October 19, 2006

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Mastodon, Blood Mountain
Reprise, 2006

Allow me, if you will, to begin this review with a rather random yet astute observation: Algebra is completely worthless.

Honestly, how often does anyone other than a mathematician or a NASA engineer actually use algebra at any point in life?

I bring this up because the second full-length album from heavy-metal foursome Mastodon, Blood Mountain, is like the musical equivalent of an algebraic equation. That is to say, the record is dense, complicated, saturated with variables and, once you arrive at your answer (a5/7x+ -32y2 when x=8) you realize it makes absolutely no sense to you whatsoever.

Mastodon harkens back to the glory days of heavy metal, when it was still referred to as “heavy metal” by people other than myself. They play blistering thrash with fast, complicated riffs, sing in a Tyrannosaurus growl and write lyrics seemingly inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons player’s guide. Songs like “The Wolf is Loose” and “Colony of Birchmen” find guitarists Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds channeling …And Justice for All-style speed metal, while bassist Troy Sanders and drummer Brann Dailor supply the requisite dinosaur rhythm stomp.

Yet for all their technical prowess the musicians of Mastodon can’t compose a riff or lick that proves the least bit memorable. “Crystal Skull,” “Sleeping Giant” and “Circle of Cysquatch” complete a song cycle that forces listeners to watch the counter on their CD player to know when one ends and the other begins. This is only made worse by the fact that Blood Mountain is a concept album, so bloated in Tolkien/Magic the Gathering/Greek mythology imagery and themes as to make Robert Plant sue the band for copyright infringement.

There’s a good reason why this sort of overstuffed, melodramatic prog-rock went extinct years ago. Mastodon’s music is so obsessively organized and intricately detailed as to be rendered mundane, uninspired and about as offensive as a Godsmack record. C-

— Adam Marletta