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I can dig Mastodon's rationale for making an album like this; a bit tired of heavy themes, just wanting to have a good time, can't be arsed explaining to confused musical journalists the increasingly labryinthe concepts of their albums. The other alternative is that they just sold the fuck out, although I've always been of the opinion that if a band wants to do a catchy, rocky album then it's all good. Perhaps this is best described as a transition album, though; there's a lot about this that is rather awkward- it's not quite the good times bro-metal album that Mastodon were going for.
The huge amount of filler aside I think half the problem is that Mastodon are still a bit too, well, Mastodon-y. You want to be catchy and direct that's fine, that's beautiful. But it's hard to do it when the song structures are still all over the place and definitely not when a lot of the riffs are quite simply lacking in that direct punch that's required to pull this off. So many profoundly average songs here- from the title track to Bedazzled Fingernails it's a pretty horrible six song slog, from the profoundly uncatchy (Dry Bone Valley) to pretty awful pisstakes (Creature Lives). It doesn't help that the vocals, while generally competent, are rarely anything more than that, generally being these bright, poppy, vaguely Ozzy-esque vocals that while not annoying certainly aren't commanding attention with their all-too-inoffensive presence.
Fair call to Mastodon though, when they nail this sound they fucken nail it and it's a serious pleasure to listen to. The first half is all solid but clearly there's a few songs where stuff just clicks. "Curl of the Burl" is some seriously infectious, seriously groovy shit with a mean chorus riff and a short but excellent bridge- I wonder how much influence the producer had on shaping that song? Far catchier and more direct than anything Mastodon have ever done. Meanwhile, "Octopus has no friends" is a really good mix of the usual adventurous Mastodon guitar playing with the catchiest vocal lines of the album. These tracks combined with the titanic, surprisingly heartfelt Floyd + arena ballad ender "The Sparrow", (featuring a guitar solo with a tone I can only describe as "bitching") definitely suggest that with a bit more effort- and a similarly deft choice of producer- Mastodon could do something that would be black album-esque in it's mix of catchiness and heaviness.
...But they aren't there yet. Yeah, there's a few songs here that are fantastic, but you've gotta judge an album as a whole, right? And for every good song here there's some painfully uncatchy, forgettable filler- thus, the square 50% Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to the next Mastodon album; great things could well be forthcoming.