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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).