Here’s a fun one no one was expecting. Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths teamed up with members of Dream Theater, Protest the Hero, Cradle of Filth and Inhuman Condition to create a special Christmas version of Slayer’s “Seasons In The Abyss.” And of course they named their “band” Sleigher. Ha.
Charlie Griffiths and Dan Goldsworthy play guitars, with the latter also writing alternate lyrics. Rody Walker of Protest the Hero sings vocals, Daniel Firth (Cradle of Filth) plays bass, Jeramie Kling (Inhuman Condition) plays drums, Haken’s Ray Hearne plays tuba, and the incomparable Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater provides a stellar keyboard solo – that he played on the first take! What a legend. Check it out:
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.)
Artamene, Ziggurat, 2021 Tracks: Infinite Escape (5:27), Fear of Darkness (4:11), Heavy Motion (3:55), Mayhem (3:51), Shining Black (5:24), Inshushinak (6:01), Rain of Paradise (2:56), Petrichor (5:39)
Persecution is still disgustingly widespread in the world today. There are millions of people in countries across the globe who face imprisonment, torture, and death for their religious beliefs, their ethnicity, political beliefs… the list could go on. Iran is one such country. America has experienced childish backlash against heavy metal (Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center in the 1980s as one example) in the past, but American musicians have never feared imprisonment just for making and performing metal music. This threat is real for Iranian metal musicians, and Artamene wants the rest of the world to know that awful truth.
Artamene was formed in Iran in 2017 by brothers Pedram (lead guitar) and Pooya Shitrah (drums) along with Soheil Avakh (vocals) and Ali Karimi (rhythm guitar). Their album, Ziggurat, also features Yahya Rahmani on bass. Pedram and Pooya grew up listening to and playing metal with each other, and they decided to form Artamene. The problem is the Iranian government thinks metal is inherently Satanic, and they have thrown bands in jail for making metal. Members of the bands Confess and Arsames have been sentenced to prison on charges of “Satanism,” although thankfully the musicians were able to escape the country.
I don’t hear anything Satanic on Artamene’s Ziggurat, so hopefully the band will be safe from those accusations. They are allowed to play live concerts, although the behavior of the audience is strictly regulated by the government. They actually get 200-500 people at their concerts.
The music itself is quite good. There are a lot of thrash metal elements, but there are also some more atmospheric metal moments and certainly progressive flares. Thrash metal in general often has a lot of progressive metal elements, minus the keyboards usually. On Ziggurat there are heavy distorted guitars, clean solos, and clean rhythm sections. The bass is clear, heavy, and distinct throughout. It shines in the mix. The drums are intricate and pounding with a prominent double kick, reminding me of the brilliant Gene Hoglan (Strapping Young Lad, Testament).
The vocals are heavy and distorted, but they’re not black metal vocals. Thrash tends to have its own sort of yelled distorted vocals, along with cleans. Avakh’s vocals follow that trend, and his voice works very well with the music. It helps that the lyrics are in English. At times Avakh’s voice reminds me of M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold.