Mastodon, Hushed and Grim

To my astonishment, this appears to be the first Mastodon album reviewed on this website. How can this be? After all, this is a band that not only seasons their exceptionally math-y thrash metal with delectable flavors of sludge, stoner rock, prog and even hints of country. This is a band who came to my attention on David Letterman with the lead track from 2009’s Crack the Skye, an album-long narrative arguing the case for astral projection’s secret influence on the Russian Revolution. (And it wasn’t their first concept album, either — that was 2004’s Leviathan, based on — what else? — Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.)

After this — plus no-holds-barred follow-ups like 2011’s The Hunter and 2014’s Cthulvian Once More Round the Sun — I can’t help but ask again, where’s the love for Mastodon from Progarchy been all this time?

It’s not too late to hop on the bandwagon, though; Mastodon’s smoking new double disc effort, Hushed and Grim, is here to melt our minds and set our heads banging. Every single one of the fifteen tunes offer has at least two (and sometimes three) killer riffs pounded out by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher on guitar and Troy Sanders on bass, with Brann Dailor adding multiple layers of mayhem on drums. Sounds like a potentially stagnant formula on the surface, but given that the Atlanta-based quartet can spin on a dime through multiple textures, tempos, and time signatures in the course of a single song, the approach never fails.

And you never know what ear candy may show up in the midst of the prevailing heaviness — there’s the finger-pickin’ Americana intro to “The Beast,” the impeccable synthesizer solo on “Skeletons of Splendor,” the dream pop verses of the otherwise grunged-up “Had It All.” Hinds digs deep for his full-tilt solos, with a Southern-fried touch of Duane Allman peaking through every so often; Dailor’s playing calls to mind an alternate-universe Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page instead of Pete Townsend. And the combined vocals (Sanders, Hinds and Dallor split the leads, with Kelliher as a harmony voice) provide kaleidoscopic colors to match the range of the music, from heavenly harmonies complementing 12-string textures to raucous, full-throated bellows over odd-time gallops. Producer David Bottrill (whose other credits include King Crimson and Tool) pulls all the elements of this sonic maelstrom together; the end product is marvelously stylish, delightful to listen to even as it knocks you flat.

But the music, as cool as it is, isn’t hanging out there on its own; the lyrics have a pungent bite as well. Mastodon are on a mission here, paying tribute to long time friend and manager Nick John, who died in 2018. Is the narrative here, kicking off with the vicious opener “Pain With An Anchor” and concluding with the epic “Gigantum,” a journey through the stages of grief? A depiction of dying from the inside out? Or yet another meditation on existence and mortality (for which I’ve proved a sucker time and again in the age of COVID-19)? Your mileage may vary with your interpretation — but boy, do Sanders, Hinds, Dallor and Kelliher bring the goods. The rage of “Sickle and Peace,” the devastated sorrow of “Teardrinker,” the desperate struggle of “Pushing the Tides” — all of it hits home. If you’re not cathartically drained after a listen to Hushed and Grim, you haven’t been paying attention.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big prog-metal head — but when it’s prog-metal as good as Mastodon, I surrender willingly. Check out Hushed and Grim for yourself below — and definitely catch them live if they come to your town! (I did back in 2015, and my ears might still be ringing.)

— Rick Krueger


Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd, in other words it’s heavy metal, but quite psychedelic, atmospheric and drawn-out. Kraków’s Minus exhibits significant post metal and stoner hues too. The album actually progresses from stoner straight into post rock territory. From a three minute album opener to nine minute compositions essentially reflects that trend. From fractious Soundgarden like textures to introspective drone riffs – the journey couldn’t be more seamless.

soundstreamsunday #98: “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath

heavenandhellMetal is a tricky business.  So is memory.  I first heard “Children of the Sea” soon after it was released,  I think, as a young teenager in 1980, tutored by an older sister in thrall to Rush’s Permanent Waves, Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East, and, most of all, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell.  It was later that I learned of Sabbath’s late 70s identity crisis, their parting of ways with Ozzy Osbourne, and Ronnie James Dio’s efforts to help salvage a band worthy of his prowess.  It couldn’t have been an easy road, and by all accounts wasn’t, BUT… the fruit of Osbourne’s dissolution, Dio’s post-Rainbow quest, and the Sabbath juggernaut’s need to produce a next record, was a pair of LPs blueprinting one way forward for metal: operatic vocal facility, pop-tinged melodies, subject matter less doom-and-gloom than dungeons-and-dragons.  With, of course, guitars fully and thunderously intact.  It was what Heart showed it could be with 1978’s “Mistral Wind,” and would be taken to its natural conclusion by Iron Maiden in the next decade; but, as the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal began to draw its borders as the 70s turned into the 80s, it was Black Sabbath, the original metal wellspring, still sitting in the center of the compass rose.

Of course, many die-hard Sabbath fans don’t acknowledge Dio’s Sabbath as the real Black Sabbath — a respectable point of view, in fairness, that such distinction can only come with the inclusion of Ozzy and in consideration of the first six, genre-defining, Sabbath LPs — and the band itself acknowledged this when reuniting for a tour and LP with Dio in 2007, calling themselves, naturally, “Heaven and Hell,” out of respect for both Dio and Ozzy.  But for a certain generation of us the Dio-led band was the gateway to Black Sabbath, with Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules (1981) jewels in the crown equal in quality heaviosity to the  First Six.  And it turns out that Dio’s here-be-dragons sensibility was just what Sabbath and metal needed: dramatic vocal flights, lyrical escapism, and a feel for the sheer cliff riffs.  I imagine too that his maturity (he was in his late 30s at the time, older than the rest of the band by at least six years) brought a steady, compositional, horns-flashing hand to a Sabbath dearly in need of it.  Dio would set a solo course soon after Mob Rules but would never stray far from the tone he set in his work with Sabbath.

From the flawless first side of Heaven and Hell comes “Children of the Sea,” the kind of fantasy piece Dio trademarked, where the story lines are drawn vaguely enough to appeal broadly, and are there, ultimately, in support of the Riff King, for if there is one true hero in the story of metal, it is and will forever be Tony Iommi.  Two versions here: the original studio take and, because it counts, the Heaven and Hell band version from 2007, with Dio, at the age of 65, still bringing every bit of showmanship to the legacy he was so justifiably proud of.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.