MASTODON — Leviathan (review)

MASTODON — Leviathan album cover Album · 2004 · Sludge Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Atlanta’s MASTODON made quite the thundering debut with 2002’s “Remission,” an album that sounded like a herd of ancient pachyderms rampaging across the Siberian tundra en masse with such force that the very ground below them quaked and split the continents in two. The album introduced a new kind of progressive sludge to the metal universe and excelled at creating murky dark soundscapes that added touches of suffocating atmospheric gloom and doom. The story of MASTODON has been pretty much that it incrementally at a snail’s pace slinked into more accessible stylistic approaches that would de-emphasize the chaotic paranoia and settle into more streamlined even melodic approaches. This trend began all the way back on the group’s second full-length release LEVIATHAN.

It’s more accurate to state that the band made some tradeoffs. While jettisoning the fear porn of the debut, the band instead adopted characteristics of the progressive world and on LEVIATHAN the band’s very first concept album was born which was loosely based on Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick. While taming the wild antics of the debut album, LEVIATHAN by no means slowed things down and continued a rampaging parade of ten sonic attacks of sonic ferocity well intact. Decorated with more progressive compositional workouts and tight consistent instrumental interplay, LEVIATHAN was the album that saw the band taking both the progressive and metal world’s by storm and catapulted the band into the big boys’ club. Laced with the raging angst of hardcore crust punk and the ambitiousness of tech metal wankery, MASTODON hit the scene like a derailed train colliding with an anvil factory.

With the first hard-hitting riffs of “Blood And Thunder,” MASTODON sets the tone for LEVIATHAN that never lets up until the bitter end. Laced with venomous guitar distortion and interchange of Brent Hinds’ and Bill Kelliher’s dual double axe attack, MASTODON takes the timbre-based sinew of sludge metal and coerces it into performing technical gymnastics that subtly sneak in and steer the aggressive assaults into more advanced creatures. The tracks seamlessly blend together with an idiosyncratic series of riffing made all the more outrageous by Brann Dailor’s approach of alternating the lazy slug drumming experience in the Eyehategod school of drumming along with more tech infused jazzy outbursts. Brett Hinds also delivers his madman vocal approach from under the cacophonous din of the relentless tempo drives save the short instrumental contrasts as heard on the intro and subsections of “Seabeast.”

Another interesting factor and what ties the band’s first four albums together is that each one symbolizes one of the four elements of tetralogy. While “Remission” was not a concept album, it was still considered to have the theme of the element of fire. LEVIATHAN therefore not surprisingly represents the water element however the turbulent paths forged throughout this relentless metal madness is more like the Drake’s passage between South America and Antarctica which is known to have the most devastating channels and highest waves on the entire planet. Of interest as well is the stunning artwork on the album cover created by Paul Romano which is a revamped version of Martin Heemskerck’s 16th century interpretation of the “Pharos of Alexandria” as well as the wave representing Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” It’s also notable that the vinyl edition has a different track listing with “I Am Ahab” and “Island” appearing toward the end of the album, presumably so that the tracks could be spaced out more cozily.

Of the ten tracks on board, “Heart’s Alive” exercises the band’s complete progressive workouts and at 13 and a half minutes runs the gamut of tender arpeggiated sequences to galloping metal fury and a healthy dose of Viking metal mythos as well as NWOBHM sensibilities. While Brent Hinds is the clear lead vocalist of the band, on LEVIATHAN, Neil Fallon picks up the task on the opening “Blood And Thunder” and Scott Kelly likewise on “Aqua Dementia,” but you know what? They all growl alike so it’s unlikely you could tell the difference anyways. “Aqua” also has a cello cameo and the final instrumental features organ by Joseph Merrick who strangely has the track named after him. Some kind of endorsement scheme here? My mind is so suspicious. Back to “Hearts Alive.” Despite it being the longest track it doesn’t seem to make the most of the progressive opportunities and actually becomes a big stagnant, however LEVIATHAN is an outrageously fun romp through the world of stampede style sludge metal with a few progressive candles channeling the spirits of technical wizardry. A great album that continues the band’s unique style.
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