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Mastodon has certainly become a different band over the years, developing from this sludge trash combo band into proclaimed “Hard Rock Masters”, as the label on Crack the Skye tells you. The two bands are hardly related aside from the band members, name, etc., and both of them are good bands. However, it is important to know where these globally recognized musicians began their careers together.
Remission certainly has an interesting cover, as a horse being eviscerated by some unknown force would catch the attention of many an eye. The sole artwork on the back contrasts that with a faceless man, and the artwork in the lyrics booklet is no less than peculiar, as are the lyrics that they provide the backdrop for. Speaking of which, the band does an interesting job with lyrics, delivering poetic storytelling with but a few words. At other times, such as in Mother Puncher (awesome name for a song, by the way), provide a relatively different set of emotions, to say the least.
The vocals on this album are very different from later Mastodon, when they have some guy doing really whiny stuff. Here, though, we have some guy doing some awesome screaming/shouting stuff. I’m not exactly sure, which band member, they all pitch in on vocals except for Dailor. These vocals don’t always fit the songs, as in Where Strides the Behemoth, and even in Trampled Under Foot it just does not fit with the whole style of the song. They did make a nice choice of presenting the listener with a song free of vocals in the closer track, Elephant Man.
Don’t let this tarnish your view, on almost every other song this guy dominates. Workhorse is the best example of his ability to truly drive the song, and the chorus of March of the Fire Ants delivers with the whole band screaming “Bone grave, bone engraved”. Magic moment right there folks; but not the magic moment of the album; we will get to that later. The previously mentioned Mother Puncher also shows the vocalist really getting into it, and the results of his connection to the lyrics help make the song memorable.
The guitar provides mostly sludge based riffing with some intense thrash influences that help provide chugging riffs. March of the Fire Ants and Crusher Destroyer have really unique riffs that stick with you for the rest of the album, as you, the listener, dare Mastodon to see if they can top themselves. Burning Man also has one of the most bone crushing chugging riffs in existence at the climax of the song (I need not tell you when, you will now when it hits you square in the face).
The solos are also varied on the album. March of the Fire Ants contains one of my absolute favorite guitar solos, and Crusher Destroyer gives you a short burst of extreme thrash complete with that 15 second or so solo. The guitars also do a nice job of slowing things down, with some interesting distortion on the guitars in Ol’e Nessie nicely transforming the song away from the rest of the album. Trilobite, which also features a beastly CELLO part that shows Mastodon going outside of the sludge thrash album conceptualized. More importantly, the guitar part slows down and devastates the listener with brute force, showing technicality and control of their instruments.
The mix does not feature much in the bass department, but if you turn up the bass, you can hear it, and this guy is running on a different bar than any other bassist I‘ve heard (which, granted, is not many, but nonetheless that’s what I think). He is just going all over his bass, and there is little to no audible melody aside from his consistent playing on the string that does keep the pace going as fast as possible. It is from here that you get that ever present thrash element that just keeps moving.
Now, I have been waiting so long to talk about this guy. I love the drummer. Brenn Dailor is an absolute madman and I’m surprised that he does not wreck his drum set after a single song. He is all over that thing the only person that can even possibly be in the same class as him could be George Kollias, so you can see the high esteem that I hold him in. Every song is precisely drummed, yet it retains that sense of absolute chaos. His double bass pedal work is fantastic, never reusing a rhythm, and mixing it up with different time signatures. I can’t even list all of the time signatures he goes through, but I am pretty sure I picked up on 6/8 and 7/4 rhythms, so this guy knows his stuff.
Dailor is the driving force for this band. The entire beginning of March of the Fire Ants is essentially a well timed drum solo that keeps going, maintaining that march intensity that makes me love that song. Even versus the later work that he has put out keeps that same thrash-all-over-the-place atmosphere, even if it does become a bit toned down. Even watching live videos of him, he performs every bit as well live as he does on the record. He also manages to do a great job in providing that intense ambiance in Elephant Man, which is expertly put together.
There are two songs on this album that I felt truly stood apart as amazing and why Mastodon was able to kick start their career when somebody heard how awesome it was and they got more attention. The first is Elephant Man, which is an 8 minute instrumental that closes out the end of the album. The guitars layer on each other with hyper melodic solo licks and a bass part that subtly keeps it together. The drums are slowed down here and are still precise with original beats. This song features solos that are intensely melodic and again show that control and originality that distinguishes this album from typical sludge metal. The song closes out with a long silence and the sound of pouring rain, adding ambiance and they truly make the song complete.
My favorite song, by far though, is March of the Fire Ants. But I think that should be obvious as most of this review thus far has been pretty obvious worship of this song. It is incredibly original with its march style with the drumming and that brutal opening riff. The vocals are all over this song, demanding attention where it is well deserved. The chorus is infectious, yet hardcore, and the guitar takes a backseat during the chorus, creating a nice balance in the song. However, the solos are absolutely amazing. I cannot emphasize this enough. Also, there is an amazing video that you can watch for free online, something rather out of the ordinary for an American band (Grand Funk Railroad reference for those of you into classic rock).
In short, this album is a definitive early work of one of my favorite bands, so it is good to refer back to their roots, which you can’t say they have been true to. But this is a fantastic work of music that does not receive enough attention due to their mainstream reputation. All in all, I recommend checking out this album, regardless of what you may have heard about them. Best songs: March of the Fire Ants, Elephant Man, Crusher Destroyer, Trilobite, and Burning Man. Yeah, that’s a lot, but this is an awesome album.