Mastodon - Leviathan

posted by Greg, Monday October 25, 2004 @ 05:04:16 PM

Artist: Mastodon (http://www.mastodonrocks.com)
Album: Leviathan
Release Date: August 31st, 2004
Label: Relapse Records



Rating: 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Blood And Thunder, Iron Tusk, Megalodon

While the Atlanta metal scene is still in its growing phase, one of its favorite sons is busy garnering national attention, and rightfully so - the mighty Mastodon. Ever since the release of their 2001 EP Lifesblood on Relapse Records they have slowly been building up steam in the underground metal scene as one of the most innovative and promising new bands to emerge in quite some time. 2002's Remission was a giant step forward for the band as they further perfected their sound and vision, and while 2004's Leviathan sacrifices some of the heaviness from Remission for more of a gritty rock feel to the album, it certainly isn't a remission in terms of quality. This is an album from a band that is clearly on top of its game right now and firing on all cylinders.

Mastodon play a hard to categorize blend of music, which I'll try to pin down for you anyways: think of down home southern rock spliced with doom/stoner riffs over wildly progressive/jazz drumming with just a hint of thrash and death metal stomp thrown in for good measure. Album opener "Blood and Thunder" is a good example of what you'll find through the whole album - dry, southern-fried riffing over heavy doses of progressive drumming and double-bass fills, all brought together by anguished, paranoia-tinged vocals. In fact, you can sum up their sound neatly in one word: Mastodon. A lumbering, thundering blend of everything I just described, trampling underfoot anything that dares to get in its way.

The album itself, while not an out-and-out concept album, does focus its lyrical content rather heavily on oceanic themes, specifically Melville's classic whale of a tale, Moby Dick. With song titles like "I am Ahab", "Seabeast", and "Aqua Dementia", the album is awash in both literary references to Melville's fish story and paranoia of being eaten by sea monsters, among other things. Sure it sounds silly, but Mastodon somehow bring it all together into a rollicking and entirely listenable blend of high seas hijinks, kinda like a collection of heavy metal sea shantys. I can personally guarantee you this is the best metal album about Moby Dick you've ever heard.

For everything that's good about this album, there are a few slip-ups. The chief offender is the 13-minute plus track entitled "Hearts Alive", which goes on for about 10 minutes too long. It's as if they were purposely trying to extend the running time of the album or something, as this song gets really repetitive about halfway through and doesn't stop from there. A lot of Mastodon's strength lies in the conciseness of their songs, how each one hits with a striking amount of precision and force in such a short period of time, so there really isn't a need for a plodding, mastodon-sized 13 minute jam session toward the end of the album. And if you're looking for that heavy punch in the gut feeling that Remission delivered, you'll be slightly disappointed that Leviathan saves its heavy hitting for bits and pieces of each song rather than focusing on one all-out assault after another.

A lot of media outlets, including quite a few mainstream sources such as mtv.com and Spin Magazine, have showered Mastodon with such gaudy praise as "the next Metallica" and "the best band in metal today". Hopefully that doesn't mean they'll get some bigshot producer to cock up their next album and begin a string of downhill musical quality for the next ten to fifteen years or so like the previous "next Metallica" (which was Metallica by the way), but you'd be hard pressed to find a metal band that has as much positive press going for it right now as Mastodon does. They stand precariously perched on the line between sacrificing underground "purity" for mainstream critical success, and very few metal acts have been able to successfully walk this line. If anyone is gonna do it though, Mastodon certainly have the chops to lay claim to the titles of both underground champions and mainstream critical darlings, and time will tell if they succeed, or if they really do become the next Metallica.

- Greg

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