Tuesday, April 30, 2013



So while Remission gave Mastodon some mainstream recognition (being released on Relapse certainly helped, and "March of the Fire Ants" received decent rotation on music channels), it's really hard to debate that their real breakthrough album was anything other than Leviathan.  If you watched Fuse or listened to any hard rock/metal radio station or used internet radio or anything of the sort back in 2004, there was no escaping "Blood and Thunder" or "Iron Tusk".  This shit was ubiquitous, no doubt about it.  And that's great and all, I thought Remission was pretty decent but had a few issues with overlong stoner jams, so seeing that Leviathan only has one track I could consider to be of a long length (though it's twice as long as the longest track on the previous album) filled me with some rare optimism.

Long story short, yeah this definitely fixed my biggest problem with Mastodon's debut.   Gone are the overly dragging, droning, no-seriously-guys-we're-totally-a-prog-band jams ("Hearts Alive" not withstanding), replaced almost entirely with those mid to fast paced rockers I enjoyed so much.  Paradoxically, the hardcore influence has been toned down dramatically as well.  I still won't be upset at somebody labeling this album or the band as a metalcore band, but the noisy chaos is much more reined in this time around, with the riffwork being more controlled and precise.  It's more melodic on the whole as well, and is absolutely loaded with dueling harmonized lead lines, which eventually became one of the band's trademarks, if you ask me.  One element that was retained, thankfully, was Dailor's completely overdone yet charismatic drumming.  I understand why people hate this guy, but I personally adore his buttnards, fill-happy technique.  It gives the band identity (oh they're the band with the Shokan meth-head drummer, right?) and keeps the songs moving forward.  Mastodon is no stranger to the stoner metal tendency of repeating riffs far more often than they'd logically need to be repeated, but with Dailor's nonstop filling, it makes the music go by without dragging on, and that's wholly welcome.

Now then, if the stoner jams are toned down and the progginess is toned down and the hardcore is toned down, doesn't that mean we have a much more restrained and bland album on our hands?  In a way, kind of.  This is certainly much less off-the-wall than its predecessor, but I look at it as more "homogenized" or "focused" than "bland across the board".  To me, Remission had a ton of ideas, and only half of them really stuck, whereas Leviathan is the band learning from that experience and instead funneling their songwriting talents into the shorter, punchier tracks this time around.  There are remnants of that early fire here and there, with "Hearts Alive" being a thirteen minute jam, taking nearly all of the leftover elements they kept from shoehorning into the other songs and just cramming them all into one track.  The slight bluesy elements rear their heads occasionally as well ("Megalodon" is the most blatant example) and "Island" gets a giant helping of that chaotic noise that the rest of the album manages to shy away from.  But for the most part, this is a much more focused and song oriented effort, jam packed with memorable riffs and melodies.

However, there is one major, major issue that began on this album and would plague the band for the rest of their career.  That would be the fucking Mudvayne vocals.  I have no idea how I'm apparently the only person who hears the Chad Gray impression in the clean vocals, but if you can't hear it in "Naked Burn", then I have no idea what to tell you.  I get that Mastodon is a cool band and Mudvayne is a lame one so there's no way you can ever compare something good to something bad, but even huge opponents of the band who will find anything crazy to say about how much they suck and are a blight on the landscape of heavy metal seem to think I'm off my rocker with that comparison.  It only becomes more prevalent with subsequent releases, apparently due to the vocalist(s) blowing out his/their voice(s) and being unable to scream anymore, which is a shame but the point stands that the dirty croon of the clean vocals remind me of fucking Mudvayne so it can be distracting sometimes.

But other than that and the production being more polished (which normally doesn't bother me but it comparison to Remission this sounds kind of tame) and the songs being much less dense and heavy than before (thanks to the band abandoning the old tunings), Leviathan manages to be a good improvement upon its predecessor.  Where Remission had clear standouts ("Crusher Destroyer", "March of the Fire Ants", "Burning Man") and clear weak points ("Trilobite", "Ole' Nessie", "Trainwreck"), Leviathan stands as a more consistently enjoyable effort, with the only low point being the needlessly overlong "Hearts Alive".  Sorry guys, but you just are not as good at this long, drawn out epic style than you are at the short, to the throat rockers.

RATING - 79%

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