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Mastodon's "Remission" is certainly one of the most criminally-misunderstood and underrated heavy metal albums, although with the band's newly garnered popularity and expansion of its fan base, it's certainly gotten a lot more attention at this point. I remember first listening to this album some 10 years ago when I was looking for something new, fresh, and that wasn't death metal/Pantera or anything like that. I came across this beast and couldn't put it down for about 6 months. I decided to pick it up again recently and give it a listen and boy, have I been missing out.
First of all, Mastodon is far, far from your average heavy metal band. This album is full of riffs of all sorts, nothing virtuoso, but they're still fairly talented. That being said, a lot of the leading comes from the drummer, Brann Dailor, who has already brandished himself as one of the best heavy metal drummers in the modern era. This is an immediate turn-off for many heavy metal fans and reviewers, but I find it quite refreshing and a new idea that has never been tried or executed as appropriately. What you get is that a lot of the riffs either repeat themselves or move to a different octave and you always get some kind of capitulation - classic, right? Except it doesn't sound this way with Brann Dailor. I would say he's the mastermind behind this album.
Now, the vocals are a little strange and I am fairly certain no one can sing like that live, and based on what I've seen, that's definitely true. The vocals are very powerful, although nearly incomprehensible for the most part. This is perhaps a second reason why this album has received less praise as it should, because the vocals sometimes border death metal, although this album is not an extreme metal album. While modern Mastodon vocals are characterized by a lot of clean, harmonious singing, this stuff is full of grind and grit, therefore fans of the more commercial stuff have been warned.
The songs are genuinely well-written and the riffs are extremely catchy. I would say Brent and Bill have really showed the signs of their riffing genius early on as a lot of the riffs on this record are very catchy and very well-phrased. Again, it's the drums that really take control of the record, but do not overlook how well some of these riffs are played. My only qualm with this album is that, unfortunately, Mastodon aren't great soloists. While classic heavy metal bands like Metallica, Pantera, Megadeth, and hell, even Slayer have come up with some great solos (especially the first two bands), this album doesn't really have any good solo work at all, not even mindless shredding like you'd expect. I also must say the bass is almost inaudible, which is to be expected given how distorted the guitars are.
Overall, this is a classic album. It does have its shortcoming and for the heavy metal xenophobes out there, it can be a little intimidating and, dare I say, pretty sophisticated for the audience it is intended for. But nonetheless, this is a fine debut album by one of the modern greats within this profound genre of music. If you've listened to "The Hunter" and "Crack The Skye", prepare to be pleasantly surprised.