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Blood Mountain’ is an oasis of sharp individuality

Observer Scene | Thursday, September 28, 2006

A major label album doing something off the beaten path is something to behold.

Metal band Mastodon’s latest release, “Blood Mountain,” is precisely that, as the band weaves poetic lyrics with smashing guitars, driving drums and melodic singing. Sometimes great and sometimes bordering on sonic chaos, this album won’t be liked by everyone. It is not quite “radio friendly”, but it is different – and should be commended.

“Blood Mountain” opens with the raging “The Wolf is Loose.” This may be the friendliest of all the tracks as the long guitar solos are kept to a minimum and it delves into what might be called “pop sensibilities.” But this tenuous connection is broken by frontman and bassist Troy Sander’s gritty and abrasive vocals. As the drums pound through the song, he pounds through such strange lyrics as, “The hero of the gods / the crossing of the threshold / the belly of the whale / refusal of return.”

The traditional method of writing lyrics that either conveys a story – or at least something cohesive – is stretched to its bare limits with Mastodon. All of the songs on “Blood Mountain” exhibit lyrics similar to this. Closely read, there is a connection between all the lines, but it takes some thought and is not spoon fed to the listener. Mastodon wants to rock sonically and lyrically with the listener – instead of handing them something easy and bland to digest. Mastodon gives the salt and all the spices but doesn’t cook the meal.

Mastodon began in Atlanta, releasing its debut EP, “Lifesblood,” on Relapse Records WHEN. Its unique mixture of metal and hardcore birthed two more albums following the EP, “Remission” and “Leviathan,” in 2002 and 2004 respectively. “Leviathan” brought the band to the attention of music critics who noticed what this band could do when put to the task. These two albums were released on the same label as their EP, but with “Blood Mountain,” Mastodon has moved the major label Reprise Records. Reprise, though a major label, has created a solid lineup of metal/hardcore bands, including the Dillinger Escape Plan and Today is the Day. The freedom Mastodon has to pursue its own style is respected by Reprise, and “Blood Mountain” does nothing but confirm this.

Guitar solos that go on for days characterize this musical style, and, while they do become slightly monotonous, listening to guitarist Bill Kelliher wail on his axe is something to behold. “Capillarian Crest” bleeds from the speakers.

Sanders weaves through the song, transitioning from melodic singing to metal screaming with ease and in appropriate spots. Kelliher’s guitar sets the raucous pace and never lets up. The song is as much about the lyrics as the sonic experience. Half the song is sung in Mastodon’s unique lyric style while the other half is devoted to the band playing and kicking some rear.

Not everyone would want to see this band live.

Most, in fact, weaned on pop radio and the likes of Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera will probably be confounded and confused if they popped “Blood Mountain” into their CD players. However, no matter what one listens to, this album deserves a chance. It isn’t perfect, but it is different, smart and knows exactly what it wants. Compared to what 99 percent of people are listening to 99 percent of the time, this reeks of individuality and peculiarity.