Blood Mountain


Band: Mastodon
Album: Blood Mountain
Best song: “The Wolf is Loose” is pretty great. “Siberian Divide” is strong, also. But, “Colony of Birchmen” is the best song on the album and one of the band’s best tracks (in a catalog full of great tracks, by the way).
Worst song: There isn’t really a bad song on the album, but “Hand of Stone” isn’t as strong as the rest of the record.

Being a fan of a metal band requires a certain suspension of disbelief, childish acceptance and general “looking-the-other-way.” Metal is, in and of itself, ridiculous, macho and pompous. Most decent metal bands spend their lyrics waxing philosophical on crap they know nothing about(Metallica), create ridiculous characters in fantastical worlds (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc.) or both (Mastodon).

Inded, Mastodon’s third proper album is full of ridiculous characters wrapped in a tortured metaphor as explained by bassist/singer Troy Sanders as being “about climbing up a mountain and the different things that can happen to you when you’re stranded on a mountain, in the woods, and you’re lost.” In a YouTube clip, he compares the albums’ struggle to the band’s, saying that the metaphor of searching for the Crystal Skull as the band searching for its place in the music world.

Uf.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, as a listener. If one had never heard the album, it would be easy to see it as pompous nonsense. I’m not going to disavow that idea; it probably is pompous nonsense. Still, it is closer to a near-perfect metal album, despite not even being the band’s best.

Blood Mountain is a furious attack of musicianship, alternating growl/sing vocals and monster riffs. As with the best metal, the vocals are simply an instrument in the whole of the song — don’t listen to the lyrics. Sanders’ more melodic vocals provide a contrast to the rapid-fire guitar work of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, while Hinds’ vocal work is more Ozzy/Halford-esque in its sinister bite.

The album’s fury is nearly impossible to contain, as the record begins with Brann Dailor — probably the best drummer in rock music — unleashing a solo to start “The Wolf is Loose.” Stuttering time changes and vocal styles, “The Wolf is Loose” is powerful and manic. The song runs into another Dailor drum thing, this time it’s the drummer pounding on 50-gallon drums to start “Crystal Skull,” the album’s second track. The song is equally as heavy as “The Wolf is Loose,” though, admittedly, it’s more of a Sabbath-esque driver than a thrashing quick study. The song’s harmonized guitar solo reminds one of the best of 1970s rock and the end of the song sounds like the best Metallica ever had (back in the 1980s, not now) to offer.

“Siberian Divide” has the band in a move contemplative mood. While not as evocative as Leviathan‘s “Aqua Dementia,” the song has Sanders’ best soft vocal running into the crunch of the song’s chorus and back to Sanders growling. The low end of the song is its strength, as the atmospheric guitar work of Kelliher and Hinds fills the song. Mars Volta/At The Drive-In singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala fills out

The song’s two other singles — “The Wolf is Loose” was the second single — are similarly strong. Hinds’ ridiculous guitar parts in “Capillarian Crest” — his first instument was the banjo — move around the guitar like snake, eventually turning into a cacophony of soloing. Dailor’s fills echo the complicated guitar lines.

Of course, the album’s highlight is a song I adore, “Colony of Birchmen.” Titled as an ode to Genesis’ “Colony of Slippermen” (from the sublime The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Dailor’s favorite album of all time), the song hits all of reasons Mastodon is a great band. Hinds’ verse vocals are snarling and evocative, while Sanders growls and croons the chorus (with some help from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme). The guitar lines crunch during portions and fill arpeggios during the chorus, while Hinds destroys a building solo that crescendos as the song comes to a close. And of course, Dailor destroys a drum line full of cymbal work, double bass drum and striking fills.

I’ve listened to this song somewhere around 200 times since the album came out in late 2006, if you include all the times I’ve watched live videos of the band playing it on YouTube and, more importantly, all the times I’ve played it in Rock Band 2. The song is brilliant, but it adds to the wonder of Rock Band.

You see, the first Rock Band game had a lot of great songs, but none of my favorites and no favorites that were fun to play (I like “Highway Star” a lot, but it’s not tons of fun on the drums, my preferred instrument). But, the glory of “Colony of Birchmen” — and Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” for that matter — is that the song is amazing, making me want to play it more, which makes me want to listen to it more.

Indeed, it’s a testament to the song’s longevity and quality that I can listen to it so many times and still find new things to enjoy about it.

I love concept albums and rock operas, but the storyline of Blood Mountain is patently ridiculous. The final track, “Pendulous Skin” has a plot element wherein the main character eats himself.

Yeah, that’s ridiculous.

If you are able to just hear the lyrics the same way you’d hear a guitar part — notes and nothing more than notes — than you can fully appreciate the genius that is Blood Mountain. It’s not the band’s best — Leviathan and it’s inspiration taken from Moby-Dick — but it’s one of the best albums of the past five years by the greatest metal band on earth.

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