5 of 5 thought this review was well written
Troy Sanders - Bass, lead vocals
Brent Hinds - Guitar, lead vocals
Bill Kelliher - Guitar, vocals
Brann Dailor - Drums
OK, firstly some band history and description of their sound if you haven't heard them before. Mastodon are one of the most aptly named metal bands around at the minute - their sound is every bit as abrasive, heavy and loud as the image of a massive prehistoric beast suggests. However, they're also an awesome band in technical terms, with some amazing, innovative axemanship from Hinds and Kelliher, while Dailor is a pretty kickass drummer - though his endless fills can get kinda repetitive (I'm a guitarist so this is just my view, if you're a drummer you might love the fills but hate the riffs). Sanders' basswork is generally pretty simple and indistinguishable in the mix, but this is no big deal as harsh metal vocals are his strong point.
The band have been around in one form or another since 1999, with their first major release, the Lifesblood EP, being unleashed in August 2001. They followed this with their first full-length LP, Remisson, in 2002, which showcased a major evolution in terms of tunes with no compromise on the heaviness. In my view, their crowning achievement to date is the 2004 album Leviathan, which not only further streamlined their sound into something even more killer than before, but cemented their position on the metal map. To support these releases, they played shows with bands such as Slayer, Dillinger Escape Plan, Cannibal Corpse, Hatebreed and Queens of the Stone Age.
The DVD is comprised of some in-depth, personal band interviews (so personal, in fact, that Hinds is interviewed while in the shower and brushing his teeth), a massive 31 tracks filmed live (unfortunately, as I'll explain below, quantity doesn't necessarily add up to quality), and their three videos - the sinister March of the Fire Ants, the genius carnivalesque Blood and Thunder, and the frankly weird uncensored version of Iron Tusk. The interviews are done pretty well, each member gives an interesting perspective of the band - even if the explanation they give for their 'Moby Dick' fascination on Leviathan is pretty lame - and they come across as really likeable, real people (at one point they give free stuff to a fan they meet in a mall, something you wouldn't get from po-faced metal snobs like Metallica) who have a sense of humour, but are also intelligent and care about the music they're making.
With a few exceptions - the instrumentals Elephant Man and Joseph Merrick, from Remission and Leviathan respectively - every track from each of Mastodon's three commercial releases is gathered here, in the form of various live sets recorded from 2000 to 2005, as well as some tracks from their initial demos. To be honest, the live sets - which form the bulk of the DVD's runtime and will probably be its main selling point to the casual buyer - are hit and miss. The earliest footage here, from their initial incarnation as a five-piece, is shot on a hand-held camera from a static position in the audience. Accordingly, the sound quality is terrible. Even later on, as the band became comparatively rich and famous and could evidently afford fancy mult-angle shots and decent sound mixing, the sound can occasionally be somewhat muddy (though the band's actual performance is never sloppy, and the skill they show is consistently amazing). Also, in a live setting the vocal limitations of Sanders and Hinds become glaringly apparent - Troy's vocals aren't as beefy as on the studio material, and while Brent's clean singing (which Troy likens, accurately, to Ozzy Osbourne in the interview section) is solid and tuneful, his attempts at a Tom Araya-ish metal roar are almost embarrassing to behold.
The reason this get such a high mark from me is because the chronology of the live sets effectively shows the evolution of a band, from a bunch of hairy no-marks playing to about four bored people in a tiny bar, to sold-out shows with hundreds of fans who know every word; something which I honestly thought was pretty inspiring to watch unfold in the space of a few hours. Also, even on some of the sludgier earlier numbers, such as Slick Leg and Thank You For This, the band play with blistering technical proficiency and energy that isn't too common these days - anyone who's seen them live will know what I'm talking about. On top of that, the videos are amazing to watch, particularly with the band's commentary to draw your attention to some interesting points.
I definitely recommend this DVD for fans, casual listeners might do better to check out Leviathan or Remission, as the production values on these don't detract from the material in the same way as occasionally happens here. Overall, the Workhorse Chronicles is far from perfect, but just like the shaky, grainy hand-held camera footage of the band rocking out back when nobody knew who they were, it has an in-your-face DIY charm that (IMHO) is pretty hard to resist.
This was my first review, please don't flame me too harshly :)