Monday, 11 February 2013

January Metal Hammer Calendar Challenge - Mastodon



 Hello and welcome to my 2013 Metal Hammer Calendar Challenge! Every month this year I'll be setting myself a challenge to listen to as many tracks by the band featured on Metal Hammer's 2013 calendar as possible in the month they're featured. January is the month of Mastodon, a band I've heard of but never actually got around to listening to before, so this could be an interesting adventure.

As Wikipedia reliably informs me, Mastodon are an American metal band formed in 2000, so in theory their grunge influences should be pretty strong. 
What caught my attention about this band is that their vocalist Troy Sanders is also the bassist. The bass player very rarely gets the attention he deserves, I can only imagine playing bass is difficult to juggle alongside singing, working on completely different levels. Not that I can make an informed judgement, I play no instruments and cannot sing. Really, I shouldn't be passing comment at all, but that's the beauty of the music industry, people who can't sing or play still have the freedom to criticise those who can.

What are my expectations for Mastodon?
Well I've heard their names in conjunction with Anthrax and Megadeth, so I guess I'm expecting something similar. By the calendar illustration, I'm expecting busy tracks full to the brim with... death. And all-seeing eyes. And a diamond.

I thought I'd kick off Mastodon January with the album Leviathan, purely because the name screamed out to me. I would've started chronologically but I felt that wouldn't give me a true idea of the band as a whole but more of their progression as artists.


While you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, just look at the Leviathan album cover, isn't that amazing? With the whole Pirates of the Caribbean-esque vibe, I'm expecting a lot of epic instrumental tracks worthy of a soundtrack, and also entitled Leviathan, I'm expecting, well... leviathan-esque tracks. So without further ado, here are my first impressions of each track, a running commentary as I listened to them for the first time, so if it's jumpy, then that's because the song's atmosphere has jumped unexpectedly.

Blood And Thunder
The opening sounds oddly like The Darkness, but then the drums kick in and it's definitely no longer The Darkness. I'd liken the singer's voice to a bit deeper Corey Taylor a la Slipknot. The guitars definitely sound familiar, the chord changes are ridiculously smooth. Anyone who can master an electric like this instantly wins my heart, I'm already loving this band.
Quick reference to the awesome album cover too, according to Wiki this fits in with their quadrilogy of elements albums, and I can already feel the sounds of Blood And Thunder pulsing like the crest of a wave on a rough sea. Oh what an end to the song, I love endings that keep you guessing, so you never quite know when it's going to cut.

Seabeast
Strange laid back intro, but I guess it goes with the water theme, the guitars sound quite wavy to me, but I could be making that up. Vocals are a lot different on this one from the first, seem to be drowned out by the drummer. I was warned Mastodon sounded like Biffy Clyro, judging from this track, they weren't far wrong. A quick change in the vocals to a bit of light growling? I really don't know what to make of this one. It seems like two styles mashed together. More like a dialogue between two guitars for the majority, not so bad if you've heard the song a few times over, but on first listen it does sound strange.

Aqua Dementia
What a note to open a song on, but it all feels a little rushed from here on in, there's not much structure, a bit like the guitar equivalent of button bashing in Tekken. The first verse was a little rushed too, definitely didn't catch a single lyric while listening the first time round. Bit of Machine Head-esque guitarplay at 1:46. The first lyrics were churned out faster than I could cope with but the rest were accompanied by just the right amount of emotion to justify them, for example 'and we cleanse the earth to bring it down'. Well that ended quickly. Crashing waves denote the end of Aqua Dementia without a single chorus in sight.

I Am Ahab
Ooh I like this intro, a lot more structured than their other intros, I can actually predict where this song is going to go! I'm liking the 30 Seconds To Mars vibe at 2:00, but that's soon dispelled by the half-hearted growling. If you're gonna growl about something, make it something meaningful, just like Machine Head. Give it structure, explain it, repeat it so we've got the message. I'm not a fan of 15-line lyrics and short songs. I want to leave a gig feeling breathless, inspired and emotional, not rushed. Mastodon's songs so far just end too quickly for me.

Iron Tusk
Well you've got one impressive drummer in this band, I'll say that. And the guitarist doesn't seem to have a break either. He hits some beautiful notes and there are some notes that I just fall head over heels for, he hits them. I like that, seeing a band working their socks off for their music. I'm actually really liking this song, it feels so much more organised and I'm feeling a little Trivium in there too. Yeah, this is definitely my favourite song so far.

Island
1:18 goes by until I'm really intrigued, the guitarplay here is intricate. Looks like they listened to me too, they've repeated a verse this time round! Although I had to rely on a lyric website to clarify that, my ears definitely didn't pick up on it. Seriously, I just feel this band just don't structure their songs, in between verses they're just smashing every note they can just because. For that, I'm not impressed.

Joseph Merrick
This starts off slow and acoustic, this is promising. A welcome change from the headache they've given me so far. If they can keep this up throughout the song, I'll be happy. It's a nice atmosphere, chilled out, like a desert island. I'd imagine this playing in the background on Cast Away. Nice synthesised atmosphere wading in halfway through, much like the waves crashing against a beach. No lyrics too? Well after the previous songs, I'm appreciative of an instrumental, especially now I can hear this one has a clear structure and a path to follow.

Megalodon
Starts off slower, more organisation in the guitar already, I'm impressed. Sometimes it's good to play the same notes in a loop, yeah? Oh he's opened his gob again. From 1:20 to 1:25 is some amazing electric work. I'm convinced he's saying 'sexy' every once in a while. Could it be? Does it fit with the atmosphere of the song? Not in the slightest. But I'm loving the guitar after the lyrics end, their lead guitarist is really going for it, I guess that's what you get when your singer is actually the bassist. Some bands can fall victim to a lack of true masterpieces because the singer is also the lead guitarist, not that they're bad bands, but this proves that they have so much potential when they're not multitasking.

Naked Burn
A nice opening, repeating notes is good boys, remember that one. Wow. He's singing and not growling! Although he does still sound like he's elongating notes that wouldn't naturally be that long just to make it fit, and it really shows. But I'm liking the atmosphere of the song, the guitars between the singing are playful and almost comparable to Billy Talent. Ohhh yesssss, a great bass line, at last! Yeah I've warmed to this one quickly purely because he sings and there's so much more organisation. The odd screaming interlude is welcome actually, not intrusive. I'm actually quite sad that one was over so fast, the drumming at the close was fantastic!

So now for the questions:

Would I go to see Mastodon live?
I don't think so, purely on the basis I liked two songs out of an entire album. Plus their tracks just really really lack structure to make a decent set out of, you'd never know where one ends and another begins. Sorry Mastodon!

Favourite song?
Cross between Naked Burn and Joseph Merrick. Acoustic versus actually singing. I'm torn!

Would I listen to another album?
Sure, if someone was to recommend me another of their albums I'd instantly give it a go now I know what to expect. Perhaps I didn't pick the best album, but that was the main point of this exercise, to get a realistic picture of the band for every month, not to just pick their most successful songs from every one of their albums.


So all in all, I think the lessons I've learnt are:
1. Not everyone uses choruses.
2. Not everyone has more than 15 lines of lyrics.
3. Not everyone's songs make sense.
4. Not everyone's tracks have structure.
5. Yes, songs do end quite unexpectedly.

So next month is the turn of Miss May I. I've heard one of their covers on the Punk Goes Pop albums before but have yet to try them out properly, so fingers crossed for February!


Do you like Mastodon? Do you have any recommendations for Miss May I in February?


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