Mastodon – Are They Taking The Piss?

This post is coming out on a Friday because I really wanted to write something about poetry and soon (hence its coming out on a Saturday), but I also really wanted to write about Mastodon, because I find their new album “The Hunter”  very interesting indeed.

I recently got the album The Hunter, by prog metal/hard rock band Mastodon, and it is genuinely amazing. Not only for the songs, which are as well-crafted, precise and exciting as anything that was released in 2011. It’s also inspiring because of the sense throughout the album that Mastodon are really pushing their luck just exactly as far as it will go.

To help explain what I mean, here is the track Blasteroid from that album.

For me, this track instantly sounded like it had strong hardcore and even metalcore influences. For many of the people commenting on the video, the vocals sounded like the Foo Fighters. The point of commenting on this isn’t to find out who was right, as this is a subjective issue, but simply to note that neither of these influences are particularly popular with the metal/prog rock crowd.

As to why I asked whether they’re taking the piss a bit, this isn’t just down to them sounding, in some randoms’ opinions, a little bit Grohlshy. In the past, Mastodon have frequently taken on positions contrary to the metal mainstream, whatever that mainstream’s stance has been at the time. At one point, they insisted blind that they weren’t even a metal band, to metal magazines — this might be false memory syndrome, but I seem to recall that they were even a little disdainful of the genre in an interview with Metal Hammer magazine about a year or more ago.

Admittedly, this was during their even more psychedelic Crack The Skye phase, but they were definitely trawling for responses with both their new direction and their statements, and they certainly got responses. Are they doing the same thing now?

I’ve not seen any mind-bendingly provocative interviews, but listening to the album, it sounds as though they are listening to what ‘proper’ metalheads hate, taking it, and making it awesome. At several points during The Hunter I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of Avenged Sevenfold’s A Little Piece Of Heaven, while the much-maligned genre of the rock opera seemed to be a huge influence on many parts of the album, most noticeably Creature Lives.

“Taking the piss” is the wrong phrase, undoubtedly. They’re trying to be challenging, I feel, more than provocative. However, I definitely feel as though their choices of influence are choices that have been made with an image of an ‘average’ metalhead in mind — and they are not choices which that ‘average’ metalhead should, in theory, approve of.

There are a fair few more predictable influences on the album. Pink Floyd is visible almost everywhere you look, and Spectrelight (my favourite track initially, although others are coming up strong) is pretty pure metal. I couldn’t tell you what genre, maybe sludge metal with a touch of black and prog, but it’s recognisably a very metal song.

In the end, though, what struck me most about the album wasn’t how awesome the drumming was, the purity of the tone or the complete mastery of mood and atmosphere, and it certainly wasn’t the conventional prog metal touchstones.

What struck me about Mastodon’s latest album, and what will compel me to keep listening to The Hunter over and over again with a real sense of wonder and joy, were the sounds that came from true, trve and tr00 metal’s traditional pariahs, the enemies of the faith. Mastodon are truly interesting artists, and I can think of few higher terms of praise.

Sunshine, lollipops and…

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