Review Summary: A tepid exercise from Mastodon attempting to expand their traditional metal sound with more of the jazz, progressive and extreme metal facets; in the end, it's a bloated and repetitive record.
Mastodon is supposedly some sort of savior of modern metal. Not quite mainstream, not quite extreme, they seem to strike a perfect balance between what is easily listen-able and what is actually powerful or moving. The mold classic (or, perhaps, cliché) metal elements with slight progressive tinges, for a sound that some consider to be pioneering or, in the very least, unique. Blood Mountain
is the latest release from Mastodon, and it has been highly heralded in merely its first week of release. Is it a unique sound in mainstream metal? Yes. Is it really any good? No so much, unfortunately.
It’s obvious Mastodon try to accomplish something with their music. They are constantly “experimenting,” or at least trying to give everything its own unique sound on the album. Everything has as much production value thrown at it as humanly possible, and thus causes none of the songs to sound alike. The thing is, when every single guitar part sounds like a garbled mess, and every vocal take sounds like Ozzy through a ***ty vocorder or a fetus being smothered, it ends up being completely un-enjoyable.
The production is merely there to mask what an incredibly repetitive album this is. Yes, there are some moments of clarity, but for the most part they really don’t variate from the basics much. The guitarists constantly play boring riffs with a few good, and are generally just monotony embodied. The distorted guitar assault is passable on a few tracks where the energy is high enough to keep you distracted (“The Wolf is Loose” is undeniably energetic, for example), but for the most part it becomes tiring. It varies from spacey on “Sleeping Giant”, to almost blues-y on “Pendulous Skin,” and then for the most part variations on the same basic playing techniques they’ve always relied on. It’s no surprise “Sleeping Giant” and “Pendulous Skin” stick out more than anything else.
Mastodon has the tendency to also be called progressive, and while the title isn’t completely unjustified, it hardly fits very well. Drummer Brann Dailor can be mostly attributed to this, as his playing style constantly switches between hardcore-influenced rhythm playing to messy and derivative jazz-styled opuses. Dailor obviously has skill; the opening fill to “The Wolf is Loose” is a perfect way to open up such a sprawling and out-of-whack album. However, he often just goes where he will with little regard to the rest of the band, and is a large distraction from the actual songs. Often he goes completely against the grain of what everyone else is dong, and in a band that relies on melody as much as Mastodon, Dailor’s off time and “take no prisoners” drumming style just detracts from what really isn’t there already; a strong sense of cohesion.
See, the band also tinkers with expansive ambient musical intros and interludes, such as the opening to “Pendulous Skin”, where some nifty synth work toys with the soft acoustic guitar, which easily slips into the extremely sludge-y and equally space-y main body. However, they don’t take advantage of it well enough; while more than a few songs feature such a facet, its never anywhere besides the intro, and thus it becomes expected for each song to have some sort of flowing introduction.
It’s a shame, as the songs themselves could certainly use a few musical interludes themselves. Mastodon varies up what they do in every song by making frequent tempo changes, but never anything too drastic, thus keeping a sense of flowing continuity. However, Mastodon don’t have the sense to notice that their songs seem to just plod on without anything really interesting happening, sans an occasional flare of guitar creativity (aka not just continually doing hammer-on’s), and so as each song goes on for longer and longer, it’s easy to just become disinterested in the whole thing.
The lyrical concept of the album is, to put it simply, stupid. Yes, it’s easily disregardable and just as easy to just take in Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher’s vocals as merely another instrument in the fold, but what fun is that? The vocal effects they use on every single song are laughable (from the Ozzy impersonation to the Poison-like production on “Pendulous Skin) and severely distract from any credibility they have, and often don’t even sound very good with the instrumental tracks. The lyrics are the main problem though; like Leviathan
, this is a concept album, albeit instead of a huge whale they now discuss a man driven insane by being stuck on a mountain and his search for the “Crystal Skull.” Or something. Honestly, it was so overly dense and pretentious I could barely get through reading the lyrics to these songs, as everything is done in stereotypical metal/thrash language or silly metaphors. Quadrophenia
, this is not.
As a whole, the album suffices itself. The band has talent, they just don’t take advantage of it enough here, and instead try to overreach what they can do by throwing in haphazard progressive elements and a drummer who just wants to hit things as much as humanly possible. They work better when they’re all in synch, such as “Colony of Birchmen,” where the band puts in a great hard rock song complete with operatic vocal elements and with drummer Dailor actually sticking to keeping the beat and just contributing the occasional fill. When they reach for new heights, it’s hit or miss; “Sleeping Giant” is an excellent song that really shows what they can do when they just take their metal sound and lightly coat in prog influence. Then there’s trash like “The Siberian Divide”, which could very well be menacing and creepy if not for the cookie monster vocals, and “Pendulous Skin,” which absolutely screams bad 80’s metal in the vein of, yes, Poison.
Thus, I can’t truly recommend the album in full. If they had perhaps cut each song down to 3 minutes, 4 at absolute tops, the album would be a far more enjoyable listen without all that extra crap. Songs trudge along like nothings happening…because nothing really is. It’s all an exercise in futility, as the guitarists flash that they can play brilliant technical parts but stick to repetitive riffs; the bassist does nothing at all to even worth being mentioned; the drummer shows how great he can be, but then overdoes it 70% of the time, and the singers just…suck. In the end, it’s 50 minutes of okay modern metal that is a more of an indication of something greater than the next step. Which is a shame, because the video for “The Wolf is Loose” should really have a better album for it to be supporting.