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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.