So here it is, what could be the most anticipated metal release of the decade so far, and I know what you're thinking... Surely all the hype is bound to lead to dissappointment? Surely Mastodon must've cracked under the pressure of critical acclaim and the move to a major label and not been able to live up to their reputation as metal revolutionaries? Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to be knocked clean off your high horses, as Blood Mountain
is one of the most monumental, immense, mind-crushing, skin-flaying, (insert any number of other superlatives here) compositions ever committed to disc.
I feel I should point out here, before I have the inevitable accusations of fanboyism thrown at me, that while I found Mastodon's previous album, Leviathan
, to be a thoroughly solid and enjoyable listen, I do not believe it to be the revolutionary landmark in metal that every man and his dog seemed to proclaim it, upon its release, to be. However, having listened to Blood Mountain several times, it is readily apparent that this album deserves tenfold the respect and worship lavished upon its predecessor.
From the very start, the album is incredibly atmospheric. A recent article on the band that I read recently mentioned that the album exudes a mood of desolate loneliness and bleakness, likening it to the atmosphere created by the ever present spooky red sky in early 90s shoot-em-up game Doom. I couldn't agree more with this analogy, as I find it impossible to envision the slow, treacherous ascent of the mountain which the music represents without such a forboding red sky residing above.
Despite this, listening to the album is rarely depressing. Rooted by the frantic, jazz-influenced, and always inventive drumming of Brann Dailor (surely one of the premier sticksmen in metal, a man whose chaotic beats and fills drive and define the music in a similar way to that of Dave Lombardo of Slayer), and characterised by the varied guitarwork of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, Blood Mountain is equal parts uplifting and confusing. At various points during the album we are treated to Thin Lizzy-esque harmony riffs and crushing grooves (notably the intro riff to "Crystal Skull"
), thrashy rhythms ("The Wolf Is Loose"
), epic, haunting build-ups with hints of acoustic guitar ("Sleeping Giant"
), effect-laden spazz-outs (instrumental interlude "Bladecatcher"
), and beautiful laid back pieces (the sublime guitar harmonies which usher in "This Mortal Soil"
). Also notable is the addition of solos and more prominent lead parts, which weren't as pronounced in the band's previous output, but only add to the insane melting pot of sound found on Blood Mountain
While Troy Sanders' bass does little other than lock in with the guitars and provide a solid backing, his vocals (shared in part with Brent) are more melodically orientated than on previous work, encompassing dreamy melodies and harmonies, strong gruff-yet-tuneful roaring, and also the brutal death-roar we know and love. Such increased scope adds further variation to the album, one of the many results of this being that a sort of stoner-rock feel is occasionally brought to the fore, something the band haven't really touched on before.
Much has been made in the press and internet news items of the collaborations present on Blood Mountain. Prog fans have salivated at the very thought of Cedric Bixler-Xavala of the Mars Volta adding vocals (on "Siberian Divide"
), and Neurosis fans have been equally enthused about Scott Kelly's contribution to "Crystal Skull"
but to be quite honest, it took repeated listens before I could even pinpoint where they appeared. Only slightly more noticable is the voice of QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, singing a few backing vocals on "Colony Of Birchmen"
but still, his contributions are minimal, and the song would still be a distinct album highligh even without his input. To dwell on the guest appearances featured on Blood Mountain
is like pointing at the stars and looking at your finger.
However, such is the overall level of experimentation and variation within the songs, that to try and describe every nuance and element of the sounds on display would take up more pages of text than anyone would care to read, but suffice to say, this is the sort of album you could easily get lost in. Even, dare I say it... a modern day "Dark Side Of The Moon"
In short, this is everything that was expected from Mastodon and more. A thoroughly impressive piece of work which anyone with any kind of passion for heavy metal should own.