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Many metalheads and critics consider Leviathan to be Mastodon's magnum opus. I see their point as it is a very creative and inspired album, however there's something more polished and finished here than the raw energy of Leviathan. Rather than feeling as if you are far out in the ocean hundreds of feet below the surface, you feel as if you are following a primitive man on a hunt through a mythical, prehistoric forest.
The band's songwriting is premium here as every note belongs. From the fast, technical riffs of 'Crystal Skull' and 'Capillarian Crest' to the chaos of 'Bladecatcher' and even to the moments of beauty, 'This Mortal Soil', everything is original and done well. The lyrics are not the highlight of the album, but they fulfill their purpose by supporting the imagery and concept - "hunter, gatherer/ridden from the cave". The vocals are nice, although I don't consider them to be excellent by any means.
One of the things that is showcased on this album from beginning to end are the interweaving guitar harmonies. Now, there are many bands in all types of metal that employ this technique. What many metal bands concentrate on is shredding as fast as humanly possible or playing a handful of palm-muted grooves. What Mastodon does differently is focus on melody while also being innovative instead of using the same formula over and over.
Critics of this album often complain about the band's drummer, Brann Dailor. His style is chaotic and maybe even ridiculous at times, and I understand that, but I think that's what individualizes him, even placing him in the same category as Danny Carey. Dailor is the driving force of the music, his drumming leading the band into more interesting territory, at least on the faster songs. His fills add a new facet to every song while never leaving the other instruments in his wake. Mastodon would be an entirely different band without him.
Mastodon's skill at painting pictures with their music is strong here. Even during the first few seconds of the album during 'The Wolf Is Loose', the protagonist is being chased through the trees. This motif is continued through nearly every song. In 'Colony of Birchmen', he is slaying the beasts that attack him, but feels remorse. As this character ascends the mountain, new threats face him, his supplies are low, and he begins to freeze to death. As the album ends, our hero breathes his last breath and the heavens beckon him to enter their warm, inviting realm, and he sails away.