Review Summary: In-depth analysis of Mastodon's first album, Remission, and it's songs.
There are some albums that just shake the way you think. Albums that are above the current standards of songwriting. Albums that... just raise the bar. Such an album must be hailed as a peice of art, and not as an album in the sense that "Master of Puppets" or "Powerslave" are albums. Such albums challenge the traditions set by years of "Black Sabbath" and "Megadeth" meandering through the rocky river of metal, and here comes a band, a mastodon of a band, a leviathan of a band. This album plows through the curved river, not eroding the sides, but shoving the wet, ashy soil aside to make its path through the muck. At some points, it gently rides the coast of southern rock, its funky rythms and recognizable chord progressions, and at others, it violently casts aside the boulders set in place by "Metallica" and traditional metal bands, with its crazy, random time signatures and more beautiful than heavy breakdowns. They all pour into the same blood-red ocean, though, and this yeti jumps in with a cannonball.
Mastodon. What a name. What we think when we hear 'Mastodon' is the giant hairy elephant, with the bad-ass tusks and intimidating trunk, able to trample horses and cattle without even noticing the crunching under foot.
This album represents this idea to a T. It presents itself as it is, soaring above the rest without even sparing them a passing glance. It is a humble work, but if it were flashy and cocky, it would certainly have earned the right. It's like the subtle beauty of an abandoned mill. It is mossy, moldy, and old, yet it charms in its own way. You know it had its time of usefulness, and now it's eternally resting, as if waiting for nature to erode the stone and wood. This album is that mill, but in its prime. The only way I know to go about a review is to do a track-by-track review, so here it goes.
1. Crusher Destroyer--
For most people who picked up this album, this was the first track they've ever heard. Now, the first thing you think when you see the title is... "Wow what a dumb/cool/weird name."
Whether you think the name is stupid or on a new level of cool, there's no denying the power of this, the track that Mastodon wisely chose to be the first for new ears.
It's opening sets the stage for the rest of the album, throwing the album into full speed before it has even started. The first thing you hear is more of a white noise than anything else, but the whiney sound so sharply contrasts the crunch of the A-tuned guitar that it gives chills when the riff begins.
The first riff is a prime example of a Mastodon riff. It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, due to Brann's hectic and desperate drumming. It's actually a simple 6/4 tempo, but it sounds so heavy and altrock that it fits perfectly, however simple it is.
There is no structure here. I like to call it 'organized chaos'. And that's what it is. The verses are shouted over an unintelligable guitar lick, and the drums are breaking the section even further. No punches pulled here.
Oh, but after a repeat of the verses and riff, the song raises to D for a "bridge". How a song this short can have a bridge, I don't know, but it is so bridgelike that no other term suffices. The singing here is actually rythmically structured, and the song flows smoothly. 2 part harmonies, the first on the album.
Then the bridge has a bridge. It's actually more of a solo... and it sounds just like something from a "Mountain" or "Led Zeppelin" song. It's exremely cool how it all comes together.
This song is progressive in every sense of the word. The mix of genres, the crazy-ass drumming, and the RAAHHH-CHUN-CHUN-CHAAAHHH!!! of the guitars truly create a memorable piece of music.
2. March Of The Fire Ants--
This song is surprising. It's quite a bit slower than the last one. This song helps to smooth the rabid beats of the previous track, while reminding the listener that this is sludge metal. This is definetely the sludgiest track on the album, and, unfortunately, this is not always a good thing. The powerchords are few and far between, and replaced with BWOUM of extremely downtuned guitar notes which eventually begin to annoy. Still, the song has a few magic moments that make it worth listening to, so keep reading.
The opening is very memorable, but quite sneaky, too. Easily one of the best openings on the album, unfortunately used on one of the weaker tracks on the album. But it deserves applause in itself. The sneaky tempo changes, the militant drumming, and the great transition to the verses are the coolest moments in the song.
The verses are worth mentioning, too. They are very catchy, to say the least. Still, muted powerchords would be much better for cool verses like this, and they instead used crazy harmonics and BUMM BUMM single notes.
The next section is less organized and one of the weakest parts of the album. It's just a sludge groove, with nothing of it's own to offer except burst shouting and dischordant chords.
Here we come to a melodic bridge. It surprised me when I first heard it. It reminds one of "In Flames", but slower and Mastodonier. A minor scale, it actually sounds like a bunch of fire ants marching down a sidewalk, to the misfortune of me at the age of 4, as I tried to eat some. But these guys don't mess around. Discordant harmonies breathe new life into the song, and the ants are getting pissed.
During the next section, the ants are biting my tongue and the guitars are crescending up those loose frets, and shrilling up on smooth strings. No punches pulled as those ants fight and bite for their lives and I cry my eyes out biting my own tongue off trying to get those damn ants out of my mouth.
Then the intro repeats itself, shortened, and the song ends in its prime. Hi-hats climaxing, the song ends. All in all, not the best song on the album. Not a horrible song, better than most "Metallica", but don't try to form an opinion on this album for this song alone.
3. Where Strides The Behemoth--
This song, all in all, is superior to the last track in nearly every way. It has no annoying guitar thwangs, no feaux chords, and all in all more memorable than the last track. Very sludgy, but in a good way.
It opens with a deceptively simple effectload of A-tuned leads, the third track on this album to have this tuning. When they finally find true to their tuning, it boggles the mind. It really sounds good. The hi-hats are tapping like a woodpecker lit on it, and the guitars finally lower to their lowest available A.
The first riff once the song gets going is a really cool one. It's basically a repeat of the higher riff, but with muted chords and bass added. The drums also have a much better blast-esque beat. It changes halfway through, to an open repeat of the previous riff with no chords, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than track 2.
The verses are absolutely great. Shifting time signatures, muted chords and open notes really help the flow and speed of the song. You can almost tell what they are saying, unlike any track on the album so far. It's really complicated, too, more so than anything on track 2 or most of track 1. The harmonies creep up on you, more organized chaos. Nice pinch harmonics used here, too.
This next part right after the first verse is really crazy. The screaming here actually takes a sort of a pitch, at least more so than any other track on the album. It's a lot like the respective part on "March Of The Fire Ants", but faster and with better sounding distortion.
After this, the verse repeats and the pitched screaming repeat. Then the song as a whole seems to repeat, with the same shrill that it opened with. And just as you think it's going to repeat its first badass riff, it does, but with the glaring absence of guitars. All you can hear is drums and distorted bass.
The next section will knock you on your ass. It did me. The suckerpunchy riffs, the missing beats and extra beats, and the GRRAAGGHHH screamings really make a good bridge for the song. But they can't compare with what comes next.
It's our friend, the 'Badass Riff'. It repeats, in its former glory, and then repeats over a better drum beat with audible ride cymbals. Try not to bang your head when you hear this.
It ends with a repeat of the verse, although maybe with different lyrics. (Who can tell? :))
All-in-all, a standout song. Not the best, but the best one here that isn't an epic. Gotta love it.
This song is a toughie. It is one of 2 songs on the album that are in D standard tuning, but tries to make believe that it is in A tuning. I am very familiar with this song, it was among the second generation of Mastodon songs on my MP3 player. I like it, but I listened to it before I was familiar with most of the songs on this album. So I'll review it as it is, a song on a great album.
The opening is certainly quite good, albeit a bit confusing. It shows the technical ability of the band like no other opening on the album. The powerchords are very quickly played, along with a few harmonizing guitars playing the lead. It sounds quite good and it sure does fit the tone of the rest of the song.
The best part about the opening is that it doesn't last too long. It sounds good while it lasts, and fortunately, that's not so long that it gets boring or annoying. When the verse starts, the screaming is the harshest I've ever heard. Even harsher than "Opeth" or "Cannibal Corpse", because of the raw screams that take the place of growls under strange vocal distortion. The guitar chords move with slides and jumps, catchy verses here indeed.
The riff that comes after every verse, though, is the magical moment of this song. It is one of the most complicated moments on the album. It is also one of the crushingest. The harmonics are squealed about Brent's and Bill's by-now raw frets and the fifth-chords almost sound genuine. A golden moment among a song of crush.
The song repeats again, go figure. After a while, you are treated to a riff so muted that it's unintelligable. It doesn't sound bad, it in fact fits the song. You can imagine a horse with a big-ass plow on its back, running through a dry, blackened field, turning up the dirt with its strength draining a bit every step. The riff that follows is essentially the same as that of previous, but not muted. It's also harmonized, which sounds quite good.
Basically a song that relies upon itself for itself to work. It exhausts the bands' creativity, but provides no real hook that makes repeated listenings rewarding. All in all, bravo.
5. Ol'e Nessie--
Here we go. The one that started it all for me. This song truly is the epitome of Mastodon's music. It is fully inside the crest of the album, a beautiful song in every way.
The intro may remind you a bit of "GNR". It's a crunchy opening, moody and bluesy. Very beautiful, and pretty damn technical. The one problem with this is that it lasts too long. If it were about a minute shorter, the song would lose none of its abundant charm.
After the intro, you are brought to yet another strikingly beautiful riff. This one is different, though. At first it sounds nostalgic, like it's been there forever. Then it sounds fearful, like it has an uncertain future. Truly emotional, and a great musical morsel. Exremely pretty sounding, like the mother who is terminally ill but hides the truth from her family. She has to put on a happy face, but she knows that her and their lives will be changed for the worse. That's how the music makes me feel.
Then, suddenly, it breaks out of its minor scale. Now the mother is dying. She is hiding it from her children no longer. She finds it relieving. She is finally set free to do as she will in the afterlife. The music becomes almost mirthful, in a slow sort of way.
When the main clean riff sets in, you may cry if you sponge much emotion from your music. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of music to ever grace a metal song. You can't not like this. It is quite dramatic, as well as climactic, as well as happy sounding.
Then we get a short snare rum-tum-tum, and the distorted guitars start pounding along with the drums in a joyous manner much like the clean riff past. It's a very good guitar lick, and the shouting comes in bursts, quite appropriate. Also, there is another thing special about this song... I would actually suggest that one listen to the lyrics. In other songs, they are a bit inane, but here they are very emotional, however irrelevant to anything material.
The guitar chords bow down to the majesty of the song, muting gloriously and building up to a higher chord, muting again.
The song simply repeats this pattern a few times until it has gone through 2 verses.
Then it begins with the closest thing to a bridge that a song like this can have. It is very technical, probably more so than the intro of the song. It's also equally beautiful to any other section of this song.
There are a few more ever-welcome repititions, until the song climaxes like an orgasm, repeating the beautiful clean riff with distorted traces behind it. It is surely the point highest in energy on this song, maybe even the entire album.
It ends in another clean chord, major again, but mirthless.
The 'nostalgic, fearful' riff repeats, beautifully, ending the song on an uncertain note.
Songs like this are why this album is as great as it is. No band of lesser repute would even dare do a classy song like this on a metal album. This song is metal, it is blues, it is jazz. It is Mastodon.
6. Burning Man--
Well. Here's a change in pace. This song is the closest thing to thrash on this album, and it is very slow, which should tell something about this band. This song is a great one, and it stands out for sure. It's another one in D but sounds like A.
The intro really sounds like ***, though, or at least the part with fifth chords in the tune of A. When it raises up to a more intelligible lick, you realize what the fifth chords were trying to do and you can make better sense of it. All the while, Brann is smashing his drums like they were mosquitoes headed for an open wound.
Then one of the main riffs starts. It's simple, yet catchy, and metalish. It's also muted so heavily that you can't tell what it's doing. Then, of course, harmonizing leads join in, and make it a true Mastodon riff.
When the singing starts, you have no idea what they're singing about, but it feels right. No chords here, just notes, playing the 'Doom' chord progression.
When the chorus begins, you can't tell that there's even been a transition from verse to chorus. It's the catchiest part of the song. The way the rythms of the singing meet the chords of the guitars, is magical.
What do you get with a simple song like this? A repitition. It's simple, straight, to the point.
It ends with a welcome surprise, though. A really cool riff. Drops to D for the first time in the song. Guess they couldn't resist the temptation. :)
I wish they would've slowed this part down a bit, though.
This song is not really a standout song, but it is definitely a great metal stomp. Great in it's prime.
This song confuses me. I don't have any prelude to this one. It's not really anything like the rest of the bunch.
It opens with some of the most annoying noise I've ever heard.
Then clean guitars come to a tempo similar to "Crusher Destroyer".
It doesn't have much of a structure. It, like the next song, are 2 songs on the album that I never could really get into.
All I can say about this song is that it lives up to it's name.
8. Trampled Under Hoof--
There's almost nothing good about this song.
I just can't find anything about it that I like. It's complicated and confused beyond the level of being fun. Unlike songs like "Crusher Destroyer", this one is really out there and abstract.
It's too experimental for its own good.
Here's another golden song. After the ordeal of the last two tracks, this one's dank rythms come as welcome relief from the onslaught of chaos the last two tracks delivered. A very progressive piece, a lot like "Ol'e Nessie", but by no means beautiful.
It opens with a clean groove. The guitars are gloomy, unlike anything I've ever heard. They are as much metal as any moment on the album, though. This part of the song really helps to bring forth suspense and it's very effective and pleasant to hear.
When the distorted guitar starts banging away, you know that it's one of the heaviest pieces of the album. The mutes really crunch and the fifth chords actually fit here, unlike in "Burning Man". The drums annoy, though, and the time signatures should have stuck to a more traditional 4/4 or 3/4. My one complaint with this song.
This song is chock full of smokey rythms and heavy riffs, but actually they are too many to really detail here. Suffice it to say that it is a great track. Yet another standout.
10. Mother Puncher--
This, personally, is one of my favorites. I love this song. It is one of the most technically difficult songs I've ever heard. Another drop A song, it is basically the perfect sludge metal song.
The intro. What an intro. It is an intro cooler than almost any intro I've ever heard, outside of this album. It's really hard to play on a guitar, too. The harmonizing guitars are organized, here, though, and that makes it all the better.
Then we are brought to a really funky southern-rock riff that reeks of tension and clarity. The muted notes are played with great precision and the BUMM BUMM BUMM's of the guitars really fits the 'oh yeah rock out' feel of this awesome song.
When the first 'versey' riff of the song comes up, you will get chills. Whether it is the perfect rythm of the shouts, the BWAAHHH-CHUN-CHUN-BWAAHHH-CHUN-CHUN waltz guitar groove, or the dadadadadadatumtumdadatum of the drums, you will enjoy this song at some point or another.
When the song continues, the sludgiest of riffs surface, the craziest of tempo changes shift like grease in a fulcrum.
This song is basically the epitome of the heavier side of the album. A true standout song, as is almost every other song.
11. The Elephant Man--
Well, I used to think this song was a lot better than it actually is. It's not too bad a song, but it's nothing to buy the album over.
An instrumental. Nothing special. There is a solo, but considering that only two songs on this album even have them, it must not be too important to Mastodon.
So please, don't take my word for it. My opinion is no more valuable than anyone else's. But if anything you read that seems factual here does seem interesting, give the album a try. You might even like it.
Thanks for reading my first review. :)