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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.