For the longest time I had Mastodon’s Blood Mountain as my favourite record of 2006. But I also had several reasons why they could not top the list, none of them musical. TV On The Radio makes a newer sound, I thought. I played The Knife and Joanna Newsom just as much, I thought. Boris does the same thing and they have a female axe shredder named Wata (!!!), I thought. Enough people think I'm acting white as it is, so don’t make things worse, I thought. Mastodon who? My friends thought. And yet I still can’t think of a more exhilarating listening experience I've had all year than Blood Mountain, except perhaps the album that preceded it.
But my very attempt to review or contextualize Mastodon ruins them. Because writing what makes them tick will only result in prose that leaves the potential fan thinking they are pompous, worrisomely complex and downright unlistenable. Either that or they'll mistake them for Rush. So to prevent this from happening I’ve decided to present my ten awesome, freakin,’ kick-ass, bomboclaat reasons why Mastodon are the greatest, baddest, bestest band on the planet.
1. The drummer. Want to know why REM sucks? Because when they lost the drummer they had the bed frame ripped out from under them. Take that analogy any way you wish, because not only does the drummer hold a band’s shit together, but also a band moves best when the drummer moves first, as James Brown would have gladly told you. Led Zeppelin knew that once Bonham was over they were too. Like all the great rock drummers, Brann Dailor is still under the impression that he’s in a JAZZ band, a delusion shared by Ginger Baker, Charlie Watts and Clyde Stubblefield. Only none of those guys have ever played like this before. Dailor doesn’t so much fill space as he tears it a new one and leaves the dregs for the rest of the band. Part of the fun with Mastodon is to hear them scramble to catch up.
2. Dynamics, kids. No Mastodon song ends the way it begins. I could go on about how fantastic and pre-pro-toolsy they are, but that would be rockist and irrelevant. They record music like any great band does; drums today, bass tomorrow, vocals the next day and the result is a friendly game of one-upmanship where each member pushes the other to go harder, faster or just plain better. This means that girls can now come to their concerts. I know this is a horrendous development for some of the boys but guys, you're in your late twenties. It's time to stop thinking girls are icky.
3. They’re Southern Gentlemen (even if one is originally from NY). There is just something from the American South that clicks with somebody from the Caribbean. Maybe it’s the bad liquor, plantation ghosts or the different ways to cook crayfish. Or maybe Mastodon, as southern boys have something all to rare in rock or pop music: Charm. Mastodon are some of the nicest guys in rock, a fact that does not diminish their ferocity one bit.
4. They rock so hard that once I found myself envying groupies because they get rock and rolled for real. I know, I know, I’ve already barfed enough for both of us.
5. Somebody in the band has read Moby Dick.
6. And Conan, the Barbarian
7. Crystal Skull. Colony of Birchmen. Sleeping Giant. Yes, my fellow Dungeons and Dragons geeks, you too can one day bestride the earth like a Colossus. Okay maybe not.
8. They have voices and are not afraid to use them. Who’d ever guess that the secret weapon of one of America’s heaviest bands would be harmony? Between crooning Brent and wailing Troy, Mastodon at their best sound like Queens of the Stone Age crossed with Slayer except that unlike the former they rock harder and faster and unlike the latter they have actual songs.
9. Bladecatcher almost gives the rock instrumental a good name. Rock performance of the year. Comedy performance of the year too.
10. Because any band that can rhyme brontotherium with vermillion is by any definition one with enormous stylistic certitude or in possession of a very old dictionary. Granted this in no way tops Joanna Newsom's The meteoroid/ is a stone that's devoid/ of the fire that brought it to thee, but what could?