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Not enough blood - 57%

Smyrma, March 21st, 2013

After springing into existence fully-formed with the fantastic progressive post-sludge (or whatever) of Remission, Mastodon injected more melody and ambition into its accomplished and worthy follow-up, Leviathan. Their proggy tendencies became even more prominent on Blood Mountain, though they weren't really sure what to do with the influence.

This is a frustrating record because some of the tracks are excellent, some have fantastic parts mixed with moments of questionable taste, and there are a couple outright overreaches. The opening track "The Wolf Is Loose" and single "Crystal Skull" are particularly raging examples of what Mastodon's best at: heavy, catchy riffing, bonkers drumming, and impassioned vocal delivery. The melodic singing is integrated well in these tracks, just as it was on "Naked Burn" from their previous record.

The problems start when those first two tracks end. Mastodon clearly wanted to branch out and try new things, but they mar songs with a goofy spoken word section ("Sleeping Giant"), a sore-thumb robot voice ("Circle of Cysquatch"), a honky-tonk country lick ("This Mortal Soil"), a pitch-shifted Cedric Bixler-Zavala ("Siberian Divide"), and dumb fantasy lyrics (almost every song.) There's "Bladecatcher," a cool title desparately seeking a song. Some of Mastodon's earlier songs, such as "Trainwreck," "Workhorse," and "Hearts Alive," had evocative and emotional lyrics that made the band more than just a kick-ass metal group, but they all but abandoned earnestness with this record and embraced fantasia and nonsense.

It became clear on this album that none of the members of Mastodon has a strong melodic singing voice. Anyone who has seen Mastodon live in the last six or seven years or listened to their Live at the Aragon album can attest to this, and it's been painful to see them descend from one of the most powerful live metal bands in the U.S. to a bunch of dudes straining to hit the high notes. There's lots of clean singing on Blood Mountain, and though it's been Pro-Tooled to melodic accuracy, it doesn't suit their strengths. Troy Sanders' roar is the best vocal delivery for their sound, and there isn't nearly enough of it.

When it was released, Blood Mountain broke my heart. They lost the impeccable taste that made their first two records such unimpeachable statements and wandered into the wilderness. Though some sharp riffage remained, the power of their sound was diluted by the missteps and the album fell short of their previous accomplishments.