Mastodon
Medium Rarities


3.0
good

Review

by PostMesmeric USER (87 Reviews)
September 12th, 2020 | 27 replies


Release Date: 09/11/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Mastodon’s rarity catalog still shows curiosity, a desire to try something new, even if that doesn’t fully land.

Despite them plugging away for 20 years at this point, it’s very tough to really see where Mastodon is headed right now. The band’s peak in the early 2000’s set the bar considerably high for progressive metal, but like any band whose early work is that recognizably awesome, expectations arise. Their last two releases, Emperor of Sand and the Cold Dark Place EP, really couldn’t be more different, so for the first time in quite a while, Mastodon’s trajectory feels unknown. In the meantime, the band’s back catalog is getting some attention, and Medium Rarities is the band’s effort to dig up some buried treasure. We’re still waiting to see where exactly the band is headed on their next LP, but Medium Rarities is a respectable effort to explore the band’s vast sonic canvas that’s persisted across two decades so far.

B-sides and rarities collections have the negative connotations of shoveling lesser-known tracks into a pile to make a quick buck, but I think that cynicism is a bit misplaced. Some bands have had the strange precision (or just dumb luck) to have their B-sides as some of their best tracks, so writing off rarities collections entirely isn’t something to get behind from the get-go (for what it’s worth, I’m a shameless Chevelle fan). And for a band like Mastodon, who’ve changed up their sound so much across their career, exploring that evolution has its appeal. Sure, they’re still a heavy band, but seeing those detours and curiosities justifies any kind of examination of their extra-deep cuts.

And when it comes to digging up those rare gems, I can’t fault Mastodon from giving it a college try. There’s some real intrigue in this tracklist. “Fallen Torches” has the instrumental crunch of a Blood Mountain-era cut with a swelling roar near the track’s mid-point, and routine guest Scott Kelly from Neurosis pulling off the same vocal quality you’d expect from a Mastodon track with him in the credits. The warped, but grimy “Atlanta” is another solid selection, striking a great balance between Mastodon’s heavy riffs and the weirder end of Gibby Haynes’ band Butthole Surfers. It won’t set the world on fire, but it stands out on Haynes’ contribution alone. The haymaker of “Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife” calls back to Blood Mountain again, but its brief length and totally off-the-wall vocal variety really makes it stand out. It’s like the band crammed all of their stylistic qualities into a 1-minute-50-second shock to the system.

Numerous instrumentals also populate the track list and while that might sound a bit off-putting and repetitive compared to their complete LP recordings, there’s value to hearing these songs in their instrumental isolation (for the most part, anyway). “Jaguar God” and “Halloween” manage to really swell and shift throughout their runtime, displaying these micro-movements in crisp and visceral form. “Asleep in the Deep”, on the other hand, lacks that sense of movement, so of the instrumentals, I’d argue it’s the least compelling of the bunch. Those small musical intricacies become so much more apparent without the vocals. When Mastodon are able to deliver these dynamics, these motions through different styles in a single track, the instrumentals definitely justify their inclusion.

The missteps on Medium Rarities mostly stem from the covers and live tracks, which lack considerable distinction. The tracks that are performed live are quality compositions on their own, but there’s nothing the live recordings do that stand out. Not even the battlecry of “Blood and Thunder” carries the same intensity as its studio recording, so you’re better off just listening to the LPs if you can. I understand that Mastodon changing a live track from its studio counterpart is difficult, but compared to how Mastodon cover a track, the live tracks are an absolute rush. Props to the Feist cover “A Commotion”, an eerie jam that Mastodon absolutely do justice, especially in its maddening rhythms. The same can’t be said of “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton”, as Mastodon’s spin on this The Flaming Lips cover just doesn’t do enough to provide a concrete footprint. Sure, it’s a bit heavier at times, but that’s it, especially with Brann’s totally underwhelming vocal performance. Similarly “Orion”, as an instrumental, doesn’t deliver enough opportunity for Mastodon to really color outside the lines, nor does it present the track in particularly well-produced dressing. Whether that’s the fault of Mastodon or simply the track itself, “Orion” kind of sets itself up for a letdown. There are also some noticeable track omissions, like “The Ruiner” and “Deathbound” (two bonus tracks from The Hunter), which would’ve broken up the reliance on instrumental and live tracks a lot better. And if Mastodon was really feeling daring, they’d dig up more tracks from their earliest years, like some demos from the Remission/Leviathan days. Sadly, that era is under-represented on this compilation.

Look, Medium Rarities is, obviously, a rarities collection. Expecting a crazy level of introspection might be asking too much. It doesn’t act as any kind of reassurance to the band’s current motives, nor does it dive deep enough to satiate the hyper-dedicated fans. It misses a lot of marks when it comes to showing something really flattering for the band, one that displays the hidden gems of their catalog instead of the dusty duds. But Mastodon’s rarity catalog still shows curiosity, a desire to try something new, even if that doesn’t fully land. That’s got to stand for something.

There’s admittedly something exciting about a band’s direction being unknown. It gets the brain storming and wondering what’s coming next, but regardless of how you feel about Mastodon’s recent output, you’ll likely find something to enjoy on Medium Rarities.



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user ratings (48)
2.8
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
PostMesmeric
September 12th 2020


778 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Tried something a bit new with my writing style for this review. Hope you enjoy reading this one. Thanks in advance for any constructive criticism.

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
September 12th 2020


16587 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

The album name made me smirk but the songs are dull af

Digging: Marilyn Manson - We Are Chaos

gschwen
September 12th 2020


321 Comments


Back when Aqua Teen Hunger Force was culturally relevant, “Linoleum Knife” was a fun movie intro.

JayEnder
September 12th 2020


8208 Comments


Hey Mesmer! Good to see you around. Nice review brother.

I WILL BITE YOUR TORSO AND GIVE YOU A DISEASEEE

Digging: Deftones - Ohms

garas
September 12th 2020


4944 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

"but the songs are dull af"

Wait, what?



Also nice review, pos'd.

Digging: Slagmaur - Von Rov Shelter

heck
September 12th 2020


4866 Comments


this should've included the bonus tracks for The Hunter.

Lichtbringer
September 13th 2020


407 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I liked your review, except you kinda made it seem like “Cut You Up...” was a new song, but that song has been available for a long time.

TundraL5Z
September 13th 2020


4959 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

such a randomly placed tracklisting, the original songs on here are pretty great honestly, but leaves a bit to be desired as whole, why not just release instrumental versions of the albums instead of this backwards way of doing it...

Digging: The Ocean - Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic

wojodta
September 13th 2020


241 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I consider myself a pretty huge Mastodon fan and the only things here that I think are worthwhile are Fallen Torches and A Commotion.

DDDeftoneDDD
September 14th 2020


13393 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

hum need to check this...tks for reminding Garas

Fallen Torches is a banger...that m/m/ ending m/m/

Digging: Demonic Death Judge - The Trail

WattPheasant
September 14th 2020


2 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Okay, this is honestly not a good album by most stretches of the imagination.

DDDeftoneDDD
September 14th 2020


13393 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

ahahahaha stopping by just to say this album is as unnecessary as awesome!



If any doubts we could have, Asleep in the Deep, stripped from the vocals is plain awesome stuff...Jaguar God with or without vocals is toptier Mastodon. Live tracks are hail to some of the nastier ones on Blood Mountain (my fave Mastodon on long term). New tracks rule.

Aberf
September 14th 2020


3431 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Sludgy, Proggy, intense and one hell of a ride. I'm not surprised that Mastodon is becoming more popular; their discography is too damn awesome to not be recognized.

Digging: Dabin - Wild Youth

Thranth
September 14th 2020


304 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Am I missing something? Why 1.5

Digging: Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crpuscule

Decapitat3d
September 14th 2020


1 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I think as the reviewer, you need to look into the history of most of these songs. You should know that Orion is an old recording that they recently mastered. They recorded it around the time they recorded Blood Mountain. They used it as a warm up piece for tone, then decided to record it for a Kerrang! covers album but never got it mastered. It was on the 2006 Kerrang! covers album and was significantly lacking since it didn't get mastered. This is finally the mastered version of the same track.



Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife is another old song they did as the intro to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. It's been available on Youtube forever, but they never had it on an album and they decided to throw it on this one. I'm actually happy to have it on an album finally so I can listen to it when I want the ridiculousness that is the old Mastodon.



The band has always seemed to put their best foot forward, so I don't blame them for not putting out more stuff from Remission/Leviathan days. I doubt it would be half as polished as they would like it to be these days. This release is good and on par with what I thought it would be. The review doesn't do justice to the history behind some of the songs though.

Aberf
September 14th 2020


3431 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

https://www.sputnikmusic.com/soundoff.php?albumid=11289

Lichtbringer
September 14th 2020


407 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This could’ve been an awesome release easily, hadn’t they been so offensively lazy with delivering cuts that fans actually haven’t heard.

rockarollacola
September 15th 2020


377 Comments


Should've just given the originals the Cold Dark Place treatment. Stick the rest of the shit nobody gives a fuck about on a Deluxe edition bonus disc for the new album.

el_newg
September 15th 2020


905 Comments


I love that Decapitat3d is so confidently wrong hahah

Orion was on a special edition of Leviathan as well as that Kerrang CD and Cut You Up was on the ATHF soundtrack

IsolatedSymmetry
September 15th 2020


16 Comments


Terrific review. You summed up my thoughts and feelings perfectly.



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