Friday, January 12, 2007

Mastodon - 'Leviathan'

Rating - 9/A-

Mastodon have certainly mastered a broad lexicon of metal approaches. And that's saying something, really. When nu-metal bands can blatantly rip off stale Iron Maiden melodies and score major hits, secure that none of the Adidas-wearing teenie-angsters slurping up their product will be able to spot the thievery, just the fact that here is a band that has dedicated serious time to learning the different ways in which you can make metal heavy is sure to bring a tear of joy and a fond smile to a fogey metalhead (which I suppose I must qualify as in spirit at least). There's a good variety of approaches to the basically post-thrash riffy sound on Leviathan. I Am Ahab is pure thrash fury, for instance, while Aqua Dementia is stonerish melodic metal, complete with vaguely Ozzy-ish whiny vocals. Thrash, stoner, a bit of death and a touch of prog are basically the flavours of metal on aural display here and it's a pretty good mix on an absolute scale, not just for these cheapjack times.

What really matters of course is what Mastodon do with all this, and thankfully the end result - the songs - are pretty strong. The guitar tone is thick and organic, the drums are thunderous and heavy (but also pretty complex), the melodies are sonorous and pulsating, the riffs pounding and suitably mosh-worthy. The band sounds huge and the songs hold together well. The vocals mostly vary between a shouty growl and the slightly more whiny tone mentioned earlier, which is okay. It can get a bit one-dimensional at times, but that's pretty true of any metal band - the actual dimension in question is all that varies, mostly.

Having said all that, I will confess that this album takes some time to sink in. It's a pretty long, complex album and there aren't really a whole lot of hooks to pull you in at first. The catchiness of the album either works by way of the sheer heaviness and complexity, or through little details that can pull you in on further study. Also, even though the Moby-Dick inspired theme runs fairly thin a few songs in, the songs themselves all feel like part of a larger whole, with the emphasis on cumulative impact. And with a cumulative impact as strong as this, I won't complain. I still think several of these songs will emerge as metal classics given time - the songs I mentioned above, Iron Tusk, the epic Megalodon, the other epic Hearts Alive. That instrumental at the end is great too, although I can't see what poor Joseph Merrick has to do with all this aquatic monstrosity. I miss a sense of emotional resonance, although the music itself is not unable to evoke mood and emotion.

There's a slight shortage of really memorable musical motifs, but this is a relatively new band still, for all that everybody was calling this the future of metal at one point. Yes, it is one of the very best metal albums, and by a new band, in a while, but let's calm down. Remember what a huge leap there is between, say, Rust In Peace and Killing Is My Business in Megadeth's discography? And what an even huger leap in the wrong direction between RIP and Risk? My point is, second album is still an early stage, so (even though the third album is now out) it's early to make those kinds of statements. In the meantime, metal is thanfully alive and well in some places in the 21st century, and here's one of those places.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Mastodon play huge, heavy, unapologetic metal. This album has variety, artistry, intelligence and sheer bludgeon-power enough to keep the demanding metalhead happy and at least give the non-metalhead a moment's pause.

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