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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.