The buzz surrounding Mastodon has grown unremittingly since their sophomore album Leviathan hit the racks in 2004, leading to the Georgian quartet signing to one of the major-est major record labels and some commentators calling them the Metallica of our times, or something.
Such comparisons are off-beam. Not because they can’t compete with Hetfield & co, but simply because they aren’t trying to. As crushingly heavy as they can be, Mastodon are in fact closer in spirit to someone like Tool, an opinion lent credence by the recent announcement that the two bands will be touring together in Europe later this year.
Not that you’d know it after listening to the opening track on Blood Mountain, The Wolf Is Loose. Possibly the most orthodox piece in an unotherwise more leftfield collection, it announces its arrival with hyperactive drums before speeding up further into a headshaking thrash-fest.
At this point it is worth commenting on Brann Dailor’s percussive prowess. Put simply, his is one of the finest rhythmic performances you’ll hear in rock music for a very long time, with his jazz background in evidence and adding a new twist to a genre that already prides itself on special sticksmanship.
Did I say “genre”? How very sloppy of me, given that Mastodon take their armies of skill and creativity and use them to cross borders and invade musical classes assiduously.
For instance, Sleeping Giant flits from Pink Floyd-ian guitar inflections to soaring, grooving metal; Pendulous Skin goess all out on the psychedelia; and Circle Of Cysquatch boasts brutal guitar chugging and the scariest vocal effects this side of a bad acid trip.
Elsewhere, Colony Of Birchmen is suitably stoner given the appearance of QOTSA‘s Josh Homme; and as for Bladecatcher… Well, let’s just say that the surprise at hearing 20 seconds’ of Hawaiian guitar strumming at the start is quickly demolished by the craziest, 500 mph math-metal that follows. Wow.
Along the way Mastodon avoid falling into the traps that their musical invention could so easily be vulnerable to. Yes, they dislike 4/4 time signatures but there’s structure, groove and order instead of anarchic chaos. And whilst so much of Blood Mountain is epic and progressive, it never disappears up its own rectum, turns inwardly self-indulgent or forgets that being clever and circuitous is one thing, but it should never cause sheer heaviness to be sacrificed.
The palaeontologists among you will be well aware that a mastodon was a prehistoric precursor to the elephant. One can only marvel at how apt a monicker this is for a band whose sound on Blood Mountain can only be described as utterly mammoth.