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Mastodon Instrumentals? - 84%

HeWhoIsInTheWater, December 12th, 2010

Now I have done myself the favor of not seeing Jonah Hex, the 80’s action B movie gone big screen terribly wrong, so I am not sure how this fits into the movie. However, Mastodon does a nice job of giving us some relatively simple instrumentals that do in fact have more to it. I was a bit disappointed with “Crack the Skye” considering how much I loved “Remission”, but this was a step back that style.

Mastodon doing instrumentals has never really occurred to me, as they are far from invoking a long instrumental section on many of their albums. A lot of atmosphere that was used on “Crack the Skye” came from psychedelic vocals, while here they need to accomplish that and more without that. For the most part, they do.

Some songs on here provide vivid imagery (Clayton Boys and Indian Theme), while others are better looked at as an individual song. Those songs styled with atmosphere and ambiance that brings about images are very short, and don’t contain that trademark progressive rock aspect that is now Mastodon’s niche. The guitars are very mellow and for once, the drumming takes a backseat to melody. The other songs don’t really fit in as backdrop music, but rather as instrumentals that are songs that simply lack vocals. I am admittedly not too big on this idea, as I find Dream Theater instrumentals and ambient metal very intriguing by trying to comprehend what they are trying to symbolize through music.

Now songs like Death March and Train Assault are very good songs, but they are not good instrumentals by my definition. Train Assault has very rigid chorus and refrain song structures, while Death March is overloaded with doom metal influences. The latter was interesting because, while not a great song, shows me a side of Mastodon that I really am not familiar with. It is also on these styled songs that Dailor makes his presence known, which is welcomed from his relative absence on the other tracks. His drumming is what you expect from him and does not disappoint.

As I’ve said, there are two distinct parts to the album. Disregarding the two opening tracks, as the alternative versions are vastly improved with background solos, the organization makes sense. Indian Theme leads in with some detailed imagery and then Train Assault and Death March hit hard as more mainstream instrumentals and Clayton Boys close us out with…acoustic guitar? That was something featured here that I have not heard Mastodon use.

The guitars range from bland to interesting, while some are just plain slow. There is not any consistency there on this short lsiten, but I suppose working with the time constraints of a shorter album, you do not have that kind of leeway. Bass does not come through with maddening tremolo picking as it has on so many other Mastodon releases, which disappoints me, but you can’t get everything you want.

The lack of vocals on this mini album makes it a good deal more listenable than “Crack the Skye”, but it does come off as rather bland. There are many spots where they could have done more, but it simply does not go anywhere. However, it is a soundtrack and out of the box for Mastodon, so credit must be given there. Death March shows a different side and Train Assault does some nice heavy riffing, but this is not a must buy. If you like repetitive instrumentals like me, go for it.

Genius, Frustrated - 40%

FullMetalAttorney, November 17th, 2010

When I first saw the trailers for the movie Jonah Hex, I thought it looked like an expertly assembled trailer for an awful-looking movie. Turns out, it's a box office bomb. I seem to have kind of a good sense for that, as I thought the same about certain other Megan Fox movies with cool trailers that turned out to be awful. The woman has never been in a good movie.

I will probably get the movie on Netflix, though, and that's for one reason alone: Mastodon did the music.

But there's an awful story to go behind that one. Apparently, they had to do the music a second time, since the scenes they did it for ended up on the cutting floor. (I thought you weren't supposed to score a movie until after it was fully edited.) The Wikipedia article describes things well:

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The new soundtrack was taken in a "more restrained, subtle" musical direction—contrasting the original version which had been described as "pretty heavy" with "vigorous shredding."

While Mastodon had originally described the process of composing a soundtrack in October 2009 as "very pure, it was real creative and totally spur of the moment" and expected "nothing in return but satisfaction in being a part of something incredible," the band found it frustrating to have to rewrite a new score and start from scratch. According to guitarist Brent Hinds, who was disappointed about having to start over, "It was some of the best shit I've ever written in my life. Now I'm just trying to finish with as much patience as possible."

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So, what we are left with is the frustrated and pissed-off remnants of genius forced to start from scratch and do the same thing over again on a very limited timetable.

Given that backstory, the results are surprisingly listenable. As it is intended as a movie score, it comes off as atmospheric sludge metal (or maybe post-metal in the original meaning of that term). The EP opens rather poorly, with a nearly nine-minute, highly atmospheric track called "Death March". It's honestly pretty dull. (I'm sure it sounds good in the background of the movie, but to just listen to it isn't worthwhile.) After that, the next three tracks are much shorter and faster-paced, and get progressively better. A slightly longer alternate version of "Death March" follows, with some very interesting lead guitar work unlike anything I've heard. It ends with an alternate version of "Clayton Boys", the best thing on the album, which also has a lot of the strange lead guitar work.

The Verdict: It is a bit disappointing that they had to release something that wasn't what they wanted to release. I only hope the other stuff will see the light of day at some point, and I have a feeling it will end up on a boxed set.

Overall, I have to recommend this only to dedicated Mastodon fans (like myself). Despite that, the last two tracks alone (the alternate versions) make it worth the very cheap price tag--or, if nothing else, a download of just those two.

originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/