Atlanta based sludge/progressive metal band Mastodon are one of the biggest bands to come out of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal and one of the biggest bands of the genre in the last 20 years. Led by bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, the guitar duo of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher and the absolute drumming machine Brann Dailor, this foursome has remained consistent throughout their main releases. With abrasive albums like Remission and Leviathan to more progressive leanings with their big break Crack The Skye, the band has done their fair share of evolving from one of the up and coming bands on Relapse Records to now being a part of a major record label, namely Reprise records. A mutual love of bands like Eyehategod, Neurosis and Thin Lizzy to name a few, set the foundation for what Mastodon would eventually become, going to so far as to cover the latter’s ‘Emerald’ as an extra track on their debut LP. Here is the ranking of their albums.
Following up a career redefining masterpiece like Crack The Skye is a tough feat to be able to keep up with. The Hunter keeps some of the more progressive elements of its immediate predecessor and streamlines them for more immediate digestibility; all of the track lengths are sub 5 minutes, the only album of theirs that can say that.
Tracks like “Black Tongue,” “Curl of the Burl” and the oddly titled “Octopus Has No Friends” are standout tracks. A drummer like Brann Dailor can usurp the throne on a passable album and make it infinitely more interesting as he does on “Bedazzled Fingernails.” This album always felt like a bit of a step back.
6. Emperor Of Sand (2017)
Following 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun, Mastodon kept shying away from their past by delivering more radio friendly metal while eschewing the sludge of the past. Emperor Of Sand aimed to bring some of that fire back by making a solid amalgamation of their previous sounds as Crack The Skye and their 2011-2016 albums are both firmly present within these gritty soundscapes.
Troy Sanders’ vocals improved as have those of drummer Brann Dailor who adds a less gruff and more melodic approach. Dailor’s drum kit is practically on fire on “Precious Stones” as he pounds through a dissonance driven guitar tone matched by all the different members’ vocal styles. This album is solid but not among their best.
If The Hunter was the sound of Mastodon embracing a slimmed down approach, then consider this a more fully fledged version of that, complete with some, albeit clumsy chants such as on “Aunt Lisa.” “Ember City” is a song near and dear to me as it is reminiscent of the loss of a loved one, complete with powerful and emotive lyrics and melodies.
Unlike the previous album Once More Round The Sun grabs the listener from the outset with excellent tracks like “The Motherload” and “High Road.” This could well be considered Mastodon’s most fun album, especially for a band that is usually regarded by their heaviness and progressive leanings; though the hooks courtesy of Hinds and Kelliher do the job just fine.
The beginning of Mastodon’s road to stardom was one that was steeped in the sludge metal scene with ample influence from bands like Eyehategod, Neurosis and High on Fire and what you get with Remission is a crusty, sludgy powerful album chock full of the tenets that made early Mastodon records what they were. The nascent drumming skills of Brann Dailor blow the doors off with opener “Crusher Destroyer.”
The band is as heavy as any band from the era and especially that of fellow Relapse Records bands at that time as well. Sanders’ unrefined vocal approach helps add to the powerful guitar leads as the band plows through two minutes of raw power. “March Of The Fire Ants” is also a live staple when the band turns back the clock and also includes their first part of the Joseph Merrick trilogy with “Elephant Man” and their first elemental album with fire taking the momentary mantle. “Trampled Under Hoof” and “Trainwreck” are also worthy of the weight.
Opening with “Oblivion,” Mastodon made no mistake that Crack The Skye would be a very different affair. Gone was the heavy sludge of their previous three albums and replaced with a more fully realized sense of melodic play and progressive songwriting technique. The soaring guitar solos on this track alone make the listener feel as though they are careening through space without an escape in sight.
The album was also conceived as a tribute to Dailor’s late sister Skye and the emotional weight of that loss is felt throughout the length of the seven tracks. The addition of the banjo on “Divinations” shows Hinds’ hunger for something more than what heavy metal would normally offer, but it works very well. The album also features two of the longest tracks of the band’s career with “The Last Baron” and “The Czar” both clocking in at over 10 minutes. This album redefined who Mastodon are.
Blood Mountain was Mastodon’s third proper album, the earth album, their first with Reprise Records, and my very first foray into the band. It had just been featured on a greatest metal albums of all time list, and I as a newcomer to heavier forms of metal was all in from the title “The Wolf Is Loose.” This was the continuation of a trend of blazingly fast opening tracks on the band’s first three albums and one that ended here as the band underwent a paradigm shift soon thereafter.
This album had odes to the bizarre bits of Melt-Banana with “Bladecatcher” great mixtures of their heavy and prog like “Sleeping Giant” and absolutely destructive tracks like “Circle of Cysquatch” and “Capillarian Crest.” It would take a monolithic album to wrest the top spot on this discography from this album but this is Mastodon that we are talking about, so on we tread.
The water album, Mastodon’s sophomore effort Leviathan fully realizes itself as a concept of water, one that can be seen from the perspective of various types of sea creatures or from the viewpoint of a sea captain in this loosely based on Moby Dick tale. The album opens with what is certainly their best opener and maybe most well-known song in “Blood and Thunder,” extremely heavy with a guitar tone that is about as underwater as this overall lyrical theme is.
It’s arguably one of the most important releases in extreme metal since the change in the millennium and one of the finest American albums at that. Sonically, Leviathan is that step up from Remission that helped to continue to thrust the band unto unsuspecting audiences globally. “Iron Tusk,” “Megalodon,” “Sea Beast” and “Aqua Dementia,” their longest track to-date, are some of the best-ever penned by the quartet. This is also the first album to feature Scott Kelly of Neurosis making a guest appearance, as he has for every album since. This is the top of the heap for Mastodon and if you ever needed an idea as to why they are such a big deal, hop into that diving bell and prepare for music on a Pliocene level.