For some time now heavy metal has needed an album that shakes the genre to its core. A reminder that, in order for it to remain relevant, it needs a few watershed bands to move things forward. And while there are certainly bands that help fit this description, the reality is that the majority of these releases remain speckled in the underground, avoiding detection by a record buying public that may have written off the genre, choosing instead to reminisce about pre-Black album Metallica, old Slayer, and buying Iron Maiden re-issues. I say this because I’m one of those people.
But I have hope.
It lies, at the moment, in the hands of Mastodon’s major label debut (third overall), Blood Mountain. The hope is that with the resources of a major their impact will be wider. Immediately after impact, the desire is that their influence will take hold so that other bands within the genre can feel the freedom to push their own creative envelope. The Lord, and Satan in this case, knows that metal as we know it today needs more bands like Mastodon who understand more about shredding than they know about Soundscan.
The obvious concern, and it’s one that crosses genres, is that whenever a band moves to a major label they make adjustments to their sound to become more palatable. The reality is that Mastodon might have tweaked Blood Mountain to a point, but they did it without sacrificing anything purely for the sake of building a wider audience. The vocals are more defined, the drums are clearer, and the riffage remains humongous.
Speaking of riffs: They’re here. There’s plenty. Sometimes to the tune of five or six per song. Sometimes impossibly proficient. And with more depth added to the production, you can clearly hear why there’s not another metal band at this moment that can touch ’em.
True, this is a more progressive-metal Mastodon, and this may alienate some fans of 2004’s Leviathan, but by the same token, weren’t true metalheads alienated by how that album was based on fucking Moby Dick?! Christ, the only Moby Dick a real metalhead knows is the one that swam out of John Bonham’s drum kit. My point is, only a real snob is going to complain that Mastodon has gotten more “progressive” with their latest. A real metalhead only knows that the performances on Blood Mountain rock the piss out of nearly every living mammal on Earth.
Speaking of drummers, Mastodon skinner Brann Dailor makes frequent use of time signature changes. And with each new tempo comes a new sub-genre; progressive metal morphs into psychedelia before switching to thrash while visiting the familiar epics of old British new wave heavy metal. It’s all touched upon while being completely refreshing and utterly believable. Blood Mountain is an album that not only respects its elders, but also attempts to outdo them.
Will it sell enough to keep the band on the Reprise payroll? If Mastodon’s audience doesn’t move beyond the hipsters and underground metal supporters that they’re accustomed to, then probably not for long. So here’s a plea to anyone (and there’s lot of you) who have Powerslave, Master Of Puppets or South Of Heaven in their collection: you will love this album. If it isn’t the best metal album you’ve heard in the past decade, it is at the very least one of the best albums, regardless of genre, that you’ll hear this year.