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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.