For most, the notion of heavy metal conjures images such as the longhaired guy in their high school chemistry class who barely spoke, and a deluded reality-TV dad who seems to have forgotten that he once fronted one of the most badass bands of all time. On the other hand Mastodon’s new record, Blood Mountain, introduces us to a whole new world of popular heavy metal.
Their major label debut establishes a land filled with ogres, dwarves and magic crystals. Wow, can things get any more lame? At first you can practically picture the band sitting around a table in one of their parents’ basements, arguing semantics about Dungeons and Dragons or Star Wars role-playing games. It just fits so perfectly; the idea of 30 year old “men” living with their parents, still fascinated by wizards and hobbits.
But then you put their music on and your perception changes completely as your ears bare witness to amazing drumming, deafening guitars and fuming vocals. Sure, Blood Mountain is a concept album concerning fantasy worlds, but they made it so convincing and cool. The album tells the story of a man in search of the Crystal Skull, which he needs to place atop Blood Mountain. During his journey he encounters numerous varieties of creatures that ultimately threaten the success of his voyage. The story is a metaphor for the journey that the band is on as they face the challenges to being new to major labels and giant tours. Once atop their mountain they will have achieved the artistic success that they strive for.
Songs such as “The Wolf Is Loose,” “Sleeping Giant” and “Hunters of the Sky” document the beings the man stumbles upon, and also the temptations and lures of fame and fortune that threaten to bring the demise of the band. The song “Crystal Skull,” perhaps the best song altogether, showcases the technical transitions in the guitars and in the bass as it often shifts from participating in the leads to simply going off in a completely different direction. Drummer Brann Dailor’s unprecedented talent often provides the leads, which is an unorthodox and original approach to drumming.
The album also features numerous special guests such as Joshua Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Isaiah Ikey Owns from The Mars Volta, and Scott Kelly from Neurosis. Homme and Kelly, on separate songs, provide their signature vocal styles. In addition, Mastodon’s records always feature instrumental prog-rock interludes, clearly influenced by bands like The Mars Volta, whose participants play a key role in the songs they appear on.
All in all, Blood Mountain is an outstanding effort from a gifted group of musicians. It becomes evident by its end that this is not a group of metal heads living in their parents’ basements, playing fantasy games. They’re just a little weird yet very creative. Come on, I know you saw and loved the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Give this a try.