Mastodon is the rarest kind of metal band -- a really brilliant, creative one. No posing or nu-metal appeals for radioplay here.
And after their previous brilliant albums, they reached a new apex in "Blood Mountain." The Atlanta band spins songs about a beautiful, icy land -- played in a sonic eruption of kinetic instruments and some brilliantly mythic lyrics. It's a fiery, breathtaking ride.
It opens with rapid-fire drums and a squealing guitar, with a hoarse voice shouting, "The hero of the gods/The crossing of the threshold!" But the music soon uncoils into a fast-moving hard-rocker, full of blistering riffs and surreal lyrics about gods, shapeshifters, tyrants, heroes and "hulder folk and fairies."
Then we break into the tribal drums and blazing, sludgy riffs of "Crystal Skull," which is just begging to be air-guitared. And they don't let up in the songs that follow: the darkly epic "Sleeping Giant," metal with nimbly catchy melodies, sludgy hard-rock that blazes with muscular basslines, and expanses of roaring prog-metal that races by at light speed.
No ballads. No interludes. Sure, some of these songs open with some electronic squiggling, or maybe a mellow guitar melody, but they don't take long to explode into something totally different. The only exception is "Pendelous Skin," the very last song on the album -- it's an atmospheric blend of slow-burning rock played in a more alt-rocky style.
But up until then, it's nothing but rapid-fire, headbanging proggy-rocky metal. Sludgy and/or muscular riffs, smashing bass, and blindingly rapid drums that have to be heard to be believed -- and the whole thing is tightly woven out of different styles. And this is all to make story-songs with complex, intense melodies that can change in midsong -- from epic metal to chaos, and back again -- to reflect whatever is happening.
And the world Mastodon is exploring in this just reeks of fantasy and old legends -- nature gods, wilderness, icy lands, skulls, tree people, ivory towers, one-eyed monsters, more skulls, and ancient elms. I have no idea what they're trying to communicate, but their songwriting is definitely atmospheric ("A vast calm wilderness/The call to adventure comes/Lead and land atop this rock/Infinite path carved with unrivaled skill...")
Mastodon's "Blood "Mountain" is a devastatingly, frighteningly mythic experience, like wandering through an ancient legend. Here's hoping this band only gets better with time.