Friday Full-Length: Mastodon, Leviathan

Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)

Later this summer will mark 15 years since the release of Mastodon‘s second album, Leviathan. No doubt there will be something down to celebrate the anniversary, either by the band itself or by the label, Relapse Records, who put it out, and one could hardly argue. What was one of the best heavy albums of the aughts remains infectious in its energy right from the outset of “Blood and Thunder,” the tense riff paying off in a guest vocal appearance from Clutch‘s Neil Fallon as the Atlanta four-piece of Troy Sanders (bass, vocals), Brent Hinds (guitar, vocals), Bill Kelliher (guitar) and Brann Dailor (drums) crafted a tempest befitting the song and album’s seafaring, Moby Dick-derived theme. “White whale, holy grail,” and so on. Across 10 tracks and 46 minutes, Mastodon demonstrated a dynamic approach that not only took a leap forward from their 2002 debut, Remission, but was essentially a leap forward for heavy metal, striking out in a direction that saw no reason to compromise between impact and progressivism, driven by Dailor‘s snare-overload mania on drums to conjure an urgency that by then was lacking in the dominant creative staleness of metalcore, and that hit with a diversity of songwriting, a balance of melody and burl, and a winding course that every bit sounded like the future. Leviathan‘s impact was immediate and a decade and a half later, it is ongoing.

I got married in a Leviathan t-shirt. Relapse still sells it — it’s the one with the whale from the incredible Paul A. Romano cover art on front — and it felt classy enough to with a tuxedo. Like Metallica before them and Conan after, Mastodon had their time as a band who, when you saw someone else wearing their shirt, it said something about them. Around the time of Leviathan, it was safe to assume that person knew what was up. Radio had largely abandoned metal unless you had a satellite account. Social media existed if you were willing to sit in front of a computer to get it — and plenty people were — and file-sharing had largely gone underground from the Napster fallout. Print media existed but was unmistakably in decline, and the sphere of digital outlets was nowhere near as broad as it was today. Still everyone, seemed to agree on this record. Granted, Mastodon were a big enough band to divide opinion — people either actively liked or actively disliked them — but consensus generally was Mastodon had created something special in the furies of “Ísland,” “Iron Tusk” and “I am Ahab,” the surprising Southern rock departure in “Megalodon,” the mastodon leviathansprawling crescendo of the 13-minute “Hearts Alive” and the more melodic and catchy “Naked Burn” and the righteous preach of the second guest vocal spot, this one from NeurosisScott Kelly — who’d join Mastodon in the studio and tour with them on more than one occasion — and it was their ability to control it that truly made their sound so powerful. Yeah, they were absolutely putting on a clinic in terms of technicality, but whether it was the throaty moans of “I am Ahab” or the acoustic comedown in closer “Joseph Merrick,” there was nothing Mastodon did that loosened their grasp on the material. I once heard Tom Araya or Kerry King from Slayer — can’t remember which — describe Dave Lombardo‘s drumming by saying that it sounds like the whole song is going to crash and come flying apart at all times, but it never does. With Mastodon during the Leviathan era, that was the whole band. They struck at the perfect generational moment to spearhead a new wave of progressive metal, and the impact of their work in doing that is continuing to flesh out. At this point, they’re a band other bands grew up listening to.

Was Leviathan the Millennial Master of Puppets? I don’t know, but it was definitely the Leviathan, and that seems like enough.

There have been continual vinyl pressings done since the release, and my only issue with that would be it would preclude listening at such a volume as to vibrate the stylus over the platter, but for me, Leviathan has always worked best in linear form. A 46-minute CD, front to back. I won’t discount the appeal of a side flip as a moment to catch one’s breath — arguably necessary after “Aqua Dementia” — but the way the songs tie together while still providing standout moments, and the breadth of the album as a whole, it just seems to function as one larger piece. Even the way “Ísland” ends and “Iron Tusk” picks up on the next beat, or the way “Blood and Thunder” seems to cut with just the slightest stutter into “I am Ahab.” With the recording of Matt Bayles, Mastodon were able to capture a blend of nuance and pummel that, no matter how many others would try to pick up on what they were doing, remains largely unmatched by whatever measurement you care to use.

Before Blood Mountain surfaced in 2006, Mastodon departed Relapse for Warner Bros. subsidiary Reprise Records. I remember their statement about the signing was almost apologetic. They’d go on to do what many consider their greatest work in 2008’s Crack the Skye, but to be honest, by then they’d pretty much lost me. I’ve still never really sat with that record or anything they’ve done since, though I’ve seen them live on several occasions between then and now. The Hunter in 2011 and Once More ‘Round the Sun in 2014 garnered mixed reviews, but 2017’s Emperor of Sand seemed to do well for them, which is fine. They always have a good showing in the year-end polls here. Once Blood Mountain came out, the balance of impact and intensity against melody and progginess shifted, and once that happens on such a scale, there’s no real going back. I’m sure I’ve missed out, but somehow I don’t think Mastodon are exactly hurting without my ultra-fandom. I continue to appreciate Leviathan and Remission, and even the earlier Lifesblood EP and split with American Heritage — plus that time they covered Thin Lizzy‘s “Emerald”; that was fun — to a lesser extent, for the landmark accomplishments they were. Are. Will continue to be. That’s probably enough.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I have a cold. Fuckers. The baby gave it to me, which, yes, I take personally. No doubt he meant to do it. Malicious intent behind it and all that. He’s been letting me know via boogers all week what he thinks of my pitiful attempts at parenting. Can’t say I’d do different were I in his position. I am pretty awful at being a dad.

Next week we’re down in Jersey for a good portion of the time. Kind of a surprise jaunt south, but we’ll be there long enough for me to go see YOB, Voivod and Amenra in Brooklyn and that’ll be fun assuming I can remember to bring my camera. The show is at Warsaw, which I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been to, but has been doing shows for a long time. Keeping my fingers crossed for a photo pit so I can actually go and both take pictures and enjoy the show. We’ll see.

This weekend is a new episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. Sunday, 7PM EDT. Listen at http://gimmeradio.com. Please. It covers some cool stuff from the Quarterly Review and other odds and ends that have been kicking my ass lately, like the new Valley of the Sun, which is easily their best work to-date.

Notes for next week? Yeah, I’ve got some. Hang on.

Okay Subject to change, of course:

MON 04/01 THE DRUIDS REVIEW; CEGVERA VIDEO PREMIERE; KANDODO VIDEO
TUE 04/02 THE DEVIL AND THE ALMIGHTY BLUES REVIEW; MORASS OF MOLASSES PREMIERE
WED 04/03 STONE MACHINE ELECTRIC VIDEO PREMIERE
THU 04/04 THE DRY MOUTHS ALBUM STREAM
FRI 04/05 YOB LIVE REVIEW

Busy busy. Probably for the best. Even with this cold, which I’m very much hoping will dissipate over the weekend and both I and the baby can leave bastard-mode go back to our non-boogery selves. We shall see.

In the meantime, slept poorly last night. I went to bed after picking The Patient Mrs. up at work, circa 5PM, but was reading a Deep Space Nine book (Ascendance, if you’re curious) and didn’t get to sleep, so came back downstairs for Pecan bedtime ritual and subsequent delicious leftovers dinner, then did my own futz ritual and went back to bed. I was asleep around 8PM maybe, or before that, and the alarm went off at 4AM to get up and come do this. Was up around 10:30 though, my head reeling and congested. Always forget about that with colds. You have to find just the right angle so the mucus drains and doesn’t drown you while you sleep. Shit is difficult.

And yet there are people who believe humans were intelligently designed, like your snot was made in the image of god. Even if you want to believe humans were “designed,” intelligence would not seem to have been a factor in the slightest. If it were, people probably wouldn’t believe in things like intelligent design.

But hey, how ’bout that Mueller report though, huh? Turns out no one’s coming to save us.

At least it’s baseball season.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’m gonna go grab the baby, who’s awake, and start the day. Please check out Forum, Radio and merch at Dropout.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply