Review Summary: The sound of expansion.
One can’t imagine it’s easy for a band like Mastodon to constantly deliver something of equal or greater caliber with each of their releases. Fans were drawn in from the beginning with the sludging frenzy of Remission
, then astounded by the conceptual Leviathan
, bludgeoned by the focused and inventive Blood Mountain
, and were finally thrown something of a curveball with the progressive melodies of Crack the Skye
. So fans and critics alike could be led to wonder what ground the band could possibly tread upon now to keep their sound fresh, their followers intrigued, and to force the unenthused to become enthused. And, being the imaginative force that they’ve become widely hailed as, they’ve chosen to expand.
There are a few things this record is not. It is not the sound of a band selling out, becoming “radio friendly”, dulling their sound, or treading water. This is the sound of expansion. What I mean by this is simple. Think of this in terms of a simple directional pad: Down being digression, up being progression, and left and right being expansion and exploration. This record is far from a step backward. It’s clear from the opening track “Black Tongue” that the band has all but abandoned their root formula of heavy riffing, busy drum work, driving bass, and melodic shouts. Then again, this isn’t necessarily a step into new territory. The band just takes all of the routes they have previously explored and taps into the notion that they can do pretty much whatever they damn well please and make it their own.
The controversy of naysayers playing the “sell out” card toward this release have stemmed almost entirely from the second track, “Curl of the Burl”. However, the fact that the band has produced a song in which the listener can instantly sing along and bob their head is nothing along the vein of “sell out”. This song simply proves that the band is willing to toy with the idea of a song that could easily impress old fans and bring in new fans alike, which we certainly know it has accomplished the latter. “Blasteroid” gives us a short burst of the energy we’re all familiar with, leading us directly into the next sign of experimentation: “Stargasm”. Possessing an almost shoe-gaze-esque feel at first, the track quickly evolves into an entirely different beast with eerie backdrops of guitar and heartfelt vocal melodies acting almost as another instrument rather than the work of any ‘front man’. On that note, the band proves with the following tracks “Octopus Has No Friends” and “All the Heavy Lifting” that they have retained all of their taste in punishing riffs while taking a much more melodic and entrancing approach to their vocal style, utilizing three of the four members to get their stories across.
“The Hunter” can be seen almost as the album’s center piece, showing the most diversity thus far. More of a heart wrenching anthem than we’ve come to expect from this outfit, it almost completely changes the tone of the album from that point onward, giving the next couple tracks more of a medium paced feel. Once “Creature Lives” sprinkles through the speakers we’re introduced to a new face of Mastodon. After the sci-fi beeps and boops the song picks up and flows more like a nursery rhyme than anything. As if “Curl of the Burl” didn’t give us all enough of a reason to sing along, this track will have you driving down the road, neck hairs on end, fist in the air, chanting right along with Brann and rooting for this faceless creature. “Spectrelight” gets us back into a hurdling pace with riffs that could easily be classified as classic metal. The jump into “Bedazzled Fingernails” begins with an off kilter beat and a nearly haunting voice pushing the jittery atmosphere of the song forward. Once the closing track, “The Sparrow”, chimes into existence it truly feels like a closer in this new vision that has been bestowed upon us. Guitar leads resembling something more like a synth bounce around a chugging rhythm, backed by almost whispered chants. Then comes the fading end.
While other albums the band has set forth have all had a concept of some sort this album completely abandons that facade. While I do feel it affects the pace of the album a bit, making the transitions between certain tracks a bit “abrupt”, if you will, it also seems to aid the vision that I imagine the members had in mind. While Leviathan
, Blood Mountain
, and Crack the Skye
were more like loosely based musical novels than anything else, this record seems to give each track its own life, letting all of them act as individual characters in their own personal novels rather than pawns in the greater scheme of things.
So is this album a sell out, leading to the potential demise of a modern metal heavyweight? Not in the least. This simply marks the most experimental stage we’ve been introduced to thus far. While most of it is a true empiric vision, and some of it may leave us wondering a bit, none of it is a disappointment. No one has reigns on this powerhouse of a musical force. Every move they make is based on the fact that they want to make it. And if this is a testament to what the future has the potential of holding then expect to be astounded by these fiends for a long time coming.