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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.