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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.