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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.