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Posts Tagged ‘Mastodon’

Have you been flinching as much as I have on this trip into the time when words were small, and ambitions smaller, and opinions surprisingly timid?  Have you recalled the follies of your own former selves in the process, or has the calcifying march of time so blotted the stains of memory as to render them fuzzed and vaguely pleasant?

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Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)

Still some of the coolest fucking album art in, like, ever

Certainly among the most highly anticipated releases of 2004, Mastodon’s sophomore full-length Leviathan has already been subjected to endless hyperbole, so I will do my best not to add to the prattle.  As in any case where the expectations are so high, it is inevitable that many will be disappointed with Leviathan.  Those who are most likely to be disappointed, however, are those who were expecting Mastodon to release Remission – Pt. II, with little or no alteration to their already crushing and well-developed style.  Instead of treading water (pun only slightly intended), however, Mastodon has incorporated more melody, especially into the vocals – which are no longer hoarse barks, but rather tuneful bellows – and has polished the production up a bit.  Neither of these developments, though, has made their overall sound any less punishing.

Despite these modifications, Leviathan may be easily compared to Remission due to the fact that Mastodon has again written an incredibly strong group of songs, and simply plays the hell out of them.  Brann Dailor’s drumming is still the most easily recognizable and unique facet of their sound, as he whips through churning, chaotic rhythms with a subtlety and understated flair borrowed from jazz and progressive rock.  “Blood and Thunder” and “I Am Ahab” kick off the album furiously, while introducing the aquatic theme (much of it taken from Melville’s Moby Dick) of the record.  Far from being a mere pretentious bid for intellectual and musical depth, Mastodon’s sound is indeed massive enough to deserve the theme it claims, easily evoking visions of monstrous creatures rising from the watery deep to feed on the hearts and flesh of man.

Other album highlights include “Naked Burn,” in which Mastodon’s new found sense of melody is used to great effect; “Aqua Dementia,” which features throat-tearing guest vocals by Scott Kelly of Neurosis; and the positively epic “Hearts Alive,” which is able to suggest both crushing weight and transcendent beauty, as a ray of sunlight pierces the murky abyss.  Throughout Leviathan, Mastodon’s playing is fluid, inspired, and inspiring.  Although this attempt to avoid hyperbole has clearly failed, this is one band whose hype and acclaim is more than well-deserved, given that over the course of just two full-length albums they have managed to discover new ways for heavy metal to be heavy.

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Dry, right?  Although there’s probably something to be said in favor of this more straightforward writing style.  Generally folks aim to get less pretentious as they age, but I seem to by doing my utmost and damnedest to reverse that pernicious trend.  Don’t encourage me, then; I’m incorrigible.

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The Dead, Ritual Executions (2010)

Claustrophobic avant-sludge doom/death with jaunts into funk? Yes, please.

Australia’s The Dead self-released their sophomore album Ritual Executions last year.  2010, however, sees them freshly signed to India’s newly-launched Diabolical Conquest Records, with Ritual Executions getting a remastering job, updated artwork, and seeing a proper label release.  A murky hybrid and death metal and doom is the order of business for this Australian trio, but we’re not talking the doom/death of early Peaceville mopesters Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost et al; instead, this is more like the dank, doomy, crypt-like death metal of early Incantation, or the quicker moments of legendary gut-wrenchers Disembowelment (though, in all fairness, if Incantation worship is your cup of righteous tea, the new Father Befouled album out on Relapse ought to be destination one).

The album starts off with a slow dirge of a song in “Burn Your Dead,” with a pleasantly thick, skull-rattling bass tone on the arpeggio riffs.  Vocalist Mike Yee demonstrates some abominably deep, guttural death tones, which are mixed in such a way as not to overpower the music, but still somewhat higher in the mix than many similarly-pitched vocalists, in a manner which verges on the comprehensible.  The closing sections of “Burn Your Dead” utilize an effective rhythmic compositional style to drone out with – a measure of 4/4 time followed by a measure of 3/4 time.  It’s a fairly simple tool, but it demonstrates that some deliberate thought has gone into the crafting of these tomes of death.

If you’ve picked up on that, though, later track “Centurian” is a bit of a let-down, since it, too, boasts that same meter (though in a somewhat more straight-forward 7/4 attack) for pretty much its entire duration.  The vocals also become somewhat monotonous as the album wears on, although not so much that they detract terribly from the masterful display of grooving, doom-tinged death metal.

The production isn’t quite gritty or fuzzed-out enough to push this album into sludge territory, but some of the songwriting veers in the direction of booze-drenched misanthropy.  There are a few frustrating quirks to the drum production, though.  The hi-hat has got a weird buzz to it, and the kick drum could stand to be mixed a little higher.  Still, it’s not overly clean, and although it rings somewhat hollow, the drum production still sounds like a real person pounding away on a real kit.

The album works effectively as a whole because of the band’s strong compositional skills, and the smart sequencing of tracks to alternate between trudging epics and more in-your-face, aggressive death metal blasts.  Some of the quicker tunes like “Cannibal Abattoir” show a very sprightly, almost jittery style of drumming (particularly in the snare drum work), which is occasionally reminiscent of a slightly less-busy Brann Dailor from Mastodon’s early work (think Remission or even Lifesblood).  I’m also not sure if it’s just because I’ve been listening to too much Kylesa lately, but I swear that some of these faster moments have a similar psychedelic feeling in the riffing.  At any rate, if the prospect of this type of doomy, well-composed death metal with non-obtrusive psychedelic touches gets your blackened heart all a-flutter, then you would do well to check this album out.

The funk drumming breaks in “Born In a Grave” are a bit jarring, but ultimately provide an interesting contrast to the more standard death metal signifiers used throughout.  The latter sections of this song, however, have some great, cavernous echoing effects to match the atmosphere of patient, plodding doom, and actually turn this track into one of the album’s highlights.  The build-up and eventual release around the five-minute mark (“BOOOOOORRRRRN…IN A GRAAAAVE”) is absolutely fantastic, and leads me into a near-apoplectic fit of wanting to smash furiously anything within reach.  Hide the china.

Other excellent moments include the groovy riff and breakdown around 1:30 into the title track, which is seriously crushing.  Think of the bulldozing momentum of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx, and you’re well on your way to grasping the effect of concrete slabs dropped repeatedly on your head.  The closing track “Death Metal Suicide” is a quite interesting change of pace, offering up another set of pretty funky grooves, especially in the drumming.  Whatever else you may think of it, it’s an extremely bold choice, playing a ten-minute long, funk-influenced instrumental jam to close out one’s album in a genre as frequently myopic and orthodox as death metal.

Some of the more avant-garde moments on this disc recall queasy death metal savants Gorguts (circa Obscura, primarily) and Portal, the latter of which may be more than a coincidence, as Ritual Executions was remastered by Aphotic, one of the guitarists from Portal.  The Dead don’t ever quite reach the same level of otherness (or what-the-fuck-ness) as either of the aforementioned bands, but it’s clear that they are drinking some of the same fetid water.

In general, the mélange of styles offered on this record ends up meshing rather well into a unique death metal whole.  Fans of the already-mentioned unsettled death metal acts Portal and Gorguts may find much to enjoy here, as will fans of the more strictly deathly side of doom/death metal.  One of the primary references which continues lurching into mind is Lasse Pyykkö (of Profound Lore’s Hooded Menace, as well as Phlegethon, Vacant Coffin, Claws, etc.), fans of whose should flock to this Australian cult with morbid glee.  Diabolical Conquest Records have found themselves a real winner of an album here, and I will be eagerly following future releases from this grimly determined band.  If Tom G. Warrior is to be believed, and only death is real, then get yourself a copy of Ritual Executions for a sledgehammer dose of heavy fucking metal reality.

Overall rating: 80%.  “BOOOOOOORRRRN…IN A GRAAAAAVE!!!”  Doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

More information on Diabolical Conquest Records is available at their website, where you can also order a copy of Ritual Executions.

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I’ve been thinking lately about the sheer level of inundation that we followers of music face these days.  In many ways, I think this is a fantastic development, particularly with the healthy state of the underground’s manifold scenes and subcultures.  Maybe, on the other hand, that supposed strength is really just a reflection of the crippling weakness of the traditional music industry.  Important questions, but not exactly what I’m concerned with here.

You see, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I don’t really know my music all that well.  Sure, I know a whole lot about music, but what I’m thinking is, basically, holy shit, I have got so much different music at my disposal each and every minute of every day that there is no way I can possible distinguish between it all.

To that end, I’m forcing myself to do a blind listening test.  I’ve collected all the metal in my iTunes onto a playlist, and I am going to put it on random, turn off my computer monitor so as to disallow any cheating, and then attempt to identify the first ten songs that come up on the playlist.  Find my running commentary below, with the actual results in brackets below each guess.  See you on the other side.
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1.  So, this is a pretty tasty morsel right here.  When it first played through, I was thinking it was something along the lines of the melodic death metal attack of God Dethroned.  Now that this chorus of ‘Stigma Diabolicum’ kicks in, however, I’m pretty sure that this is Austrian black/death metal horde Belphegor.  Definitely from one of their more recent albums, but I sure as hell couldn’t tell you which one.

I’ll take a stab at it, and say I think it’s from that album whose goddamn name escapes me at the moment, but not the most recent one (Hexenwahn whatever), nor from Bondage Goat Zombie, so their third most recent.

[It was: Belphegor, “Stigma Diabolicum,” but that IS from Bondage Goat ZombiePestapokalypse IV was what I was thinking of, but I was wrong to do so.  Anyway, I’m still counting that one as correct.]

2.  Hmm, I’m at quite a loss on this one.  It starts off with some black noise-ish segments, before kicking into some seriously crypt-kicking production, low echoing death howls, and a generally chaotic riff-and-drum attack.  My best guess is that this is from Weapon’s Drakonian Paradigm album.

[It was: Mitochondrion, “Wraithlike,” from Archaeaeon.  Definitely haven’t spent enough time with that record, but I don’t think that Weapon guess is too far off.]

3.  Son of a bitch this is all going to be embarrassing.  This starts off all jangly and reverb-y, so I’m thinking definitely 90s black metal.  But, shit, those vocals are all death gurgly, plus there’s a total Ihsahn howl in there somewhere.  It’s not Emperor, but it might be one of those classic mid-90s black/death hybrids like Dawn or Sacramentum.  I suppose it’s also possible it’s Naglfar or something like that, but the death influence seems a bit too strong for that.

Fuck, I’ve got tons of wild guesses, but no great ones.  Vocals now sound like Jonas Renske’s on Bloodbath.  Hmm.  Maybe I’m forgetting some old more straight-ahead Katatonia side project?  Anyway, I’m going with my first instinct, which was Dawn, from the Slaughtersun record.

[It was: Aeternus, “Dark Rage,” from Shadows of Old.  So, I was totally on the right track with that ‘classic but underappreciated black/death hybrid from the mid- to late 90s’ jag.  Just turns out that I am no better than all the rest at appreciating Aeternus.  Killer tune, although I prefer their first two records.]

4.  Crazy chamber music intro.  Is this from the new Sigh?  Oh, wow.  Embarrassing.  I’ve just mistaken Serj Tankian’s live, all-orchestral run through of his solo album Elect the Dead for Japan’s finest psychedelic black metal blasters.  Apologies to everyone involved.  Anyway, this, for sure, is Serj Tankian.  Tracks called “Money,” I think.

[It was: Serj Tankian, “Money,” from the Elect the Dead Symphony.  Clearly an unqualified win, there, but I kinda want to shave off some points just for thinking it was Sigh.]

5.  Ah, thankfully an easy one on which I will not embarrass myself.  This is Isis.  Or, at least, this is one of the tracks from the double-disc collection of reinterpretations of songs from Isis’ landmark 2002 (?) album Oceanic.  Couldn’t exactly tell you which track this is, but it’s one of the mellower ones, currently playing around with some nice organ tones, and then throwing Aaron Turner’s hoarse bellows out in the middle of this sparse instrumental expanse.  Very cool to hear this fantastic album broken down into its constituent pieces.

[It was: Isis, “The Other,” as interpreted/remixed by James Plotkin, from the Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations compilation.  Success.]

6.  Whoa, that’s a harsh fucking contrast.  At first I thought this was Ildjarn, such is the hideous level of lo-fi noise emanating from my speakers at the moment.  On further consideration, though, my best guess is that this is very early Emperor, from the self-titled/Wrath of the Tyrant CD reissue.  And yet, and yet…  Damn, I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now.  Nope, sticking with Emperor.  Damned if I know the song, though.  Shameful.

[It was: Belketre, “Demzreyavbtre Belketraya,” from Ambre Zuerkl Vuorhdrevarvtre.  SON OF A BITCH.  Of course there is absolutely no reason for you to believe me now, but up there, when I wrote “I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now,” I absolutely was going to say “This sounds like it could also be some of that LLN stuff, maybe Belketre or Vlad Tepes.”  Fuuuuuuck.  Sorry Ihsahn, sorry Norway, sorry France.]

7.  Man, am I really making a poor showing of this.  At first blush, this track sounds like something tribal-ish and noisecore-y (adjectives are not my strong suit this morning).  Gets a bit more blasting, and then when the vocals kicks in, I’m fairly certain that’s Steve Austin’s coruscating howl, so I think this is Today is the Day.  Now that I think about it, that makes good sense, since I think this is from when TITD had Bill and Brann from Mastodon in the band.  So, again, I’ve got no clue on the track title, but I think this is Today is the Day from In the Eyes of God.  Fingers crossed.

[It was: Converge, “Letterbomb,” from When Forever Comes Crashing.  Wow.  Just, wow.  I totally thought this was Converge at first, but then I gradually convinced myself that those vocals were not, in fact, Jacob Bannon but were, instead, Steve Austin.  Shit.  Still, goes to show that either Converge can pull off some fucking metal sounding production earlier on, or that Today is the Day were never as metal as one thought.]

8.  Extended instrumental intro section makes song identification a bit tricky, folks.  Let’s kick in some fucking metal, eh?  Oh, that was the whole song?  Well, fuck you very much.  I don’t know, man.  I literally have NO CLUE what this is.  I’m also about 100% sure that this is NOT a song by The Ocean, but that’s what I’m going to guess anyway.

[It was: Tombs, “Story of a Room,” from Winter Hours.  Man, that sucks.  I really love that record.  Out of context, I guess it’s a lot trickier to match guitar tone to artist.  Still, I knew it wasn’t The Ocean.  Just had to put any old shit down.]

9.  This is a pretty nimble, black/folk attack.  My first inclination is to go with Borknagar.  Yep, there’s good ol’ Vintersorg.  Pretty unmistakable timbre on that dude.  I suppose this could be Vintersorg (the project) as well as Vintersorg (the man), but I think his solo(ish) stuff never got quite so black as this.  So, I’m going to go with Borknagar.  Let’s see, when did Vintersorg join?  I’m going to hazard a guess that this track is from the Empiricism album.

[It was: Borknagar, “The Genuine Pulse,” from Empiricism.  Awesome.]

10.  This is Mastodon.  For sure.  That vaguely Southern-tinged finger-picked acoustic intro was a pretty fast giveaway.  But, sadness of sadness, I’m wavering as to which album this is from.  At first, I was thinking maybe this was from Crack the Skye, given its quite mellow character.  But, hmm.  Damn, this is shameful.  Still, now I’m maybe 80% confident that this is the closing track from Leviathan, which is called, I believe, “Joseph Merrick.”

C’mon, Mastodon, can’t you help a brother out?  Sure would be nice to close out this cavalcade of fuck-ups and metal failures with an unabashed WIN.

[It was: Mastodon, “Pendulous Skin,” from Blood Mountain.  Sweet fucking houndstooth pajamas.  So, despite being totally dead-on about Mastodon, turns out the two albums I was wheedling back and forth between were both the WRONG FUCKING ALBUM.]

(11.  As I was finishing up typing some of these comments, Mastodon faded out, and in kicks the inimitable vocals of Phil Anselmo from Down’s first album, NOLA.  Thanks, dude, for giving me another confidence booster.  Track’s called “Losing All,” but I can’t claim credit, as Anselmo actually tells you that.)

Okay, now it’s time to turn the monitor back on and see just how shittily I’ve done.
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So, I’m giving myself five out of ten.  I know I had the album wrong on a bunch of those, but I’m pleased enough to have just identified the artist correctly half the time.  And honestly, that’s quite a lot better than I thought I would do at this.

The whole point, though, is not to simply pat myself on the back, or subject myself to an extreme bout of self-castigation.  Instead, I think this is really indicative of something.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone in being in the thrall of the unending pursuit of novelty in music.

I just think, maybe, that it’s time we recognize at what cost this ragged, wide-eyed pursuit must come.

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Yeah, I think I’m going to have to come back with a provisional answer of “Yes, this is the WORST FUCKING SONG EVER.”

At first, I was loath to even include the soul-sucking thing in this post, but figured that, just on the off chance you haven’t been forcibly subjected to it recently, well, I’d better include it for your listening displeasure.

Now, certainly this isn’t the Worst Song ever in any objective sense.  I mean, clearly all of the musicians involved are reasonably competent at playing their instruments.  Clearly, the recording engineer was capable of pressing ‘record’ at the proper time to capture this turgid, bloated mess on tape.  The song has a discernible verse, and chorus, and all those regular song-like qualities.

We could definitely find “worse” songs out there, if we’re looking for amateurish instrumental capabilities, disjointed song structures, poor recording quality, and so forth.  I would even venture to say that we could find songs which are on the order of one hundred times more annoying than this song.

Still, I’m fairly confident in standing by my judgment that this is the Worst Fucking Song Ever.

For a song whose title (and entire conceit) revolves around “flying away,” never have a heard a piece of music which so ruthlessly, endlessly, unforgivingly drags me down to earth, rubbing my face in the harsh light of the reality of just how much it sucks.  Nothing here uplifts.  This on its face is fine; after all, I listen to plenty of downright miserable heavy metal which is intentionally hopeless and misanthropic.  The key word there, however, is intentionally.

This song makes me horribly depressed because it just sits there, limply.  We can call it a ‘song’ only because it matches the skeletal outlines of what we think a ‘song’ needs to be.

Here are a few specific things that just piss me right straight the fuck off about this song:

The drums: Okay, so that’s a pretty dull drum line.  Fine.  Not every song needs a Brann Dailor (of Mastodon) behind the kit.  But what in the name of sweet fucking Moses is up with that obnoxious synthesized hand-clap on beat 3 of the measure?  Nobody’s clapping in the video.  Nobody will clap in the audience, unless you count the barrage of relieved clapping when this Cthulu-esque monstrosity of a song is done violating their ears.

The tempo: This song isn’t fast, and it isn’t slow.  To even call this song “mid-paced” would be an affront to all the perfectly respectable mid-paced songs out there.  I will suggest, instead, that we should call the tempo of this song ‘excruciating’.  Not excruciatingly slow, or excruciatingly fast, or anything like that.  Just, excruciating.  In fact, I can imagine that if you played this song at double-time, it might actually be marginally more interesting.

Or conversely, if you slowed this track down to a funeral doom crawl, then the juxtaposition between the morbidly creeping tempo and the ostensibly flightly, kinetic subject matter might be artistically intriguing.

But, no such luck.  Instead, this song plays like it is sitting on my chest.

The chorus: Son of a BITCH I hate this chorus.  It is the most insipid, uninspired, droning, ridiculous chorus ever inflicted upon a man’s ear drums, and I hate it to death.  It is catchy, I suppose, but so is ebola.  Also, what ever on this whole sweet earth is behind Mr. Kravitz’s decision to, during some of the later repetitions of the chorus (I lost count, but this is probably on like chorus repetition numbers fifty-seven through seventy-four), to, instead of singing, “I want to get away, I wanna flyyyy awaaaaay / Yeah, yeah, yeah,” overdubs himself singing “You” over the second in that string of “Yeah”s?

Did we decide that “Yeah” was too sophisticated a word, especially when thrice repeated, so we needed to change it up a bit?  Or have we just all agreed that nobody is paying attention anymore, what with their brains slowly dripping out their ear holes like cold oatmeal, so that “You” overdub is really like a “Hey! You! Pay attention to my awesome sooooooong!”?

The video: Don’t you have to imagine that in order to get the people in the video shoot to dance like that, they must have been playing them something which was actually sexy?  I mean, if you believe the narrative the video tries to present, play this song for a lady friend and there will instantly appear twelve other lady friends for some serious sexy times.

The way I hear the song, though, if I played it for a lady friend, I think her uterus might honestly DROP RIGHT OUT OF HER BODY.  Which would be okay, I guess, because it would give us something to talk about besides how GODDAMN INSUFFERABLE THIS LENNY KRAVITZ SONG IS.

The bottom line is, this song is absolutely terrible.  It is so single-mindedly dull, bland, and inoffensive that it just about becomes the most OFFENSIVE thing ever to my ears.  I can find basically no redeeming quality in this song, except maybe (just maybe) that when it’s finally finished playing (the YouTube link claims it’s a 3:42 run time, but I swear it goes on for at least two hours), absolutely any other piece of atrocious music in the world that you could think of to play will sound like divine intervention, like the sweetest melodic redemption ever bestowed upon a humble, Lenny Kravitz-suffering sinner.

We’re talking, like, Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” becomes Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, here, folks: this shit is THAT SERIOUS.

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