Over the past twenty years, listeners have followed Atlantan metal maestros Mastodon on some pretty wild adventures. We’ve hunted the white whale on 2004’s breakout ‘Leviathan,’ traversed the astral planes, and most recently wandered into the desert via 2017’s ‘Emperor of Sand.’ Surprisingly despite such D&D-worthy escapades, the band has never dropped a double album - until now, that is. Penned after the death of ‘band Dad’ and beloved manager Nick John and forged in the face of a global pandemic, Mastodon has once again faced death, illness, and crippling uncertainty and emerged clutching gold.
Their most brooding and, dare we say, gothic release - backed by another phenomenal and damn eerie album cover by longtime collaborator Paul Romano - 'Hushed And Grim' sees the band produce a staggering 88 mins of melancholic fury without a filler track in sight. With producer/mixer David Bottrill at the helm - most famous for his work with former tourmates TOOL - the band has never sounded this crisp and taught despite the density of what's on offer. Their ninth full-length is their most ambitious album - and that’s saying something - since 2009’s ‘Crack The Skye.’ The band has never married melodic moments with their rage so expertly. At times Mastodon’s brand of metal can seem somewhat relentless to the uninitiated, whacked-out scales and machine-gun drum flourishes turning on as many people as it’s turned off.
It’s a trend they somewhat tried to smooth with the more accessible fare of their past two albums. ‘Hushed And Grim’ sees the quartet wisely lean back into their proggier impulses of old while retaining their improved ear for a hook. For the first time in a long while, they’ve got the balance down perfectly, moments of face-melting thrash suddenly dissolving into bluesy breakdowns or Maiden-Esque solos. While a small vocal number of fans may still decry that fifteen tracks on offer don’t reach the brutal depths of ‘Blood Mountain,’ those with less narrow vision will embrace the band once again furthering their sound and reaching new heights while doing so.
Despite its gigantic length, there’s no buffer here, no twee little instrumental interludes to fill the time, just a clutch of wholly realised bruisers that hide flourishes that reward repeat listens. For instance, ‘Skeleton Of Splendor’ boasts a synth solo without derailing the whole project as a sickening mistake, proof of true artistry. ‘Teardrinker’ has Troy Sanders unleashing a Wah smothered bass breakdown straight from the Cliff Burton handbook that’ll give any metalhead cause to smile. The group has never truly dropped the ball, so the fact that it slaps hard isn't a surprise; what's surprising is a band looking fifty in the eye is dropping some of their greatest work.
Track ‘Dagger’ wouldn’t sound out of place over Villeneuve's recent 'Dune' adaptation, sounding both exotic and sinister while boasting some beautifully simplistic lyrics that grieve a falling brother. At eight and half minutes, 'Gobblers Of Dregs' stands as the album's most intricate song, but also one of its most rewarding, the entire last half dedicated to sending the listener into the stratosphere on a bed of groove. Anyone familiar with the band won't be surprised to see them shift gear and change tempo, but will be pleasantly dazzled at how smooth they'll be pulling off these 360s nowadays. The frantic breakneck pace seen on numbers like 'The Last Baron' has given way to something more structured and befitting this pensive project.
Early on, Mastodon was quickly pegged as one of the most exciting prospects in 21st-century metal. On the strength of this ballsy behemoth of sound, they're easily holding onto that crown while adding yet another shining jewel. 'Hushed And Grim' is a reminder of what makes the band so beloved while boldly stepping into a new chapter. They've never sounded so good.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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