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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