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I actually began listening to Mastodon when Remission was just released, and the band had most certainly garnered some attention, but nothing substantive and nothing they can carve a career out of. Remission was everything I wanted in a modern heavy metal album - it was fast, truculently defiant, fast and above all - the riffs just kicked ass. Metal had, in some ways, begun dying out for me.
The first thing that got me to start listening to this album was the artwork. Mastodon have a reputation for releasing brightly colored covers. This album has, by far, the best artwork I have ever seen on a heavy metal record. I confess to not really understanding what it means, I know there is a strong reference to Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but the artwork as a whole is beyond majestic - it is something I am not accustomed to seeing coming out of a heavy metal band.
Onto the actual music on this record. Now that I've approached it with an open ear, I can make a far more convincing case as to why this is something you should purchase. First of all, this is most certainly a very raw but refined record. Mastodon have always had clear, unbelievably good production for a band that played music this heavy - but this is some of the best recording I have heard from them, even if it is a little chaotic. The guitar sounds harsh and pierces the ear, and unlike Remission, the bass is completely audible.
Also unlike Remission, Brann Dailor doesn't completely dominate the music. Remission lacks one thing that is so important to rock music, structure, and in part this was perpetrated by the virtuosic, emphatically elaborate drumming. However, sometimes you just wished Brann could hold a beat, and on this record he most certainly does so. Some songs do remind you heavily of the way Remission was written, "Island" being the best example of this, but the songs have a conventional pattern, rather than the youthful exuberance which carried the band through their earlier material, there is real maturity here. It is still quite raw heavy metal, but reserved and intelligible. There is a drawback to this, the record might not offer the same level of complexity that some fans might have expected, and a certain element of predictably lurks within, but nothing redundant. In fact, because the band have composed such brilliant riffs, alternating vocals and tight melody - the record never gets boring - but you need several listens to truly appreciate it.
The singing here is another notable departure from Remission, where the emphasis was on brutality rather than melody. Songs like "Naked Burn", "Blood and Thunder" and "Seabeast" have some down to earth, clean vocals which sound like something out of a hard rock record, a most sincere and positive change on this record - and reflects a deeper philosophy the band seemed to have; balance. On Remission, everything was fast paced or heavy, whilst here they've diversified significantly - it is definitely more accessible, but by no means a commercial record.
To conclude this review, this is a must have record for any genuine heavy metal fan. Remission was a classic, unbelievably genuine and brilliantly written album - but its not for everyone. This record broadens the horizons for Mastodon, and is certainly geared towards incorporating numerous traditional elements of heavy metal which have made this band the best modern metal group there is.
So while Remission gave Mastodon some mainstream recognition (being released on Relapse certainly helped, and "March of the Fire Ants" received decent rotation on music channels), it's really hard to debate that their real breakthrough album was anything other than Leviathan. If you watched Fuse or listened to any hard rock/metal radio station or used internet radio or anything of the sort back in 2004, there was no escaping "Blood and Thunder" or "Iron Tusk". This shit was ubiquitous, no doubt about it. And that's great and all, I thought Remission was pretty decent but had a few issues with overlong stoner jams, so seeing that Leviathan only has one track I could consider to be of a long length (though it's twice as long as the longest track on the previous album) filled me with some rare optimism.
Long story short, yeah this definitely fixed my biggest problem with Mastodon's debut. Gone are the overly dragging, droning, no-seriously-guys-we're-totally-a-prog-band jams ("Hearts Alive" not withstanding), replaced almost entirely with those mid to fast paced rockers I enjoyed so much. Paradoxically, the hardcore influence has been toned down dramatically as well. I still won't be upset at somebody labeling this album or the band as a metalcore band, but the noisy chaos is much more reined in this time around, with the riffwork being more controlled and precise. It's more melodic on the whole as well, and is absolutely loaded with dueling harmonized lead lines, which eventually became one of the band's trademarks, if you ask me. One element that was retained, thankfully, was Dailor's completely overdone yet charismatic drumming. I understand why people hate this guy, but I personally adore his buttnards, fill-happy technique. It gives the band identity (oh they're the band with the Shokan meth-head drummer, right?) and keeps the songs moving forward. Mastodon is no stranger to the stoner metal tendency of repeating riffs far more often than they'd logically need to be repeated, but with Dailor's nonstop filling, it makes the music go by without dragging on, and that's wholly welcome.
Now then, if the stoner jams are toned down and the progginess is toned down and the hardcore is toned down, doesn't that mean we have a much more restrained and bland album on our hands? In a way, kind of. This is certainly much less off-the-wall than its predecessor, but I look at it as more "homogenized" or "focused" than "bland across the board". To me, Remission had a ton of ideas, and only half of them really stuck, whereas Leviathan is the band learning from that experience and instead funneling their songwriting talents into the shorter, punchier tracks this time around. There are remnants of that early fire here and there, with "Hearts Alive" being a thirteen minute jam, taking nearly all of the leftover elements they kept from shoehorning into the other songs and just cramming them all into one track. The slight bluesy elements rear their heads occasionally as well ("Megalodon" is the most blatant example) and "Island" gets a giant helping of that chaotic noise that the rest of the album manages to shy away from. But for the most part, this is a much more focused and song oriented effort, jam packed with memorable riffs and melodies.
However, there is one major, major issue that began on this album and would plague the band for the rest of their career. That would be the fucking Mudvayne vocals. I have no idea how I'm apparently the only person who hears the Chad Gray impression in the clean vocals, but if you can't hear it in "Naked Burn", then I have no idea what to tell you. I get that Mastodon is a cool band and Mudvayne is a lame one so there's no way you can ever compare something good to something bad, but even huge opponents of the band who will find anything crazy to say about how much they suck and are a blight on the landscape of heavy metal seem to think I'm off my rocker with that comparison. It only becomes more prevalent with subsequent releases, apparently due to the vocalist(s) blowing out his/their voice(s) and being unable to scream anymore, which is a shame but the point stands that the dirty croon of the clean vocals remind me of fucking Mudvayne so it can be distracting sometimes.
But other than that and the production being more polished (which normally doesn't bother me but it comparison to Remission this sounds kind of tame) and the songs being much less dense and heavy than before (thanks to the band abandoning the old tunings), Leviathan manages to be a good improvement upon its predecessor. Where Remission had clear standouts ("Crusher Destroyer", "March of the Fire Ants", "Burning Man") and clear weak points ("Trilobite", "Ole' Nessie", "Trainwreck"), Leviathan stands as a more consistently enjoyable effort, with the only low point being the needlessly overlong "Hearts Alive". Sorry guys, but you just are not as good at this long, drawn out epic style than you are at the short, to the throat rockers.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
This albums release is the time of which Mastodon more or less started getting more and more recognition in the metal scene. Indeed, listening to this album a few times will make you realize just why it did; the consistent flow of the album really makes the listener get hooked to it beginning to end, but at the same time there’s enough new stuff to recognize each listen that it takes a very long time for the album to get old. That was one of the major flaws that Mastodon had with Remission; on that album, there were clear highlights but also clear filler, and while it was a good album it was far more inconsistent than Leviathan in sheer quality. I can listen to Leviathan beginning to end and not get bored once; Remission I need to skip a few tracks in order to get to the good stuff.
That being said, the overall flow Leviathan has that Remission wasn’t able to have lends Leviathan one particular advantage; it’s ability to manageably reveal its part in the “elements” theme that Mastodon finally finished with Crack the Skye. In fact, Mastodon’s illustration of water (the element obviously to be depicted on this album) shines not only in comparison to Remission, but all of the albums they’ve done. That’s not to say that the later albums were completely void of the elements they were to represent, but you can tell Mastodon really tried to incorporate the “water” theme into this album. I mean; just look at the album cover. The huge splashing waves with a magnificent looking Sperm Whale dipping its large head out of them, practically crushing a ship in half; if that image right there doesn’t make you think “I wonder if this album has any water themed material in it” then I don’t know what will. (as a side note- the album cover of Leviathan is by far my favorite one of theirs so far. Its definite influence from the romantic era really sticks out compared to the rest of their album covers). If familiarized with Moby Dick, the album artwork should make you wonder if Leviathan has a strong influence from the tale, of which you would be correct. All the lyrics are heavily influenced by Herman Melville’s epic novel, and it’s done very well. Songs like I Am Ahab have lyrics that practically paraphrase pages from the novel, even mixing around quotes from the book. The lyrics are ultimately standard metal lyrics, but if you’ve read the novel reading the lyrics may be of interest to you.
But Leviathan wouldn’t be able to express the Melville perspective of water just on lyrics alone. Unlike most concept albums these days that carry the concept in the lyrics alone, the general concept of water/Moby Dick is carried in the instruments as well. Mastodon musically writes Leviathan’s concepts in a very sludgy kind of way. Nothing on this album is taken at really fast speeds, or at supreme technicality. Its riffs are very catchy, rhythmically groovy, and may even get stuck in your head for a long while. However, this is rather interesting because Leviathans drumming is quite different. It’s not handled under 180 BPM blast beats or some really restrained rhythm friendly drum beats. The drumming is more in the realm of grindcore, almost reminding me of Lykathea Aflame, Wormed, or even some of Cynics drumming. It creates an odd backing to the guitars, almost painting a picture that shows everything on the surface as slow moving, but underneath more going on than you know. Many people find this to be their main frustration with the album, but the drumming in the album is what really sold the album for me because it puts unexpectedness over what’s expected- meaning that you always get a general feeling of how the guitars are going to play, but that won’t always be the case with the drums. The vocals are almost like the drums in that regard, as Mastodon varies the vocal style throughout the entire album. Leviathan still employs screaming more than Mastodon’s later albums, but it’s not always the same. The screams for the most part sound like a typical sludge metal kind of scream in the vein of Neurosis or Isis, but there’s more than a few moments where they decide to change things up a bit. The most apparent change is in Aqua Dementia when the band decides to use a more high pitched vocal sound in a few sections.
Unfortunately, Leviathan still has some very minor problems with it. For one, it feels like the guitars are at times restraining their creativity. This is especially true with the first track Blood and Thunder; though very simple, after a few listens to it there’s a bit of me that makes me think they could have done something more to it. The outro track Joseph Merrick feels like this to. It doesn’t feel well rehearsed, almost like they whipped the parts of it together really fast. It’s not bad, but it could have certainly been done a lot better.
Leviathan was Mastodon’s huge stepping stone into the metal world. Yeah; it didn’t transcend into other realms of music like their later albums do, but it sure as hell got them enough recognition to even be signed to a major record label. It also was the first sludge album for me, getting me into more bands of the similar sound like Isis or Cult of Luna, so if you want to start venturing into the sludge sound, this is where I recommend starting.
Though hyped up something big by the mainstream media, I have taken Mastodon for what they are: a sludgy metalcore/groove metal band in the 21st century. Naturally, since they do lean in the realm of technical music and sound slightly better than most of the metalcore scene today, they've been hyped as some kind of metal messiah in the new millenium. We pretty much heard the exact same thing over bands like Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God a few years ago, both of whom have yet to live up to the hype.
I've spent some time collecting my thoughts on this band, taking them at face value and ignoring their overrated status. My conclusion is the same so many already have come to, and that this band managed to find an audience in the mainstream media, apparently coming in with a slightly different variation of the modern metalcore scene. While nothing about this is ordinarily bad, it won them unnecessary praise. They did this by securing a niche of mainstream listeners whose minds were so malnourished by the saturation of cookie cutter metalcore that the slightest change of pace instantly became a hit. Some could argue the exact same thing occured when The Sword became a new "pioneering" force in the world of stoner/doom metal with "The Age of Winters," despite being little more than a middle of the road album in that genre.
In the case of Mastodon, I have little use for their material, this including taking a few spins on "Crack the Skye," which was money horribly wasted on my part. This band's other albums have come and gone in my collection, the only one I decided to keep was this one in "Leviathan." This album manages to save itself from the gritty metalcore wasteland that this band has built themselves on by actually moving away from what made "Remission" as pleasing as surgery without anathesia. For one, Brann Dailor does tone it down a little on his carefree drumming extravaganza. He does manage to pull a straight beat out of his ass on occasion, but this is still the exception rather than the rule.
As for the vocals, they can be downright nerve racking at times though I'm not overly offended by whats going on here. This isn't a vocal driven album, which works all the more to Mastodon's advantage, giving way to some memorable riffs here and there leading to some memorable songs. Songs like "I am Ahab," "Aqua Dementia," and "Iron Tusk" are actually quite enjoyable, minus the nonsense behind the drumkit, and "Megalodon" throws in some halfway decent up-tempo work. Naturally, there are some songs here that are mostly forgettable to downright grating. "Seabeast" is a good example, which some have alluded to as a messy collage of meandering ideas and I'd have to completely agree. The other serious downer is "Heart's Alive," a song I may be uncertified to actually comment on as I cannot sit through this song in its entirety. Its been said already, but it bears repeating that a band like Mastodon has absolutely no business writing long winded songs in an attempt to score an epic.
While its mired by the usual flaws of this highly overrated band, "Leviathan" is still pretty enjoyable at times. I tended to like about half of these songs, and they remain the only songs I can really tolerate from this band. They've already put out two albums since this release, and both of them show no signs of recreating what enjoyable elements are present here. As far as I'm concerned, Mastodon have long worn out their welcome and have reduced themselves to a slightly more tolerable version of modern metalcore, and given the crap-tastic state of that scene, this isn't saying much. Anyone interested in this band either needs to hang up their hopes on these guys or look into this album, and this album alone. Simply forget the others exist, as this is only one worth your time. If you must get a hold of some Mastodon, I picked up "Leviathan" for $6 and thats about as high as one should go.
Why Mastodon receive the hype they do is really beyond me. I mean, I just don't get it. Every respectable metal magazine/website gave this album such high praise, almost to the point of, "if you do not own this, you do not like metal". So, after debating with myself for a time, I picked up a used copy at my local CD store. I sold it back to that very store about a week later.
"Leviathan", as you may know, is a concept album based on the book "Moby Dick". This is a very cool concept, as I do not believe the subject matter has been tackled very much, if at all before. The downside is that such a concept does not work well at all with a band like Mastodon.
This album has been called progressive, but I have to disagree with this. I mean there are no doubt prog elements in this disc, but overall, it is not a progressive record. Anyone slapping the "progressive metal" label on this disc either heard one slightly prog passage and jumped to conclusions, or just plain did not have a clue. Come on guys, Coheed and Cambria are more prog than this. It takes more than a sloppily thrown together concept album and a song lasting over 8 minutes ("Hearts Alive") to be accurately described progressive.
The band members are undeniably capable at handling their instruments of choice, but don't really showcase the full potential they seem to have. Instead, they seem content sticking to a comfortable formula throughout. The guitars riffs just chug along for about three fourths of each song, and just when you think something cool is about to happen, it doesn't. You will also forget every one of the riffs as soon as you leave this disc. There are no real solos here, just slight change-ups from the main riff that add nothing to the songs. The drums are also pretty bland and the constant fills get on my nerves. Don't get me wrong, the drummer is easily the most talented one, but someone needs to tell him to cut back on the fills. Seriously, this guy is an attention whore behind the kit. This may work better in a live environment, but on a CD it becomes tiresome. The horrid vocals have no real melody or rhythm sense, and are placed on top of all this. Nearly all of the tracks die as soon as the vocals start up. Its like they threw the vocalist bare-ass into a bathtub filled with broken glass and hot sauce and put instrumentals behind all his screaming and grunting. Honestly, an album dealing with "Moby Dick" should have had some epic vocals, not this trash. The lyrics, if you can actually decipher them, are very unimaginative and do no justice to the subject matter. Just take the lyrics for "I am Ahab" for instance:
"There's magic in the water that attracts all men
Across hills and down streams
The turning of the tide
Light cloud rain drive on
13 years to this day red planet aligned
Into sight 60,000 years of light
Fascination with a mountain put to sea
Built to slay and conquer
All with teeth of beasts"
Yeah, they are pretty bad. Not that bad lyrics have stopped other albums from being great in the past, but put the mediocre lyrics on top of everything else and tell me it doesn't make the entire affair even worse.
The band's knowledge of song structure seems average at best, and that may be giving them too much credit. The songs start out strong, but never progress, and they become truly monotonous around the halfway point. The instrumentals, as previously mentioned, lack the variation needed to keep the songs interesting. That being said, my listening of "Hearts Alive" was the most bored I was in all of that particular year.
The mastodon was a big, hairy, elephant-like creature that went extinct during the ice age. They were not fast, aggressive, or very powerful. They looked tough, but really weren't, and they could not adapt to change. Perhaps the name this band chose for themselves is more accurate than they knew.
Maybe they are better than I give them credit for, but if this is the case, they need to change their delivery. I can only judge them for what I have heard, and what I heard was plain boring. Not only was it boring, it was also cheesy, annoying, and forgettable. Not one thing on this record is groundbreaking in any way, no matter what you may have heard. The only reason I give this disc a 35 percent, is because this is easily the best Mastodon release to date, and the album cover is pretty badass.
"Leviathan" has been described by many as a progressive metal record. This can be regarded as true if you look at it this way: Mastodon play their own music (which is heavy, very heavy) and bring into it influences that they draw from the 60's and 70's progressive rock. I want to give my opinion on this here point before I give you the reasons for the high rating because I've heard too many complaints already from progressive metal lovers who expected some Dream Theater kind of stuff from this band and didn't get it, then went and nagged about it. My point is that, in order to understand and (then eventually) love this album (and this band) one MUST have a solid 60's-70's prog-rock background or chances are he's going to feel misguided.
Besides the fact that I don't really like modern progressive metal because I think there's just as much feeling in it as I hear when my dishwasher is on, and that's another difference, one BEYOND the music, that sets Mastodon apart from modern progressive bands. This guys put their hearts and guts into it, not only their brains and musical knowledge. And sure to me it's much more interesting to hear a drummer like Brann Dailor going totally fucking insane on his drum kit with the urge of an hungry wild animal looking for blood that those plastic progressive drummers (Mike Portnoy, anybody?) all they do is indulge in those boring odd-time signatures where you barely know when the riff starts and when it ends and then give you the usual fucking roll and a bang to let you know when to clap... But let's cut the crap and get down to the songs that rocked my socks that morning of June 2005.
I had a chance to listen to "Blood And Thunder" a few weeks before I bought this Cd, watched the video on a compilation DVD I got from a magazine; I thought it was a silly funny video but the song was great! Ferocious up-tempo rock'n'roll with an Iron-Maiden-on-speed kind of break that put such a grin on my face… I got the weirdest looks even from my band-mates who were there with me. Everybody agreed it was an awesome song and a band definitely worth checking out. So, I went and bought the Cd, listened to it and got a sound thrashin'! After the first listen, I ended up thinking that "Blood And Thunder" was actually my least favourite song? I had to. This album grows like a monster, like the "Seabeast", from the depths of the fictional ocean it's set in, and grabs you by the balls and starts squeezin'. Throughout the triptych "I am Ahab"-"Seabeast"-"Island" melody and ferocity walk side by side. Talk about beauty and the beast, that's both.
I don't exactly know why but when I first heard the opening riff to "Iron Tusk" I immediately thought about Opeth. Can anyone explain that to me? Another great song, a little too short maybe, but absolutely enjoyable. On this one, and especially on "Megalodon", Brann Dailor shines and rules like never before. Notable the weird, yet very tasty, country guitar break that introduces the second, more aggressive part of the song, courtesy of Brent Hinds' not forgotten past spent as leader of the rockabilly band Fiend Without A Face.
After the relatively more relaxed and melody-driven episode Naked Burn, that can be seen as the calm before the storm, an unbelievably inspired guitar-drum double attack crashes on the listener like waves on a rocky shore in a stormy day introducing the amazing "Aqua Dementia". The uncontrollable stream of notes wrecks your ship, nothing you can do about it, as the song turns into an apocalyptic punk attack that kicks you far away from safe shores. As the chugging ending riff fades away, along with Scott Kelly's last abominable scream, your senses slowly come back... only to realize that you sank with the wreck of your ship and you're now up for one last claustrophobic nightmare. And you better be ready for this one, because it's going to be a long one...
"Hearts Alive" contains the best 13 minutes of heavy music I’ve heard since Neurosis’ "Through Silver In Blood". It's the best way to wrap up an album as adventurous and mystical as this one and one of the most beautiful progressive metal (by now you should know what I mean by it) compositions ever. Daring, intuitive, free-spirited improvisation of both drums and guitars build up slowly but inevitably to the album's epitaph: a guitar solo worthy of Jimmy Page followed by a crushing, menacing riff that can only lead to a long, agonizing fall into the depths of the god sea.
That is the end of the line. If you've been a careful listener all hope to regain your senses must now be gone and all you can do is float away and let the dream-like melodies of "Joseph Merrick" carry your drifting remains to a safe place where silence reigns and it's all that matters. Yes, that's exactly the way I feel when I come upon something this great and it unfortunately ends: nothing can match what I've just heard, then I'd rather enjoy the silence.
Starting off, Mastodon are progressive in a way that they are expanding on their own sludge and groove boundaries with new and interesting guitar and lyrical ideas. Not in a super crazy instrumental way (well, except for Brann Dailor, holy shit).
Anyways, the album starts off with the utterly fantastic Blood and Thunder. A monster that gets the Moby Dick based epic on its way with a super distorted, sludgy guitar tone and a small collective of well placed riffs, harmonies, and lead lines.
The groove is apparent, supplied by Troy's monolithic bass sound and vocals, and Brann's ability to make drum patterns out of fills and insane cymbal work, a la Neil Peart. The guitars have a very strange approach. Mixing in groove/thrash riffing apparent on most of the songs, sludgy power chord dirges, and semi-clean almost banjo-sounding licks the guitars are formidable in versatility and heaviness. The harmonies range from basic Maiden-style to slightly grungier, darker harmonies.
The songs are all short, minus the somewhat disappointing epic Hearts Alive, and are all killer, no filler. Seriously, every song on this album has its own groove and crunch, its own soul. Especially the highlight of the album, Megalodon, where the song stays in a standard formula, then switches to pseudo-thrash riff with those aforementioned banjo-licks separating them. Then the song finishes off with a finishing blow that was too quick, and could've been longer.
The guitar duo of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher are really a sight to behold (or a listen?). Mixing sludge metal, hardcore, groove metal and southern rock is not a super easy task, and they definitely perform that combination well. As stated before, the album's guitar work generates a riff-filled energy reminiscent of thrash metal and hardcore punk, but at the same time has a groove leaning in the actual sense of the riffs. The leads are spectacular, really well executed.
Troy Sanders is a great bassist as well. He plays a finger picked bass through a mountain of distortion, giving the album that sludgy feel, and his playing is very off-the-wall and spastic. His playing can switch between playing counterpoint melodies with the guitars and creating a crazy atmosphere of hate and energy, or he can play simple root notes or power chords and create some kind of infernal racket.
Also said before, Brann Dailor is a wicked drummer. Sounding like some weird mix of Buddy Rich, Neil Peart, and Eric Brecht, he constructs most of his patterns out of intense jazzy fills and crazy metal drum licks. He definitely earns his internet nickname, The Octopus. Just listen to Megalodon.
The vocals, or vocal attack, of Mastodon comes from all four members. While Bill and Brann do very little on this album, they do show up occasionally on the clean sections (Brann) and the layered yell sections (Bill). Troy is the main vocalist, and is the main vocalist for almost all of Mastodon's albums (except for the bad Blood Mountain and the mediocre Cracking the Skye), and his vocals consist of harsh yells and very deep somewhat melodic singing. Brent's vocals are usually cleaner than Troy's and are a kind of screech/yell combination that is decently effective when used in moderation.
The production of this album is very good, with the stringed instruments leading the pack, the drums and vocals close behind, and then a slight hint of reverb on the drums for a bit more kick. Everything fills in the spectrum very well, all the instruments and the vocalists do a good job of filling what could've been an empty sounding album, like Mastodon's later releases (Blood Mountain, at least).
The songwriting is top notch. As I said in the song section, all the songs have their own feel and kick to them, whether it be a slightly mellow and southern vibe, or a heavy disjointed and angry sound that kicks your teeth in, it's all good. That's something else, this band knows when to write a ball-stomping riff that makes you mosh everytime you hear it, and then write a melodic line that is just sleazy and dirty enough to catch southern rock fans and make them join in on the fun.
The sole gripes I have with this album are that some of the better songs (Megalodon, Naked Burn, I Am Ahab) are too short, and that the worst song on the album is 13 minutes long and isn't very interesting. Also, that Brent Hinds needs to shut up and let Scott Kelly do occasional shrieks like at the beginning of Aqua Dementia, and for him to play some solos (which I admit he is very good at).
All in all, this album is a combination of great aspects in metal music; fun, heavy, grimy, sludgy, progressive, and meaty. When I say fun, I mean that everything sounds energetic and not like Venom or Motorhead where it’s all about rockin' out, as well.
Buy this album if you love cool, interesting music that puts a new and down home twist on hard-hitting progressive metal.
More and more these days, the progressive metal tag is being laid upon Mastodon. Before Blood Mountain was released, the only claim they had to the genre was this release's status as a concept album and the epic-length track, "Hearts Alive."
Indeed, Leviathan might seem rather vanilla at first to a prog fan's ears. If you're a diehard fan of the genre, you won't necessarily enjoy this. On this album, Mastodon is actually surprisingly unpretentious. Song forms are for the most part, short, with no extended soloing, or really any soloing at all, for that matter. The songs are composed of big, simple, crushingly heavy riffs and grimy, ugly, "clean" interludes, backed by Brann Dailor's spastic, fill-laden drumming. If you listen closely, you'll hear some really interesting, sputtering double-bass patterns as well. He has a very simple kit, but he plays it for all it's worth. Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds share vocal duties. It's clear these guys aren't the best singers in the world, but this is primitive, heavy music. It works very well in the context of the album; their tortured barks perfectly complement the images of the sea and the infamous white whale Mastodon evoke.
The pacing on the album is excellent, from it's furious open to instrumental close. There's just enough variation in rhythms and riffs to maintain the listener's interest, even on the nearly 14-minute "Hearts Alive," which contains absolutely no self-indulgent soloing. Even on an album of songs from two to four minutes in length, this epic doesn't overstay its welcome. Its placement on the track list is also quite appropriate, another testament to the album's impressive flow. "Aqua Dementia" segues into "Hearts Alive," which builds and builds, then explodes, but never at any point does it lose its sense of direction or energy. The section of the song in which it winds down is also done quite well, and sets up the album's closing instrumental track, "Joseph Merrick.," an ode to the Elephant Man. This would be their second song about him, I believe.
Other highlights include "Blood and Thunder," (the aforementioned opener) with its catchy main riff, triumphant interludes, and high energy; "I Am Ahab;" "Iron Tusk;" "Naked Burn;" and of course, "Hearts Alive." However, there's not a mediocre song on the album or anything that sounds tacked on. "Joseph Merrick" could have potentially been a throwaway track, but as an epilogue, it works quite well.
Give this one a few listens and try to appreciate it for what it is, instead of what you imagine it should be.
As a fan of prog metal, I was recommended this band several times by people I know on the internet. Some of their recommendations were good (Ayreon) and some were utterly atrocious (Pain of Salvation's Scarsick, which takes the nu metal styling's Dream Theater's Train of Thought tentatively flirted with and goes ALL THE WAY with them, even though nu metal is dead, dead, dead and not coming back). So while shopping at a used CD store (one of the last remaining in Memphis), I came across a double disc special edition of Mastodon's Leviathan. The packaging was slick, with the black and gold slipcase and intricate booklet art. But prog? Yeah, prog as interpreted by a group of cavemen.
Leviathan occupies some mediocre junction where progressive metal, metalcore, and groove meet. The vocals are all horrible grunts and screams, some of which sound disturbingly like Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir (!) and others sound like a gorilla smoking crack cocaine. There are plenty of prog rock time shifts, tempo changes, and polyrhythms in evidence, as well as a drummer who seems intent on out-wanking Mike Portnoy (yeah, good luck, chump), but instead of soaring leads and sweeping keyboards, you get...chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga for all eternity. Disgusting sludgy, down-tuned rhythm clunking batters the ears like latter-day Sepultura played really fast. Instead of being energetic and invigorating, it's plodding, dull, and troglodytic.
Mastodon doesn't really play real solos, but there are some leads that are rather less distorted than the riffs, but they are still harsh for guitar leads. Mastodon abjures keyboards, even though keyboards contribute greatly to the sound and dynamic nature of prog metal and is practically baked into the formula (where would Images and Words have been without Kevin Moore's keyboard work?). The resulting sound is dry, barren, and scorched, with relatively little variation.
There's a concept of some sort, apparently involving a white whale (Moby Dick?), but the moronic, unintelligible vocals do not encourage the listener to pick up the booklet. The two barkers could be reciting Tennyson and all you would hear is URGH URGH URGH AAAAAAAGH.
Mastodon doesn't really suck. They are talented instrumentalists, and have a good grasp of basic song structure. But their style, presentation, and sound are mind-numbingly dull after more than a few minutes of their ceaseless bashing. In an interview, Mastodon claimed to be "cooler" than Dream Theater because Dream Theater "look gay" and James LaBrie "sounds gay like an opera singer" and various other things involving the word "gay". Gay or not (and the fact that they're all married with kids suggests otherwise), Dream Theater have infinitely better vocals, more interesting riffs, decent leads, and no groove/core bullshit (except in Train of Thought). Sorry, Mastodon, but you and your record are not cool. Not cool at all.
For some reason, even the hardheaded metal world strongly accepts the new Mastodon in their new, very subdued sound in comparison to Remission, and their EPs and demos. What we have here is very ordinary music with only pretty good drumming (again, contrasting to their previous material), average but catchy riffs, and indecipherable vocals which really aren’t too bad.
For fans of the band prior to this release, instant change will be noticed as their old extremity is gone. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but Mastodon are capable of so much more. Although “Leviathan” is a very creative concept, the band just seemed to be too weakened by the mainstream media to create music that truly fits the bill for what the songs are about. Lyrically, the themes are immense and speak of a long sea voyage similar to that of the classic novel, Moby Dick.
The music really is good, but sometimes seems too dull. “Leviathan” certainly has its power in classics such as Iron Tusk and Hearts Alive, but the rest of the album is only ordinary hard rock with a hint of sludge. However, the band is meritorious and succeeds in creating a diverse atmosphere with a good mixture of clean and heavy guitar parts. Mastodon, in this case, outdo their previous efforts and successfully pull off the musical dynamics that were not as fluent before. Songs like the closer, Joseph Merrick, confirm some of the band’s ability to achieve a completely different sound yet maintain coherence.
The quartet are good musicians, but drummer Brann Dailor, the most talented and technically-inclined of the band, does not play to his full potential. Sure, not everything has to be insane and based on his older milestones, but Dailor just seems to have gotten kind of mediocre behind the kit, save for a few very outstanding moments.
The riff department is certainly very able, “Leviathan” sometimes meanders into uncharted territory (which maybe suits the style they were going for given the theme) with some meaningless clean-picking guitar parts and progressive sounding movements; they just do not work the way they should have.
Ultimately, this is a rather diverse album for what Mastodon originally began playing. The music is average to good, the overall theme is awesome, and the musicianship is there (albeit more mundane). “Leviathan” is very easy to love, especially for newcomers to the band. At the same time, this release to older fans has the propensity to push them away. Still, “Leviathan” is recommended for both parties as this shows the turning point in Mastodon’s career through advancement and regression.
Regarded by many today as the crowning achievement of Mastodon, “Leviathan” has been hyped as some sort of revolutionary new wave in the metal world by its champions, many of whom reside in the mainstream of music media. Having obtained this album a while back after listening to and being utterly revolted by their other 2 albums (I still am after giving them a few more chances), my expectations were obviously low. After a rigorous set of listens I have found that I once again must differ with the sentiments of the mass media, although surprisingly this album has some inspired moments and is enjoyable at times.
The same flaws that were present on the other 2 releases have still endured on here, though to a somewhat lesser degree. Brann Dailor is still throwing way too many fills into the mix, being the quintessential spider monkey wanker behind the kit, but we do get the implication of a beat on most of the songs, something which “Remission” completely lacked. “Megalodon” has a decent speed metal section that showcases Dailor’s ability to play a straight up beat, although constant section changes are incorporated to accommodate his profound case of ADHD. The vocals are a complete throw away, profaning nearly every decent death and thrash singer to ever take the microphone. The thing that saves this album from this is that the vocals don’t drive the songs, which leads us to where this album has the advantage over the others.
There are sections of several songs where we get some quality riff work and some brief melodic sections that toy with some progressive influences. “Naked Burn” has some occasional soft sections where we get some eastern sounds, contrasted with some decent heavier riffs and some clean vocal tracks that sound a little like Ozzy’s better days. The intro riff to “Aqua Dementia” is another high point of this album, while the rest is somewhat decent speed metal mired by vocals that depict an image of a gorilla with a real bad case of constipation. “I am Ahab”, “Blood and Thunder” and “Iron Tusk” also deliver some quality riffs and feature a rhythm section that is mostly tight and cohesive, now if only they could get someone who can actually sing and slow down the section changes a bit.
However, the songwriting and riff machine of Mastodon is, at its best, far from consistent. “Seabeast” takes my pick for the album’s commercial meanderer and fails to actually present a song, but instead a disjointed collage of ideas that passes itself off as progressive. I am confident that when people listen to this song they don’t comprehend it, they just shout in a retarded voice “Heavy Metal” when they hear the distorted guitars kick in. “Heart’s Alive” is proof positive that this band should stay away from breaking the 7 minute mark, let alone try to composer a 13 minute plus epic, something that will never work in the Groove/Metalcore genre no matter how many good ideas are thrown in. Listening to this song was comparable to the ADD test they did on that episode of South Park where they proceeded to read The Great Gatsby to the mentally retarded character Timmy in one session (it took the better part of a day) and then ask some question about an insignificant detail in the middle of the story. “Island” falls apart instantly with the same issues heard on “Remission”, too many ideas, no cohesion, and the drums showboat themselves out of any semblance of order.
In some ways it is a bit sad to listen to this album, because it showcases the absolute limitation of technique removed from musicality. All of the members of this band are actually gifted with a good command of their instrument, but they can’t write a song to save their own lives. Even when they do get a good idea going, they run to something different without giving it a chance to develop, like an immature child who bounces from one hobby to another without ever mastering anything. If you wish to check out this band, get this album and avoid the other two, and definitely do not buy this at full price, $5 is the highest that I can condone.
This album was hyped a lot last year, and so I was fairly reluctant to get it, and didn't get it till today. Damn, what a huge waste of time, because this album is really good. Lots of big riffs with frantic and unique drumming- the way this kind of metal should be.
The albums starts off with a 4 minute long adrenaline rush called "Blood and Thunder". Great song name, and a great song too. Some pretty interesting and techincal parts, a few time signature changes and interesting drumming. The vocals are kinda strange, but while I don't really like them, they do really fit the music. They are the usual hoarse vocals, mixed with.. something else. I guess the best comparison would be a mixture of Aaron Turner and some old salty sea dog. Well, maybe that's just me.
The songs all sound very different, even though most of them follow a fairly similar pattern to the first song. "I am Ahab" is full of fast metal riffs, with a few time-sig changes thrown around. Seabeast has some interesting clean vocals, and a rather awesome outro. Again, lots of big riffs. The best way to describe these kick ass riffs would be like a mixture of Justice Era Metallica and Celestial Era Isis. They're fairly fast, though not really thrash metal fast, and they're fairly busing riffs. Not a lot of long, sustained chords, but while that may be a problem for a lesser band, it works well in Mastodon. The drumming really deserves a mension here. Calling it "Unique and interesting" really doesn't describe it that well. The drummer, while he definetly keeps the beat going, he rarely plays anything twice. Some drummers might play a fill every four bars. This guy plays a fill, well, almost every bar. It fits really well though.
Basically every song fits the above descriptions quite well, with a few clean parts thrown around, to good effect. One song that doesn't, however, is the huge, almost 14 minute long epic that is "Hearts Alive" A big long clean build up that Pelican would be proud off, (Don't know if the Pelican drummer could do what the Mastodon drummer does though) and then it quickly jumps into heavier territory. There's some vocals here that sound almost like Neurosis here, but they fit really well. The song slowly builds up, changing between heavy and clean parts again and again. It's really, really excellent stuff, definetly the best song on the album, and rthe song you should probably preview.
After that stunning song, the album ends with "Joseph Merrick", which is an awesome clean track, again, essential listening. Basically, the whole album is essential listening. If you like metal that is left of field and full of huge riffs and great ideas, check this album out.
It’s hard to recall a band making such a massive impression in such a short time. Mastodon, like Lamb of God are currently experiencing a huge a wave adoration and popularity. And for good fucking reason too. This band is simply one of the more exciting metal acts in the scene today. For all of Metals pigeonholing genre’s, it’s the bands who, what I like to term, ‘work outside the box’, that make the biggest impact on me. Mastodon is one of those bands.
Mastodon made a tremendous start to their career with the tasty ‘Lifesblood’ ep, which was quickly followed up by the highly acclaimed (by both critics and fans alike) ‘Remission’ disc. High expectations were abound for the mighty ‘Leviathan’. If the band felt any pressure, there isn’t a shred of evidence on this little gem.
The interesting thing with this band is that their style is so hard to describe to the ordinary music fan. We’ve had Math-rock, Metalcore, American Metal, Art-rock, classic metal and technical thrash thrown around. And there is merit in all of those descriptive terms. Mastodon does incorporate those elements. However, I’d prefer to call this band a straight up fucking guitar rock band - Filthy, dirty, bar room rock. When you can’t come up with anything specific, resort to ‘rock’ and that’ll cover it. Still, there is a real esoteric element about this bands song writing in that you’re never quite sure what they’re going to do next.
Understanding that, you know that Mastodon refuse to play by the regular rock establishment rules. This is where ‘Leviathan’ becomes more than a great rock record. It is not a safe album by any means. Having garnered a rather healthy audience via the excellent ‘Remission’, Mastodon could have quite easily churned out a similar sounding album (Remission Pt 2, perhaps) and their fan base would have lapped it up, no complaints. Judging by the experimental, almost progressive nature of ‘Leviathan’ Mastodon has done anything BUT take the easy road. I thought I knew what this disc was going to sound like, because that’s the way most bands work don’t they? They stick to a formula. Quick note: Mastodon doesn’t do formula. Mastodon does curveballs. They take risks. This is a very good thing!
Noting the bands willingness to evolve and try different things, it needs to be stated that Mastodon haven’t become all over-technical or complex on us. Their choppy riff passages have always had the potential to swing towards Dillinger style Math-core, but on ‘Leviathan’, if anything, Mastodon are more accessible than ever. There has been a massive groundswell of hook and melody injected into their song writing – it’s actually allowed more depth to their music. Yet, having said that, they’ve been able to establish a tremendously dynamic dirty rock sound. They’ve become a bit more edgy in a 70’s kind of way; even more metal if you like. Either way, their music, their compositions are fabulously innovative and loaded with charisma and original appeal.
With a sense of melody injected into ‘Leviathan’ songwriting, the vocals have also become an important factor. You will recall ‘Remission’ as a straight red-line vocal approach. Not this time punters. The depth I alluded to earlier is accentuated five fold with both Brent Hines and Troy Sanders combining perfectly between moments of screamo/aggression and ‘cleaner’ sections. Mastodon is now a more varied prospect to listen to vocally, yet never contrived or manufactured for mass consumption.
It’s rather difficult to ignore the captivating and original vibe of ‘Leviathan’. It literally smokes from start to finish. This is a band that stands on it own within a plethora of sound-a-likes. They’re like a metalized Clutch meets Neurosis meets early Metallica meets 70’s style Rush! Whatever you want to call them, they are the bomb folks - A definite Top 10 disc of the year.
**Be quick and lay your metal mitts on the ltd edition version of ‘Leviathan’. Comes in a Gold embossed insert box and contains a bonus 7 track Audio DVD. Three ‘Leviathan’ tracks recorded in 5.1 Surround Sound and four live tracks from previous releases including the monsterous ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’.
Mastodon are back with their highly-anticipated and hyped new album, but are they really back? Gone is the crushing heaviness of 2002’s Remission, gone are the brooding passages culminating in heady explosions of near-incomprehensible but cathartic guitar fuzz, gone are the thick, meaty, satisfying production and riffs. These tenets of the band’s full-length debut are replaced by a thinner and shallower guitar tone, simpler melodic passages with leaner and more streamlined song structure, and ultra-grating clean vocals.
Granted, barring inevitable comparisons to its successor, Leviathan on its own is a solid effort. In diluting their sound for mass consumption, Mastodon have still managed to retain some of Remission’s heaviness, some of its aggravated dementia, some of its effortless stylistic shifts.
The album starts off solid with the punchy, pseudo-thrashy “Blood and Thunder,” which in itself might make new Mastodon fans with its simplicity and straightforward, driving structure, or might alienate old fans for the same reasons. Overall it’s a suitably “Mastodon-y” opener that does well to introduce listeners to the album. Unfortunately, the inferior “I am Ahab” and “Seabeast” follow. The latter contains the wretched new melodic vocals, which will in themselves alienate several longtime Mastodon fans, and both songs are just too aggravatingly shallow to be considered essential to the Mastodon catalogue.
Metalcore-laden “Island” is next. It’s a strong stand-alone song, as well as suitably complex, but the hardcore-soaked style will definitely piss off some connoisseurs of the band. The thirst left by the last song’s inconclusiveness is satiated with Leviathan’s arguable high-point, “Iron Tusk.” This crowd-pleaser harkens back to frenetic numbers such as “Burning Man;” what the song lacks in depth is redeemed by its unbridled ferocity and incendiary drumming courtesy of the ever-amazing Brann Dailor.
The band continues with a blues-influenced song that builds in speed throughout (“Megalodon,” another highlight), and two more songs that draw heavily from hardcore (melodic “Naked Burn” and pseudo-technical “Aqua Dementia,” the former grating and the latter merely unimpressive). “Hearts Alive” is the “epic” for this album, starting slow and brooding but building to an imposing maelstrom of furious (yet calculated) instrumentation; the song pulls of its duty quite respectably while perhaps lacking finesse in shifting styles. We close with “Joseph Merrick,” a decent closer in Mastodon’s familiar “somber, understated ballad” style, this time sounding eerily like a bluesy Opeth.
So, we have a varied mix of mostly positive elements. But, as I said before, the album retains some of Remission’s heaviness; some of its ferocity; some of its complexity. This is not essential Mastodon, nor is it quintessential. While it is a solid record, those looking for a revolutionary release should keep searching.