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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.