Review by James Couch for MPM
There are few bands that fascinate me as an adult. As a teenager musical discovery was an obsession. And each new sound that entered my head became another adventure.
When I first heard Pantera (pretty late in the game) after watching vulgar video. A fella made me a mix tape which I would then carry in my pocket for months, revealing it at parties whenever it was needed.
25 or so years later, discovering music has become a saturated affair. As a teen, finding music was more difficult, I had to travel to the nearest big town, haunting Our Price, HMV, Virgin or boutique record stores, hoping there was something darker than Therapy? or NIN.
In fact, I remember sending my mum off to Bath to pick up a copy of DOWN’s first album NOLA. This is after a friend sat me down in the music room with a P.A. at college and said “…you have to hear this!”. Each purchase would be listened to with care, and for a long period and mostly becoming part of my life (Until the next purchase, of course). I feel nowadays that having instant access to more choice has made the chase lose its magic, because back then, time, distance, money and having fresh ears to new types of music all made it into something special. It felt exclusive.
With every new Mastodon album, they still feel new. Blood Mountain still feels new to me. I can’t get my head around the fact it came out in 2006. I am of course a massive Mastodon fan. I even have a tattoo of the bear from the cover of the Crack the Skye on my neck! I first heard them at the Unholy Alliance Tour in Cardiff (late to the game as usual). We just arrived and Mastodon were playing. It felt revelatory.
20 years into Mastodon’s career now and they are showing no signs of slowing down. If you were a fan of their early sludgy past, then you may feel that Mastodon had a bit of a Black Album moment. They started singing, melody was key. Brent Hinds has said in the past he’s just a sucker for melody. Crack the Sky paved the way for a more melodic route after Blood Mountain’s crushing ear feast.
One thing that has been part of the Mastodon canon that has somewhat persisted is the concept album. Leviathan was about Moby Dick, Crack the Skye; a paraplegic that travels the astral plain. Emperor of Sand; a spiritual journey across a desert. Now these albums go deeper and have a base methodology. Some albums represent an element also. Fire, water, earth and aether. Also like many song writers they touch upon things they experience and try to deal with them through music. Crack the Skye was a tribute Brann Dailor’s sister who sadly committed suicide.
The album, Emperor of Sand, is an allegory and metaphor about the fight against cancer.
The Hunter, a tribute to Brent Hinds’ brother.
Now, this brings me to Hushed and Grim, an album based on the life and death of much-loved manager, Nick John, who passed away from cancer in 2018. This, alongside a secondary more conceptual focus; a tree where souls go when they die. Hushed and Grim is a band grieving. The name derived by the feeling they had during the last days of Nick’s life. The frustration of watching a friend with an incurable disease becoming weaker. It’s about celebrating a life. It’s about about the confusing struggle that death creates. It’s about the dark It’s a beautiful album.
This is mastodons first double album, totaling 86 minutes. their longest album to date. The band have been against a double album since their inception. But a question posed by Bran, “what’s a good reason why we shouldn’t?” They didn’t really have answer… Recorded during the pandemic, this gave the band a solid twelve months to focus solely on music and creating enough material for a double album.
This paved the way for its lengthy release at 15 tracks and a fair amount of tracks totaling over 6 minutes, consuming this album in one sitting is no mean feat.
The track, Pain with an Anchor, is starting the proceedings, we hear distant drum roll fade in to a snappy snare and immediately we are in familiar territory. In come ethereal and airy arpeggios, Bran Dailor’s crisp and floaty vocals sit nicely in the mix. This is the mastodon akin to The Hunter and Emperor of Sand. Then there is a more driving focus and Troy Sanders belting out vocals.
Rinse and repeat.
On first listen to this song I’m where I expected this to be. Near the end of the song though, Bill Kelliher delivers an excellent U-turn in the song and one of my favorite moments on the album.
The end of Pain with an Anchor really sets the tone for at least 75% percent of the album. Its driving and powerful, and generally melancholic, showing Mastodon’s unflinching ability to write songs.
Mastodon are making it harder to put your finger on what genre they are. As they move forward, they don’t define themselves as a metal band. This album moves from prog to sludge and psychedelia. Sickle and Peace is a great example, where the verse is a kind of off kilter, harmonized clean jazz guitar line into a bombastic chorus.
Listening to this album reminded me of the feeling I had when I first heard them at the gig in Cardiff. It was like that moment in the Pixar film, Ratatouille, but instead of my mind shooting back into the past, being handed a tasty meal, bringing memories, smells and sounds of my early nostalgic youth, my mum is handing me a Down cd.
This Album gives me the same feeling of discovery. Something new, something Fresh. And I now anticipate that feeling with every new Mastodon release.
Website : https://mastodon.lnk.to/hushedandgrim