Sunday, April 28, 2013



One of the biggest metal bands in the mainstream of today (and I mean the real mainstream.  The shit capable of charting and the kinds of bands that people who just watch MTV for Jersey Shore reruns might have heard of) is of course, Atlanta's Mastodon.  I decided to start this series for a few reasons.  One was that I used to be a huge fan of the band.  Really, their first three albums were always in fairly regular rotation from about 05-08, and I think it'd be fun for me to take a trip down memory lane.  The other is because the reason this is a trip down a long forgotten path instead of a simple retrospective is because I haven't listened to them at all for the last four years.  Yes, Crack the Skye was so unbearably awful that it somehow managed to make everything before it sound like shit to me.  It was like The Matrix sequels.  And since I've stopped listening to them, they apparently became the new Metallica, so curiosity is leading me to re-explore and re-evaluate the band's career in some attempt to understand how in the everloving fuck that wound up happening to a band that managed to squander away their songwriting capabilities so marvelously.  So welcome, my friends, to Mainstream Extinction: The Story of Mastodon, and BastardHead's Expert Opinion on Why You are Probably Wrong.

So in 2002, after gathering up a huge amount of buzz via their two EPs the previous year (Slick Leg and Lifesblood), Mastodon managed to sign to the legendary Relapse Records, and start their career already a few steps ahead of most young, innovative new bands.  And their debut, Remission, actually holds up pretty well, even a decade later.  What this presented was a very hungry young band, out to set the world on fire.  Remission manages to do just that, with it's insanely chaotic approach to extreme music, dashed with influences of hardcore, sludge, and bluesy southern rock.

Back at this time, for those of you who got into metal around the time Dragonforce was was wrapping up production on their fourth album (never has a young person felt so old than in the metal scene!), there really wasn't a whole lot like Mastodon in the early 00s.  There were chaotic bands, there were noisy bands, there were sludgy, heavy, and bluesy bands, but few that wrapped all of it up in such a nice, appealing package in the way that this band did.  Even less so getting frequent airplay on MTV and a major label hype machine.  So at the time, this really was a cool experience.  The long, psyched out jam in "Elephant Man" was so different from the thunderously heavy "Crusher Destroyer" which was so different from the unremittingly dense "Where Strides the Behemoth".  It's a very fun, flavorful album, with enough running threads and common themes between tracks to keep the varied experience cohesive.

The one aspect that absolutely cannot be ignored is Brann Dailor's absolutely frantic drumming.  Bill Ward once said that the reason he injected Black Sabbath with so many drum fills was because he had trouble keeping time, and so throwing in a fill every few bars gave him the ability to break into free time for a short while so he could collect himself and get back to where he needed to be.  I don't doubt Dailor is more than competent enough to be able to keep time like a human metronome, but he emulates Ward so closely in the frequency, diversity, and intensity of his fills here that I can't help but wonder.  One sad, lonely evening as a teenager, I actually sat down and listened to the first two Mastodon albums to see how long they went without a drum fill, and I'm pretty sure my calculations ended up being somewhere around "every four bars, twelve seconds being the longest gap between them".  He really ends up being the leader of this band despite being the only member not to contribute vocals.  His showy, flashy style ends up being one of the most memorable elements of the early albums, and this doesn't bother me in the slightest since he's very skilled, and it helps add memorability to his performance.  So even if I ended up fucking hating this album, at least I wouldn't forget it.  I would at the very least remember the complete spaz of a drummer.

And luckily enough, I don't hate this album. In fact I feel like it's quite good, and has managed to stand the test of time as an enjoyable modern metal album.  It's hard to pigeonhole Remission into any one particular subgenre of music.  There are definitely huge heaping helpings of High on Fire in here, such as "Where Strides the Behemoth" and "Trainwreck", and not to mention the slightly prog rock styled darkness of the acoustic segments in "Ole' Nessie", "Trilobite", and "Elephant Man".  Unsurprisingly though, I feel the best tracks are the shorter, faster ones; the ones where the band just completely lets loose and delivers a chaotic, frenzied experience complete with memorable riffs and melodies.  "Crusher Destroyer" is an absolute fucking monster of a track, as are "Burning Man", "Mother Puncher", and "Workhorse", and they contain some of the most memorable riffs of the entire experience (topped only by the more crushing, mid paced number of "March of the Fire Ants").  Unfortunately, they also stand out the most because the long tripped out songs are pretty fantastically dull.

Yeah, "Ole' Nessie", "Trainwreck", and "Trilobite" do a decent job of keeping the flow of the album going, but as tracks themselves they're just needlessly boring.  I get a feeling that the "progressive" part of their genre comes from tracks like this, the long ones that drone on endlessly with jazzy percussion and long sections of harmonized lead lines.  They don't make the entire album boring, thankfully, and they're each spaced out by putting a fast, catchy song in between them all, but if you're not leaving the album on in the background or something (like say... reviewing it), they can be really tiresome and frustrating.  The band's strength lies in the fast and the midpaced, and most of these songs are indeed midpaced, but when their ideas are stretched out for too long, they tend to lose their luster, and that sucks because it means the album periodically loses steam after the first four tracks finish. They're just... not very interesting to listen to, and when you couple that with the completely inconsequential vocals, you find yourself listening to drum fills for seven minutes at a time.  Yeah, the band would be better off in the future when they dropped the idea of putting multiple long droning tracks on each album.

Overall the first four tracks are all great, with a strong High on Fire type stoner metal vibe, mixed in with healthy amounts of noisy hardcore and a very subtle southern sludge flavor, with "Burning Man" and "Mother Puncher" doing the same on the latter half of the album.  The more progressive songs, on the other hand, are kinda lame.  You can do without the five tracks that aren't the six I just mentioned, as they're really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  If nothing else, it's a very dense and suffocatingly heavy album for most of it's duration, even during the boring songs, and it serves as a neat reminder of the band's roots in hindsight, because they never got heavier than this.  I most certainly would not have expected Mastodon to become one of the biggest and most popular ambassadors for heavy music in the media's eye based on this inhumanly thick and impenetrable album, that's for sure.

RATING - 68%

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