Review Summary: Brain meets brawn to create a classic metal album
To say Mastodon have come far since their humble beginnings in a basement in Atlanta, is an understatement. Hailed as the “rebirth” of metal in a decade mired with unimaginative, uninspired metalcore bands, Mastodon stand poised their latest album, The Hunter mid-fall, to high expectations. So why not take a look back to 2002 (Yes, it’s been that long, and yes you are that old) to when Mastodon first roared onto the scene from an unlikely place and got our attention with what remains, in my opinion, their strongest release.
What Remission does, from the first track (The aptly named “Crusher Destroyer”) that opens with a T-Rex roar from Jurassic Park, to the last track that fades out with a lonely guitar solo, is blow your mind. For its time, the album probably would have gotten a pass just for not being another breakdown-heavy, metalcore album. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good breakdown. It’s just a predictable formula that got over statured with far too many bands who all must have shopped at the same Hot Topic, looking to cash in on the wave. But what Mastodon did was take a huge gamble and as a result breathed life into sludge metal ( a genera that’s never been known for its marketability), progressive metal, and grunge; with a healthy dose of Black Sabbath-esque riffs and Allman Brother’s-esque duel guitar rhythms thrown in for good measure. And I’ll be damned if it all doesn’t somehow come tighter and sound amazing 9 years later.
The musicianship on this album marks Mastodon at their tightest. Complex guitar rhythms are backed by an ever present, urgent sounding bass, and the phenomenal drumming of Brain Dailor. Individually, everyone knows how to get the most out of their instruments, but together they create a tight, powerful, claustrophobic sound that doesn’t let up. The drumming alone stands out, as it sounds like Dailor is juggling a bag of hammers and yet never seems out of place. The dual-guitar work here wouldn’t be out of place on a Dream Theater album. But make no mistake. The songs, for all their musical complexity, hit hard with brutal, bone-crunching, sludgy goodness.
It’s hard to a pick any single track as a stand out, because the album as a whole maintains a high level of consistency. Nothing is wasted, and nothing feels like a throw away or filler. Not that it all sounds like one loud mess. Just as a song is about to wear thin, the band suddenly kicks your ass with a creative tempo change or a key shift. These little nuances keep the album from ever becoming boring and you’ll want to revisit it again, and again.
Oddly enough, the only weakness of the album are the lyrics which, taken out of context, just sound downright silly. But this doesn’t detract from the listening experience at all. Partially because, hey it’s metal, but mostly because whatever nonsense Brent and Troy are howling about, it sounds pretty dammed awesome. The duel vocal delivery is short, fast, vicious, and like everything else on this album, perfectly executed.
Later on, Mastodon (Mostly just Brent) would out more time into making the lyrics the focus. This would go on to have mixed results. From powerful follow up (Leviathan: Herman Melvin’s epic told in the greatest format) to “Over produced, over thought, seriously it’s about what?” (Crack The Skye AKA “Why Brent should never be left alone with a bong again”) But Remission stands as a testament to all the elements that made Mastodon stand out when metal needed a shot of creativity and a swift kick in the balls; destined to become a classic.