimless wondering, pointless noises, and a horribly failed attempt at "epic" songwriting. Since this is the third excessively long song this band has written, alongside "Elephant Man" and "Heart's Alive," I'm guessing they refuse to admit they can't write an interesting song over five minutes in length to save their own asses. Other instances of this band's ususal "uselessness thrown in for the hell of it," would come into "Siberian Divide," which would have been pretty decent were it not for those god awful noises that first appear at the 1:46 mark and then come up two or three more times to completely kill the listen.
This album actually gets me pretty disgusted at times, because there are enough good ideas on here to constitute a good listening experience. I'd even dare say Mastodon often do push the envelope of innovation, at least as far as their sludge metal and groove metal altars will allow them to. Yet this band always finds ways to come up with contrasting ideas that make bearing their entire albums a tedious chore instead of an enthralling listen. If they run out of ideas, then they simply meander around, throwing in random spurts of noise and Brann Dailor's ever annoying drum wankery. With that said, I still find Mastodon fairly enjoyable from time to time, but they are certainly not the next "saviors of metal," nor are they close to it. Instead, this band represents a concept where randomness prevails, giving you this swamp of musical waste that might spawn something interesting or something completely ugly and horrid. Either way, "Blood Mountain" is a definite step down from "Leviathan," because it gives you five songs that are enjoyable and some that are flat out unbearable. The misguided legions of Mastodon loyalists will definitely find something to like about this, but those like me who let the music do the talking, this is worth maybe $4 out of your pocket. There just isn't enough quality music on here to let me recommend a higher price with a conscious mind.
I never used to like Mastodon, finding the few single songs I heard entirely underwhelming and mediocre. However, with enough prodding, any wall gives in eventually, and when I checked out Blood Mountain to see what the fuss was all about, I certainly didn't expect something this good, or something of any worth at all, for that matter. I expected something lame and fraudulent, a hollow, modernized pile of flashy, showy crap that didn't have any worth at all. I expected to dismiss it quickly and write some lame negative review decrying the band and all of their fans.
But no, Mastodon are the real deal, a bold and stand-alone band that makes no compromises and takes no prisoners. Blood Mountain is heavy, inventive and constantly moving forward. The band get a lot of flak for incorporating so many elements of genres like hardcore or sludge, resulting in what has become to be known as a "modern" sound, but unlike their contemporaries, Mastodon emphasize everything a "modern" Metal band should be, with their thick, encompassing sound and uncompromising, almost stand-offish approach to writing songs. None of these songs are dumbed down or weakened for radio airplay, and all of them charge forward with stomping riffs and a surprising amount of frenetic energy and ballsy technicality. Mastodon's sound is one rooted in heavy grooves, chunky riffs, time changes, complicated drum fills and everything else that is usually called The Enemy of Metal. Seriously, it's like a checklist of things I usually hate about modern Metal, and yet Mastodon strings it all together with unpredictable, tight songwriting skills and interesting ideas to create something that I find oddly appealing. The vocals aren't amazing, being a sometimes strained-sounding hardcoreish shout, but they work well enough, especially when they get harsher.
I like this album because it does something new and creative and sounds good while doing it, plain and simple. It doesn't conform to any sort of trend, it just sort of exists as its own entity while other bands happen to play music with elements similar to it. Blood Mountain is singular and iconic, and while it is indeed very hateable, with many elements that most metalheads will cringe at, it really isn't bad at all. There are no radio-friendly songs, no simple melodies or pop-obsessed choruses, no mindless wank and certainly no wasted moments by the band trying to sell themselves. If you don't like Mastodon, they don't give a shit. I like that kind of staunch stubbornness in a band.
Thundering out with ballsy, creative rockers like "The Wolf is Loose," "Crystal Skull," the galloping instrumental "Bladecatcher," and the unstoppable duo of the killer "Mortal Soil" and "Siberian Divide," Mastodon have created something undeniably killer, an endless paradox of would-be vomit-worthy parts to create a grandiose whole. This stuff isn't exceptionally catchy, and there are a few songs that sort of drag on a bit, like "Hand of Stone," but overall, Blood Mountain is a satisfying ass-kicker from a band that gets too much unnecessary flak. Recommended.
Within the grand scheme of the musical world, amongst the thousands upon hundreds of thousands of bands, ensembles and solo artists, it is rare that we witness such a wonder in the rock genre as a musical group with lasting power that could span years and decades, if not centuries altogether. Such bands that have achieved this status obviously include The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and in more modern times one might even go so far as to say Radiohead. The fact that all four of these groups wrote powerful and moving pieces consistently for many years is undoubtedly a shared characteristic, but this feat would most likely not ordinarily excel a band into “legendary” status. Were it not for their tendencies to constantly push the boundaries of their genre and evolve until the end of their discographies, would we see them as anything more than simply the authors of singles and victors of the Billboard charts?
Speaking primarily of The Beatles who have shaped and molded the rock genre many time over, nearly every one of their albums saw some form of evolution or progression between one another, not only in musicality but also in the sense of the genre as a whole; the step from Revolver to Abbey Road was a more comprehensive progression than most bands experience within their entire careers. It is these artists, whether it be The Beatles, Zeppelin or modern rockers like Radiohead, the musicians constantly changing their form and uprooting our expectations and cognition of the genre are the ones that truly go down in history as legends.
Atlanta rockers Mastodon may have a long way to go to reach this highly acclaimed legendary status, but I'll be damned if they're not on the right path. 2002 saw the release of the band's debut LP, Remission, a raw non-stop assault of a complex, southern hardcore/metal amalgamation. Leviathan was released two years later, proving the first time of Mastodon's capabilities when it comes to ameliorating their flaws. Improving on the production of their debut album, Leviathan found a focused median between raw aggression and the clean production needed to propel the complexity and duality of percussion versus melody and harmony. Where Mastodon lost many listeners from the harshness of bassist Troy Sanders' vocals on Remission is vastly improved in Leviathan , not only by providing a more melodic singing but also by allowing lead guitarist Brent Hinds an equal amount of vocal limelight.
Now the year is 2006, and Mastodon are looking to stir the metal world up again. 2006's Blood Mountain is the band's first foray into major-label territory since signing with Warner Brothers' Reprise, and further represents their fascination with the rhythmic and atmospheric nature of the progressive metal genre. Notably the largest difference between Blood Mountain and Mastodon's previous two releases is the variety between songs, as the listener can easily tell from the first few songs on the album lies more varied melodies and direction than nearly all of Leviathan . Brann Dailor (arguably the star of the quartet) kick starts Blood Mountain with “The Wolf Is Loose,” unleashing a blazing four measure fill to set up guitarists Hinds and Bill Kelliher for a pick slide into a three and a half minute foray to insanity and back. Following tracks “Crystal Skull” and “Sleeping Giant” show off Mastodon's newfound liking for all things progressive, twisting and turning through various rhythmic and tempo changes while at the same time displaying some of Dailor's fastest playing yet. “Capillarian Crest,” the album's first single, defines Blood Mountain in terms of pure musicianship and emotion. Beginning with an off-centered, hesitant riff lead by Hinds, the song soon ventures abruptly into a swinging, pulsating rhythm in three that plunges into syncopated 5/8 meter before the listener is even able to catch up. Vocalist Troy Sanders rescues the group from such rhythmic disorder by bringing them all back together and hanging onto that five chord as long as he can before Dailor snatches it right back, coercing his minions to do his bidding by ending the song to the swift pounding of his double kick.
Track six of Blood Mountain, “Bladecatcher,” showcases a new concept for Mastodon; a dynamic instrumental in under four minutes, relying solely on Dailor's drums to bring the band to the conclusion of the tune. The second single off the album, “Colony of Birchmen,” features Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme on back up vocals, and proves to be the standout and most varied track on the album. Consisting almost entirely of clean vocals, “Colony of Birchmen” reaches new emotional crescendos one might have never thought possible when listening to Remission or Leviathan. Having reached multiple climaxes in previous songs “Hand of Stone” and “Hunters of the Sky”, the tenth track off of Blood Mountain gives the listener a break by providing a mellow electric-acoustic guitar chord solo, barely becoming melodic before “This Mortal Soil”s signature guitar melody kicks in over a steady, mid-tempo double bass-driven groove. Relying once again on Hinds and Sanders' clean vocal talents, track ten's chorus contains entirely of such, rarely resorting to distorted growls to accompany the raw rhythm guitar. The final track of the album, “Pendulous Skin” ends Blood Mountain on a slow, acoustic note, as all Mastodon albums do, and fades out the chaos with much more ease than “Joseph Merrick” or “Elephant Man” could have ever even hoped at achieving on the previous two LP's.
Mastodon obviously wanted to attempt to create the all-around perfect metal album with Blood Mountain as opposed to simply going for raw aggression through and through as they had done on Leviathan and Remission. For the most part they succeeded, and when I say for the most part I do mean potential 2006 album of the year. If it were not for Isis' In the Absence of Truth released just weeks after Blood Mountain, I would have easily picked this album as the album of 2006, but as always Isis proves to be tough competition. With Mastodon's intention of making more than “just a metal album” is of course much appreciated, but this also comes with higher expectations. The songs are incredibly more varied than any of Mastodon's previous work, the slow songs being even more desolate and the aggressive songs being more complex and cathartic.
Where Blood Mountain falls slightly short however is (coincidentally) in the variety as well – Troy and the boys proved to us that they can nail any sort of rhythm syncopation in the books and compose a sorrowful, acoustic track back to back, but we as a listener can't help but to ask for more; more sorrow, more hate, more emotion instead of simple and blind aggression. Almost anyone could immediately hear the stark difference in dynamics from comparing Leviathan 's intro track “Blood and Thunder” to track one of Mountain, “The Wolf Is Loose.” Now that Mastodon has shown us this new, emotional and effusive dimension of metal, we can't help but want more instead of just a tease. That being said, this album is without a doubt the best metal CD to be released this year, perhaps even in the past 3 years. Don't miss it, even if you only listen to Tool.
The phrase, “major label debut,” is dreaded in a community that thrives on being against the main-stream. Blood Mountain, Mastodon’s first Warner Bros. release is high quality metal and definitely a worthy follow-up to Leviathan without simply feeling like Leviathan II.
There’s no denying that there are more vocals and a lot less “vokills” on Blood Mountain, but the growls and shouts are still there. The sung vocals never cross into sappy crooning territory, think more along the lines of Zakk Wylde. These vocal changes follow a natural progression from their previous releases. From their early songs re-released on Call of the Mastodon and their first full-length, Remission, one of the dragging points was the repetitive and often drab shouting vocals. Leviathan mixed in some songs that were mostly sung rather than shouted ("Sea-Beast" and "Naked Burn") as well as varying the different gruff tones within the rest of the songs. The vocals on Blood Mountain are about as dizzying as they could possibly be. There are shouts, growls, prominent singing-parts from both Brent and Troy, and a passage toward the end of "Sleeping Giant" with a spoken-word vibe. Additionally, there are guest spots from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. Then there’s the vocal Easter Eggs; strange squeals in "Siberian Divide" courtesy of The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, a creepy distortion effect used in "Circle Cysquatch," and bizarre babble and insect-like whistling in "Bladecatcher."
Musically, the striking point of Mastodon has always been the frenzied, free-form drumming of Brann Dailor. That’s still present, evident from the first seconds of the album as the aptly titled "The Wolf is Loose" blasts off with a drum solo. The songs, in general, are less focused on bone crunching and more focused on stylistic shifts. "Colony of Birchmen" with guest vocals by Josh Homme would not feel out of place on a Queens of the Stone Age album. The Allman Brothers-meets-Atheist sound found on previous Mastodon songs such as "Ole Nessie" and "Megalodon" can again be found in Blood Mountain; "Bladecatcher," for instance. There’s also a breakdown in "Capillarian Crest" that sounds like a banjo-esque take on Rush. "This Mortal Soil" starts off with a spacey prog intro that flows into dreamy rock, then seamlessly transitions into ZZ-Top style Southern boogie. The album closer "Pendulous Skin," has a "Planet Caravan" feel to it.
Blood Mountain is the least straight-forward album Mastodon has made, and that’s saying a lot. Like Leviathan, this is an album with great individual songs that are even more rewarding when taken as a whole. After throwing everything at the listener, including the kitchen sink, Mastodon will be hard pressed to create a more varied follow-up. From the bottom of the ocean via Leviathan, to the top of Blood Mountain, it’s hard to imagine where Mastodon will go next.
*review originally written for www.livingformetal.com
Blood Mountain is a very difficult album to get a grip on. It’s one of the most obstinate albums I’ve ever heard released by a mainstream metal band, and not in a good, “we’re-not-going-to-compromise-on-our-music-and-MTV-be-damned” way, but rather in the sense of a band refusing to learn from it’s past mistakes, or listen to any criticism offered. While in some circumstances, such iconoclastic behaviour is worthy of admiration, here I can only greet it with perplexity and, yes, a definite degree of disappointment. Because while it is true that Mastodon have enormous potential, it’s equally true that they lack a clear idea of precisely what they want to do.
The radical divergence of opinions on this album certainly suits its confused nature. While some hate and others worship this album, I can’t really seem to follow either mindset. Because really, there is almost as much to like here, as there is to despise. Mastodon are as capable of inspiring and pleasing as they are of aggravating the listener, which really makes this album’s failures all the more crushing.
First of all, the music on display here can certainly attest to the fact that these guys CAN play their instruments, and damn well. But even this brings me to the first issue I have with this album, one I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before. Here the technicality can actually damage the music. Far too often the band seems desperate for something to do, so they’ll randomly throw in a section where they haphazardly hit seemingly random notes and change the time signatures to some outlandish scheme, as if under the delusion that this somehow makes their compositions ‘progressive’. Meshuggah these guys are not. They simply lack the songwriting ability to accomplish such odd bouts of experimentation (for want of a better term) or thematic deviation within the same track. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in the instrumental “Bladecatcher”, where after an opening that sounds like music from an old Zelda game, they promptly drop into an epileptic bout of tremolo picked riffs with some random noise that sounds like a heavily distorted recording of a guy shrieking 'buppity-buppity' into a microphone, with R2-D2 doing backing vocals. Essentially, the entire song is this odd Zelda-esque theme with the aforementioned random interval plunked down in the middle of it. Despite what these guys may have thought, it’s in no way artistic, let alone enjoyable, and doesn’t prompt the listener to do anything more than hit the skip button.
Another symptom of the overuse of technicality here is the over-the-top, utterly obnoxious drumming that plagues the entire running time of this LP, with the exception of the final track. Brann Dailor is, quite simply put, one of the most irritating drummers I’ve heard, not because of missed cues, but because of his adamant refusal to ever SHUT UP. Everything seems to be an opportunity to throw in copious amounts of snare fills, drum rolls, useless beat changes, or better yet, all three in the space of one song!
Another problem that frequently crops up with this album (and I believe is, at least in part, responsible for the first one I mentioned) is the sense of aimlessness that dogs it. With significant portions of this album, Mastodon seem to have tried to walk the tightrope between introspective psychedelia, and the more focused realm of metal, and far too often fall off; and in fact, this only makes it that much more painful when it works. If the whole album could have maintained the monolithic, psychedelic, yet purposeful feel of “Sleeping Giant”, it would be a classic. This is also perhaps the song where Dailor’s drumming is at its least obnoxious, and is one of the few from this album I still listen to consistently.
Another disappointing aspect of the instrumentation is the dual singers. While normally with a pair of vocalists, one would expect a wider range of singing, here they sound practically identical. The only way to keep their contributions from blending together is through careful listening, which this album is not likely to provoke (at least not for long).
Ironically enough, for a band that seems so desperate to be labeled one of metal’s progressive or innovative forces, the best songs here tend to be the ones that adhere relatively closely to more conventional songwriting structures. There’s a reason “Colony of Birchmen” was the single off this: it’s one of the few songs here that sticks to a relatively straight-edge verse-chorus-verse formula, and in so doing, maintains a distinct sense of catchiness. It also doesn’t hurt that it seems to have stolen all the good riffs and leads from the adjacent songs. Opener “The Wolf is Loose” is another example of this, managing to maintain an almost speed metal feel throughout its short three and a half minute length. Once again, the main issue with this one is the ridiculously over-indulgent drumming, although, personally, the hardcore vocals don’t do much for me either (although they’re far more excusable).
Perhaps most distressingly is the fact that the best quality of this album is not the music, but rather the artwork. Seriously, I have to give these guys credit for having a great looking album. The cover art and inside of the insert is impeccable, possessing a rather beautiful theme of psychedelic mysticism. While the artistic direction seems to derive its inspiration rather deeply from Hindu art, it depicts mythological themes from a variety of different sources, all to excellent effect. Pity the music inside doesn’t really do justice to it.
Ultimately, I cannot proclaim this album to be anything more than the failure it is. While I admit that when I first bought it I was rather enamoured with it, the veneer of that admiration quickly wears thin. While this album is certainly more daring than anything I would typically expect of a band that has so smoothly flirted with the mainstream as Mastodon, it quickly reveals itself to be nothing more than a half-baked, naïve attempt at progressive sludge, by a band too inexperienced to do justice to either of those genres. Until Mastodon learn how to accomplish their lofty goals, and to do so in a matter that gives a little more credit to the intricacies of the music they’ve chosen to play, they’ll continue to be laughed off the stage by metal fans that have experienced more than few trends in their time.
Mastodon released their "masterpiece" entitled Blood Mountain. Once again the media made a massive ordeal on how Mastodon are the next "saviors of metal" and how they bring a refreshing style to the genre in a stale generation of metalcore. I will say their style is somewhat unique - I prefer my brand of progressive metal to be more epic rather than sludgy - but it was somewhat refreshing to hear something new rather than metalcore.
As saviors of metal - I doubt Mastodon fits that. Blood Mountain is full of interesting rhythms and very spastic music. A lot of jazz influence seeps out of the music along with a lot of strange time signatures and timings.
The guitar work is something that is hit or miss. The sludge sounding riffs have an off sounding tone that at first sounds very cool but by the end of the album a nice clean guitar was the only thing I wanted. There are some very nice thrash riffs present but they are few and far between. The leads are nice but also in a very strange guitar tone. The fret work is good and the complexity is top notch. The leads are even chaotic at times like in the song Bladecatcher. To really define the guitar work in simple terms is very hard. The guitars have a massive range on the album itself and are one of the reasons that the album feels very scattered. A solid theme or sound would have been nice to latch onto for at least part of the album.
The bass work blends way too much with the sludge guitars. Once I was able to pick out the bass lines (after a few listens) I could tell that the they were well written but as a fan of bass individuality I found that the bass itself blended in a little too much to be very catchy. The complexity does follow the non-linear feel of the album and that is something interesting.
The drums get on my nerves. Although a very good drummer, I found that Dailor uses WAY too many snare drum fills and once I caught onto that I felt the snare was a very overpowering element on the album. It's a very Mastodon sound they have with the drumming - but I felt that the drums could even be more diverse in their playing. He has the abilities and the intelligence but he seems to even be playing it a little safe by hiding behind his snare fills.
The vocals should be a lot more interesting then they were. Two vocalists that share singing duties usually give the album a nice range in the vocal melodies. As it turns out the two vocalists sound remarkable the same. It took me a long time to decipher which vocal belonged to which singer (with the help of a few music videos might I add) and in the end I still am not sure exactly of who is singing what. I was also disappointed with the "harsh" vocals on the album. Not all the harsh and even though they have more aggression - they sound as if he is trying too hard to be harsh rather than letting his vocals be aggressive.
The lyrics are actually kind of fun. Although I read the story that the album is supposed to be a concept album on, I would have never actually gotten it unless I had read it. The lyrics are sparse and very mysterious. They tend to follow the music well but for telling a story they aren't very descriptive - which is both a blessing and a curse for the album. It fails as a "story-telling album" but succeeds in letting the listener put their two cents into what the lyrics mean.
Overall, Mastodon has released their masterpiece. Following in the vain of their writing and style they have really perfected their sound. But their sound is very strange. The sound is sporatic and sludgy and as an album I feel that it is quite forced. It tries to epic and jazzy a little bit too hard.
Songs to check out: The Wolf is Loose, Colony of Birchmen, Capillarian Crest.
I'll be frank: Blood Mountain MIGHT be a really good album. It's got just the right level of technical flash, songwriting that shows clearly the band knows what they're doing, and a great mix of a whole bunch of different metal styles. Mastodons previous albums had all of these too, and they worked great. What Blood Mountain lacks is memorability. The riffs don't seem quite up to par with those on Remission, the vocals lack the power of Leviathan, and the entire package comes off with a restrained feeling. Blood Mountain is far more accessible, and in many ways less heavy, than the previous two Mastodon albums. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, but unfortunately for me that's the case here.
Upon the first listen of Blood Mountain I could not help but feel something was missing. More listens made me appreciate it more, but never to the high level Leviathan had readied me for. While Mastodon has previously been able to keep fast and furious music going on and on without getting stale, most of the tracks on Blood Mountain meander without really going anywhere. Start with an intro part (usually with Brann Dailor's drumming in the foreground), move into a riff, then chug along for 4-5 more minutes. Throw in random solos and leads here and there and you've got any song from Blood Mountain. Its not a wall of noise but it lacks coherency. The ultimate effect is that the album gets boring about half way through and half way too early.
In spite of this, Blood Mountain is enjoyable. The drumming is excellent as on all of Mastodons material, and the bass is prominent and is not content to follow the guitar parts. Vocals are no where near as aggressive or powerful as Remission or Leviathan, which at times make the album feel somewhat cheap and lacking (particularly on Sleeping Giant). When viewed from the proper perspective - A concept album themed by earth and documenting a journey up a mountain to find a mystical skull - the album became far more interesting, for me at least. Guest vocal appearances by two men whom I greatly admire - Cedric from The Mars Volta & previously At the Drive-In, and Scott Kelly of Neurosis - is definitely a plus, but neither of their potential is used to the extent is could have been. Cedric doing his trademark nonsensical wails would have been far better than the limited part he does on The Siberian Divide.
All in all, Blood Mountain does set out what it wants to do, but it feels like a huge letdown compared to Mastodon's previous material. The album feels a bit like an experiment in a more progressive direction; perhaps the band can next fuse their older sludge style with the new and create something truly unique.
When I first started listening to “heavy” music – which was, interestingly enough, only about 5 or 6 years ago, I was a dirty “hardcore kid.” Better than being an emo kid, I say. Anyway, I was at a stage when I was listening to the heavier offerings of the latter genre – Bleeding Through, As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage – and occasionally sampling some of the earlier metal offerings, such as Sabbath and Maiden. Mastodon’s “Iron Tusk” was the first, truly HEAVY metal song I ever listened to, and readers I must admit I was fully won over. Although now my tastes range far beyond hardcore, and my favorite bands are no longer the previously mentioned ones (rather, they include Nile, Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Neurosis, Death, Behemoth, and Spawn of Possession), that song – and video, which is also amazing – will always have a special place within my memory.
“Leviathan” was an amazing CD, and although I have nearly limitless confidence in Mastodon as a band – how could one not with a band that cites such giants of sound as Neurosis as one of their main influences – I honestly did not think that they could top it. Even though they seemed to be getting better and better – “Remission” was also great, but also very inaccessible and disjointed, as well – “Leviathan” was a nearly-perfect work of conceptual metal. Knowing that these guys were doing the same routine for the next album, I can honestly admit that I had my doubts. Could they still make quality music without it being too derivative of their previous works in both style and idea? Yes, they could – and they damn well did. “Blood Mountain” is not only an incredible album; it is a work of art. I am proud to own it, and you owe it to yourself to share my pride in claiming ownership over this masterpiece.
“Blood Mountain” is astounding in the fact that the band never steps wrong. Ever. There is not a single song that is out of place on this CD, not one track that distracts from the overall ebb and flow – not even the schizophrenic and seemingly drug-induced “Bladecatcher.” Holy FUCKING SHIT is that song ridiculous. So, not only are the songs all great, many (if not most) are standouts for Mastodon as a band; this album contains some of the most praise-worthy work this band has done – and, frankly, will ever do. Among them, “Crystal Skull,” “Sleeping Giant,” “Capillarian Crest,” “Circle of Cysquatch,” “Colony of Birchmen,” “This Mortal Soil,” and “Siberian Divide” all stand out as amazing works; some of the best material ever put out by Mastodon. I was luckily able to obtain the bonus DVD version of the album, – the last copy of either version in the store! – and watching the 45-minute, highly-entertaining “making-of” documentary, you gained a lot of respect for these guys. They all worked their fucking asses off on this album, playing beyond the best of their respective abilities. What they have created, is a truly sublime contribution to the metal community and the music community, as a whole. “Blood Mountain” completely captures the essence of being lost in the wilderness, and all sorts of emotions are evoked by each of the songs – anger, fear, insanity, paranoia, sadness – making it not only a truly captivating listen, but also an extremely moving work, as well.
Mastodon has undoubtedly expanded their musical style on this album, and I use the word “expand” rather than “shift” or “change,” as I fail to see this CD as being a hugely dramatic departure from their previous works. True, most of the harsh screaming and growling vocals have disappeared – and so what? Although I enjoyed them, I enjoy the clean vocals just as much, and I think the more melodic vocal work on this album is truly indicative of the wide span of musicianship that these guys are capable of. Many have accused Mastodon of “selling-out” on “Blood Mountain,” and to those who truly, and honestly believe in their hearts that Mastodon has sold out, I have but one thing to say to you: shut the fuck up. Oh, and you are all retarded, too. (Sorry, two things!) When a band sells out, they compromise their musical integrity for financial accumulation, with the intent of acquiring a more mainstream fan base. Although I could receive shit for this, I do not believe that Mastodon is any more accessible on “Blood Mountain” than they were on “Remission.” Watching the doc, it is clear that they integrated clean vocals with harsh growls because, as Brent Hinds states, it “sounded better” in that case. Mastodon is still as puzzling as ever – the lyrics are bizarre, the themes are far-fetched, fantastical, and most likely have no place among the same crowd that listens to Angels and Airwaves. I honestly like the evolution that Mastodon has taken here, showing advancement in musicality and maturation of the band as a whole.
Speaking of musicality, holy shit. This is, quite simply, some of the best guitar work I have ever heard. The drums are less frenetic on this album than the others – showcasing the increased focus of the band – but no less technical or astounding. Brann Dailor is an incredible drummer. Troy Sanders discusses (in the doc) his heightened confidence about his work on this album, and that is a very accurate assessment. The guitars and drums clearly dominate over the Troy in several areas, but his baseline is far more audible, and sufficient props must be given to him for his improvement and dedication. As I said before, the guitars are amazing; Brent and Bill play the shit out of their axes, and I’m honestly amazed that they are able to memorize all of the notes. Incredible work by all of the guys, bravo.
I guess in the end what truly matter is how it all comes together. Like I said, “Remission” was a mess, and although “Leviathan” was far better, it sounded too much like “Remission” (not a bad thing, though!). What “Blood Mountain” did for me, few other albums have done. It evokes the feelings of dread and anxiety one experiences when faced with the impossible (in this case, a treacherous mountain ascent). It is not only a stunning album; it is disturbing, as well. You feel at times like you’re not even listening to a work of music – rather you are listening to a perilous adventure story akin to the ones your father or grandfather told you in your youth. What an amazing CD.
I own Remission, which I can't say I enjoyed very much; and I own Leviathan, which I thought had several great ideas but was ultimately plagued by some horrible flaws. I never agreed with all the hysteria regarding Mastodon being the saviors of heavy metal and whatnot (and I still don't), and consequently I haven't really been keeping up with the band. So, it wasn't exactly to my surprise when Blood Mountain was released and praise for the band had apparently grown exponentially within the week... same old sludgy stoner metal, I thought.
Going on the whole elements thing, Blood Mountain is focused around earth. I'm not entirely sure what Mastodon were going for here, but it involves a guy making his way up a mountain, facing all sorts of trials on the way in the form of various fantastical beasts, and reaching some sort of enlightenment in the end. Not as cheesy as it may sound.
The first major point of difference involves the vocals. No longer are they inconsequential like in Remission, nor are they the mostly vomit-inducing garbage found on Leviathan. They're at the forefront of the mix and play an important role. Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders sounds sort of like a soaring Josh Homme from Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age (who has a guest appearance here), and guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds tries his best to blatantly rip off Neurosis' Scott Kelly (who, coincidentally, also has a guest appearance here), but doesn't really succeed. Or maybe it's the other way around... I'm not 100% sure who sings what. An amusing thing is the sometimes negative impact that otherwise great guest vocals have here - notably Scott Kelly's appearance on the second track "Crystal Skull". He comes in midway through the song with that powerful roar that he's so well known for... and ends up totally embarrassing Troy and Brent when they come back into the fray afterwards. It reminds me of what happened on "Blood and Thunder" off of Leviathan, when Neil Fallon of Clutch came in to sing his part and consequently made the Mastodon boys sound utterly trivial and weak in comparison. Regardless, the vocals here are far improved over anything Mastodon displayed in the past... except for the robotic vocal effects used on "Circle of Cysquatch", which are remarkably awful.
The next (or actually, this should have probably been the first) thing you notice is drummer Brann Dailor. What the fuck. This guy has always walked a fine line between righteous drumming and unnecessary hyperactivity... and on Blood Mountain, I think he has finally crossed it. He constantly traverses his relatively small kit with incredible speed, throwing in fill, after fill, after fill, after fill, after fill. In fact, you probably wouldn't be too far off base if you said that some of the songs on here are comprised completely of fills. I'm not trying to put Dailor's talent down or anything, it's just that he tends to overindulge himself quite often on this album. A lot of the fills are fucking great though, like on "Siberian Divide" - holy crap is that song amazing. There's also a lot of groove to be found here, and a good level of diversity. "Sleeping Giant" features some beautiful and extremely fluid drumming throughout the introductory passage and again somewhere towards the middle... I was surprised and pretty damn impressed.
The riffing has taken a few steps up... sounds like Bill Kelilher finally remembered his technical death days in Lethargy. Phew. I'm not going to go through all the great riffs that exist on this album, as there are a lot of them, but suffice it to say that just about every song has something exceptional to offer in that respect (except for maybe "Bladecatcher", which has some weird King Crimson-esque noodling and nothing that's very riff-oriented). There are also a few guitar solos thrown around and several extended instrumental interludes, all of which actually amount to a refreshing development in Mastodon's sound.
An exceptional release, all in all.
Atlanta-product Mastodon has made some big waves within the metal scene in the past years with their debut Remission and colossal follow-up Leviathan. Mastodon, branded as playing ‘progressive sludge’ by critics, breaks the mold by adding more influences to their musical repertoire than just the fused elements of doom and hardcore. The band stated that they wanted to start a "prog-revolution" with the new album, but did they really mean it? They certainly did.
Mastodon chose to utilize the same ingredients to make Blood Mountain as they did with Leviathan. They used the same studio, same producer, and same lineup. Though using the same formula, they created something entirely unlike their previous works. With Blood Mountain, Mastodon has built off of the progressive elements from Leviathan, as well as improved on their songwriting and vocal-work.
Though the new album is different, Mastodon still has the same sound; crushing guitar riffs, Brann Dailor's signature million-fills jazzy drumming, and the blending of acoustic and electric guitar. Playing the first track of the CD, I was expecting a mid-tempo, simple riff to get things started, similar to the start of Leviathan. Instead, the first track, entitled ‘The Wolf Is Loose’, throws at us Dailor drumming the hell out of his set, warning us that the path up to Blood Mountain is not going to be a stroll in the park.
Songs like ‘Capillarian Crest’ and ‘Circle of Cysquatch’ really show off Mastodon’s technical ability with time shifts, tempo changes, and blazing-fast guitar solos. On the other hand, songs like ‘Sleeping Giant’, ‘Hunters of the Sky’, and ‘Siberian Divide’ revert to the band’s sludge metal roots with slow and extremely heavy rhythms. Nevertheless, each song contains flawless guitar work, progressive instrumental sequences, and clear production.
Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders displays a variety of vocal techniques throughout the album. Sanders’ clean vocals in Blood Mountain are more present than in the previous two albums. That's not to say that the gruff growls are gone, as almost all tracks are full of them. On occasion, you will hear guitarist Brent Hinds bellowing to the sky, like a cursed fisherman lost at sea; a characteristic taken from Leviathan, which in fact was influenced by the novel ‘Moby Dick’. Blood Mountain also features various guest vocalists, such as Cedric Bixler-Zavala (ex-At the Drive-in, The Mars Volta) and Joshua Homme (ex-Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age).
True, Mastodon has given us a variety of fresh and catchy riffs with Blood Mountain, but the real praise is given for how well the riffs flow together. Each line seemingly feeds off the other, one paving the way for the next. Once you start nodding your head to one riff, another comes into play, continually competing for a spot in your head.
Mastodon has pulled the best elements from southern rock, hardcore, sludge, death, thrash, and progressive, and has blended them all together into a musical journey titled Blood Mountain. Mastodon’s continual pushing the envelope of metal may soon place them among the top American metal bands, and perhaps spark a new wave of progressive metal.
Originally written for Texas A&M’s student newspaper, The Battalion
With this album, I think Mastodon has become one of my favorite bands ever. They just keep getting better and better by each album. Remission kicked ass, I fell in love with Leviathan and now Blood Mountain blew me away.
I remember the first time I heard the first riff of the first song in Leviathan, I Am Ahab. At that very second I knew I was going to love this. I had the exact same feeling when I heard the drum intro in the the first song of Blood Mountain, The Wolf is Loose. And I was certainly not let down.
Mastodon just keeps expanding it's horizons. The albums keep getting more technical, but the band doesen't loose the point of the show anywhere along the way. The vision is strong and even with all the trippy breakdowns and complex flowing songs, the album keeps everything together. And it never forgets to groove! There are some fucking awesome riffs on this album. I don't think there is even one bad or even mediocre riff on this album. Each and every one of the riffs are needed and in their right place. I don't think I've felt something like this after Dark Angel's - Darkness Descends.
I've heard some bad words about the vocals, and they sure are a bit different than in Leviathan and Remission. But after a few spins of the cd, you just forget about it and realize how well they fit the more evolved sound. And it's not really a radical change at all. This is still 100% Mastodon up your ass.
What more can I say? I guess the only con on this album is that the ending song, Pendelous Skin, isn't as good as an ender as Joseph Merrick is in Leviathan. But the opening riff of Circle Cysquatch more than makes up for this, as I think this is probably in the top5 of "The Most Badass Riffs Ever"
I know my review just sounds like full of hype and I bet everyone of you are thinking "it can't be that good" Well, it just is. When all the old timers these days say "Oh, remember when we smoked pot and listened to Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd just kicks ass" Well, when I'm old I'm gonna remember the times I listened to Mastodon.
The wolf is truly loose.