Mastodon
9 Song Demo


2.5
average

Review

by Pedro B. USER (303 Reviews)
May 9th, 2009 | 21 replies


Release Date: 2000 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Flashes of genius undercut with terrible vocals.

Mastodon are one of those bands which I relentlessly but futilely try to turn people onto. I fell in love with them some three years ago, during a live performance for the Leviathan tour, and since that day it has been my quest to get them some more fans. However, even the most devoted among my metalhead friends show little to no interest in the Georgian four-piece, claiming that they “don’t get” the band. My subsequent explanation about how “not getting it” is the whole point of Mastodon’s music usually falls on deaf ears, and it is with a sigh of resignation that I go back to listening to Blood Mountain.

However, someone out there “gets” Mastodon. The band have garnered an ever-growing fanbase and even scored a Grammy nomination – something unthought-of a few years ago, especially for such a dissonant, chaotic band.

Incidentally, “dissonant” and “chaotic” are two adjectives that make much more sense applied to the band’s earlier efforts than to their latter. Albums such as Blood Mountain or, to a lesser extent, Leviathan, are veritable smorgasbords of intelligent style-fusing, but considerably tone-down the aggression and angular riffs in favor of melodies and sung choruses. But early efforts from the band’s underground period were much more about raw noise and death metal influences than about stoner overtones and catchy hooks.

This brings us to today’s review, and let me assure you, they don’t get much more underground than this. This is Mastodon’s very first demo, released in 2000. Back then, the group was a five-piece, and the frontman was a guy called Eric Saner, who would go on to represent Mastodon’s only formation change to date. And you know what? Good riddance. They’re better off this way.

Seriously, quoting the Angry Video Game Nerd: what were they thinking!?!?! This guy can’t sing! He has a horrible “growly” register, interspersed with some grindish “vacuum-cleaner” grunts, and totally devoid of quality. For those of us who have been spoiled by Troy Sander’s pleasant singing voice on Blood Mountain, listening to Saner will be the aural equivalent of ear-rape with a sharp blade. Seriously, it’s that bad. As the record moves along, we become more accustomed with his voice, but it still represents a relief whenever someone’s clean vocals come in to back his growls (as in We Built This Come Death or Deep Sea Creature. Not to mention that his horrible excretions constantly threaten to drag down the songs. Sometimes they succeed (Shadows That Move), and on other occasions, only the brilliance of the backing band prevents it from happening.

Speaking of the backing band, it consists of the same four guys we all know, and they’re as brilliant as ever. Even at this early point, Brann Dailor’s powerhouse drumming is already – and will probably always be – the musical highlight of the band, but Bill Kelliher’s and Brent Hind’s angular, dissonant riffs also help give this band the unique ambiance they are known for today. As for Sander’s bass, it’s hardly ever audible, and sadly establishes itself, even as early as this, as the weakest link in Mastodon’s music.

But what of the songs? Well, as noted, they didn’t fit the “anything goes” mold of later-day Mastodon. Before they were a stoner/noise/sludge/death/post/whatever band, the band followed a much simpler pattern, basically mixing really harsh death metal with contemplative post-rock passages a la Neurosis. Many of these atmospheres are created by the guitar harmonies of Hinds and Kelliher, while Dailor’s frantic, counter-tempo drumming and Saner’s regurgitations take care of the death metal aspect.

In fact, this album is easily divisable into two separate halves. The first one – and the least interesting one – is comprised of three more brutal tracks, which meld together into a mass of chaotic riffing and god-awful snarls. In fact, the only way I could tell where one track ended and the other began was because my mp3 player has an ever-so-slight volume dip whenever the track changes. Without that, I’d be left as clueless as that first time I listened to It’s Alive! and thought: “wow, that is a long opening track!” It doesn’t help that the second track is exactly the same as the first, either. Welcoming War segues directly from Shadows That Move and uses what sounds like the exact same riff. Coupled with the lack of melody and the DEAR GOD MAKE IT STOP vocals, this easily takes the prize for the only weak moment on this demo.

On this portion of the album, only We Thank You For This will grab your attention, due to its short running time of 01:40 and the thrash beat towards the end. But, again, you will only know that if you have some sort of indication that the track has changed; otherwise, you won’t even notice it.

The second, and much better, half starts with We Build This Come Death and carries on for six tracks. This is where the band starts to develop their songwriting genius, as these songs often throw fragments of beauty into the tidal wave of chaos that is the group’s music. The first three songs already hinted at this fact (the Nirvanesque guitar doodling amongs the heaviness in Shadows That Move serving as evidence) , but here it comes out in full force. Songs like Call Of The Mastodon, Hail to Fire or Battle At Sea combine acoustic intros with sharp riffs, growled vocals, traditional metal solos, harmonies and whatever else the group sees fit to include. And even though each songs follows a very similar pattern (with quiet intros followed by dissonant riffs), each also manages to distinguish itself from the others – a fact that speaks volumes about Mastodon’s capacities as songwriters.

It is also here that we come across our first clear standout. Slickleg is a mammoth – pun intended – of a track that goes everywhere, from an acoustic intro to a traditional metal riff, blastbeats, post-rock ambiances and back again, all in the space of four short minutes. It’s by far the best song on the album, and an indication of what Mastodon could really do. As for other standouts, while none are as clear as Slickleg, Call of the Mastodon is probably the other most immediate one. Once again, this is a track that works very well, even busting out a classic metal solo out of nowhere to surprise the listener. Tracks such as We Built This Come Death and Deep Sea Creature fall just short of being standouts, but constitute strong tracks in their own right.

As for low points, Welcoming War stands alone, although Hail To Fire tends to slip by unnoticed, a fact demonstrated by my constant efforts to remember what the ninth song in the lineup is. However, being sandwiched in between two of the strongest tracks on the album doesn’t help the track any, either.

Fortunately, there is more good than bad in this Mastodon effort.Despite the atrocious vocals, which fatally influence the rating, the EP shows flashes of what Mastodon were capable of. Sure, newcomers and less attentive listeners may justifiably think Mastodon are essentially re-doing the same two songs - "brutal song" and "song with doodly guitar harmonies" - over and over again. But people like that aren't who Mastodon's music is aimed it. Mastodon's music is aimed at cerebral listeners, who take the music in, feeling it and breathing it. And those will understand that, while there was still a lot of growth to undergo, the songs certainly didn’t deserve to be consigned to oblivion. And they weren’t.

In fact, before researching I was sure some of the songs had later been re-recorded. Certainly Battle At Sea, and possibly a couple of the others. Upon consulting the Internet, I found out allof them had been re-recorded and re-released at some point. Five made up the Lifesblood EP, destined to present the new, Saner-less Mastodon formation. Another three went to a rare 7”, and in 2006, all of them were reunited with long-lost sibling Call Of The Mastodon for the B-side compilation of the same name. Now performed by someone who could actually sing, these songs were thus given a chance to show their full potential - and didn’t disappoint.

Before we wrap up, a final observation about the artwork. It’s a self-titled demo by a band called Mastodon, and the cover features…a mastodon! Original, eh?

Recommended Tracks
Call Of The Mastodon
Slickleg



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user ratings (22)
Chart.
2.9
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
ReturnToRock
May 9th 2009


3448 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

sorry for the sucky cover image - it was the only one I could find :P

Doppelganger
May 9th 2009


3124 Comments


Have this on vinyl. It's good.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
May 9th 2009


7360 Comments


Excellent review. It might be a bit long for some but it kept my attention. I've only gotten into Mastodon recently, so I only have Crack The Skye (love it) and Blood Mountain (not so good). I'm gonna get Leviathan soon though.

Photon
May 9th 2009


1292 Comments


yeah blood mountain is OK..Leviathan is excellent

gashuffer
May 9th 2009


26 Comments


Doesn't seem like a guy who despises death-metal vocals should be reviewing death metal albums. If you like clean and nasal vocals, stick with them, and let us black and death metal devotees enjoy our tastes.

kingsoby1
Emeritus
May 9th 2009


4950 Comments


people don't "get" mastodon, what.

Wizard
May 9th 2009


19519 Comments


Exactly what I was going to say^^^^. Nevertheless, solid review. This sounds interesting.This Message Edited On 05.09.09

Digging: Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire

Thor
May 9th 2009


10200 Comments


So basically you reviewed the early version of Call of the Mastodon...ok...

Phantom
May 9th 2009


8930 Comments


I was going to say that this seems exactly like Call Of The Mastodon.

ReturnToRock
May 9th 2009


3448 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i don't despise death metal vocals. i despise bad vocals.

chuck schuldiner...great. max cavalera...fantastic. mikael stanne....yup. this guy....bad. i suggest you listen to him to see what i mean.

the effect is sort of the same that happened with slipknot on MFKR, where the singer just pretty much destroyed the album, except not as bad, because these songs are actually good. (sorry, 'Knot, i still love you!)

if you want another example...Trivium when Matt Heafy dropped the growls. instantly better.

OllieS
May 9th 2009


2033 Comments


Pos'd

gashuffer
May 9th 2009


26 Comments


I'll give you Chuck, but the guy from Sepultura and Soulfly? Slipknot? Not helping your case. I'll
admit some growling vocalists are fucking terrible, and I tried to listen to this but didn't want
to download it and couldn't find a sample anywhere. I'm not trying to be a dick, but the most
common complaint I've heard against more 'extreme' forms of metal is the vocals. This Message Edited On 05.09.09

ReturnToRock
May 9th 2009


3448 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

slipknot was used in a different context. corey isn't by any means a great singer...or a death metal one.

incidentally, i should be up to review #94, not #96. considering anberlin got deleted and that was #93, and since then i've done two more, that puts us at 93-1+2 = 92 + 2 = 94.

by the way, i'm planning something special for when I hit the big one-oh. not sure what it'll be yet, but trust me, #100's gonna have an according celebration.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
May 10th 2009


20857 Comments


Again, a nice & detailed review Pedro. Again, it's probably too long though. Work on this mate. Take a completed review of yours & literally try to cut off about 2-3 paragraphs without losing too much content. You may think it's impossible to do, but it is not. You'd be surprised and having the review shorter makes it much more readable.

kingsoby1
Emeritus
May 10th 2009


4950 Comments


i completely agree, not a bad review, just way too long and really wordy.

ReturnToRock
May 10th 2009


3448 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yeah, i know...i've been overdoing the lenghts lately...

will be fixed in next few reviews.

by the way, any suggestions for my big #100 review?

SCREAM!
May 10th 2009


10208 Comments


if you want another example...Trivium when Matt Heafy dropped the growls. instantly better.
They went down the toilet after Ascendancy

ReturnToRock
May 10th 2009


3448 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

disagree. Crusade is my favorite, although Shogun is rather weak.

JAV
May 10th 2009


1943 Comments


I never could get into this one. It was just always blah to me.

AriWilson
September 26th 2010


22 Comments


Eric soundz cool



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