Mastodon - _Leviathan_
(Relapse Records, 2004)
by: Jackie Smit (8.5 out of 10)
I can hear the groaning already. "Mastodon sold out!" "Mastodon are pussies!" "Mastodon sucks!" While these statements may all be down to a matter of opinion and, in the light of objectivity, generally prove to be untrue, one thing is certain: the hype preceding this record certainly didn't do the Atlanta quartet any favours. When everyone from the smallest of small underground 'zines to the suits at MTV are crowing about a band being "the next Metallica" and "the future of metal", it stands to reason that disappointment can never be lurking too far back. Personally, it's those Metallica comparisons in particular that always get me going. I'd be the last one to deny that _Remission_ was a damn fine piece of work, but it has yet to lead to the birth of an entire genre. I mean, let's put things into perspective here! To be fair though, none of the boys from Mastodon have ever indulged themselves in such ill-conceived hoopla, which may well explain why _Leviathan_ has turned out the way it has.

What's initially most striking about this sophomore effort is the overwhelming feeling that _Leviathan_ is definitely the album that Mastodon (the band) wanted to make. Far from being the drastic departure that I've seen other reviews make it out to be, the opening snarl of "Blood & Thunder" makes it clear that this is not going to be _Remission_ Pt 2. As it turns out, many fans will instantly lament the greatly diminished presence of the debut's jagged, unhinged vocal style, and its retro, unrefined production -- both having largely been replaced by something I daresay is distinctly more accessible. Likewise the band have held true to their promise of the "slower parts being slower", whilst ignoring the juxtaposition of upping the ante when things get heavier, with acoustic guitars and even samples making subtle headway into proceedings. In fact, it's fair to say that to a large extent, much of what _Leviathan_ offers has more in common (in spirit at least) with Soundgarden's _Down on the Upside_ than anything by bands like Neurosis.

But no matter how off-putting these advances may sound on paper, the fact of the matter is that none of these changes are necessarily a negative or indeed unnatural thing. Yes, the record will leave many listeners bewildered and dumbfounded, particularly after its first few airings. But then, is that not what the band have, by their own admission, always set out to do? In the same sense, would a veritable reiteration of _Remission_ not have courted its own barrage of criticism? Make no mistake about it, _Leviathan_ is every bit as challenging as its predecessor. On the surface it may be more accessible, but by no means is it even in the slightest bit commercial. From the thick, choppy riffage of "Iron Tusk" to the psychotic rollercoaster ride that is "Megalodon", _Leviathan_ is about dense walls of larger-than-life guitars, Brann Dailor's turbulent percussion and plumes of adventurous psychedelia.

_Leviathan_ is also a record that demands several listens to fully appreciate. After a good twenty or so of these, I still find myself discovering new things every time I hit the play button on my hi-fi. And so, while I may still not be convinced that this opus tops the band's debut, _Leviathan_ nevertheless comes highly recommended, if mostly for the fact that it does reaffirm that Mastodon, regardless of the hype, are one of the most exciting prospects in heavy metal music right now.


(article published 11/8/2004)

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4/15/2009 D Cairns 9.5 Mastodon - Crack the Skye
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