Tag Archives: metalica

Mastodon “Crack the Skye”

Mastodon
Crack the Skye
(Reprise: 2009)

8.5

I confess: Mastodon had lost me.  I mean, those dudes were wanking themselves completely off their fucken rockers.  The first thing that turned me off was all these dooshes started loving them (bound to happen when a band hits the big time, and I am stupid for holding that against them).  But then my buddy told me how he saw them live and they all had like 30 guitars and roadies tuning them (and doing everything else) for the band (huge turnoff for a DIY kinda guy).  The big deal breaker was reading that James Hetfield came up to Mastodon guitarist Brett Hinds, telling him he wanted to “pass the metal torch on to you guys.”  James, you pretentious fuck.  First off, there is no torch that goes to the best metal band passed on by the last best metal band.  And if there were a said torch, Metallica would not have had it in its possession for at least twenty years.  Mastodon acting like that was a compliment pissed me off.

Then I heard about the new LP: a concept album about some paraplegic who flies too close to the sun, causing him to go through a wormhole where his spirit goes into Rasputin’s body to warn him of his planned assassination.  Okay… I could handle Remission’s theme of nuclear holocaust and the drummer’s dream of the burning horses, Leviathan’s “Moby Dick” bent, even Blood Mountain’s stories of climbing mountains only to find blood thirsty ogres (and more challenges) at the top.  But this was way too much, if I wanted such progtastic themed wanky meanderings I have plenty of Magma, Yes or Genesis albums to put the needle to (in fact, the theme almost sounded like a rip off of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway).  After a couple of quick listens to parts of the album, I realized I didn’t need it from my once favorite metal-core band (I even heard keyboards!).  AND TO TOP IT OFF: gone were the throaty primal grunt growl scream vocals of past albums.  The boys were now singing, even harmonizing with each other (obviously, I thought, this was what happens when the band brought Brendan O’Brien, who’s done work for Pearljam and Springsteen, in to produce).  My NU-Metal radar was going off like crazy, and I could see that Mastodon were going the way of the heroes, Metallica, and were no longer relevant but completely over-dooshified.

So, last week I almost didn’t go see Mastodon even though they were playing like 5 minutes from my apartment (in fact if Baroness would not have been on the bill I probably wouldn’t have gone).  Would that ever have been a mistake: the boys are so fucken technically and the songs from Crack the Skye so compositionally sick that the show was altogether mind blowing.  After about twenty minutes of them playing Crack the Skye track by track, I forgave them for everything (even the somewhat harmonious vocals).  I began to see it: Brett Hinds’ confined hospital stay led to the astral traveling theme of the album (kind of like a Brian Eno or Robert Wyatt story).  I imagined him in a hospital bed, his only mode of travel psychic (I may be pushing this way too far, but it’s probably appropriate for such a far out album).

Crack the Skye’s seven songs clock in at just over 50 minutes, but I am lost in the maze, never do I check to see how much time is left. The proggy/jazzy time signatures (For the RIYL guys, it’s like King Crimson attempting to be Iron Maiden) have me changing my headbanging routine like every thirty seconds and the riffs crescendo and fall like the Andes Mountains.   Mastodon can be as indulgent and poppy as they want, as long as the riffs keep my fist pumping and my world turned upside down, which they are able to do for most of the album.  Although, I do find myself at times wishing for the harder hitting, death metal screaming band of yore, this is a more than welcome reprise.  And 50 minutes for me to contemplate on what conceptual them the guys will think of next.

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Baroness “Blue Album”

Baroness
“Blue Album”
Relapse Records
 

Rating: 9

Respect. A word often thrown around, especially by Ali G.  This summer’s action flick “G.I. Joe” didn’t respect the sanctity of the classic G.I. Joe comic, making Ripcord a wise-cracking black guy and of course, the inexcusable creation of a love story between Baroness and Duke.  Fortunately, on “The Blue Album”, the Savanna, Georgia  metal outfit Baroness has shown complete respect for the history of not only metal, but also giving nods to post-punk, prog, hardcore, and even math rock. (On a side note, wouldn’t Destro be a much better name for a metal band? Just saying…)

For starters, this flawlessly organized album is book-ended by “Bullhead’s Psalm” and “Bullhead’s Lament”, both mysterious, spacey instrumentals that sound similar to Metalica’s “Nothing Else Matters”.  In the opener, this homage to metal Gods from times of yore soon builds into a double guitar lead lick that pierces through the classic sound, proclaiming that Baroness has arrived: you better recognize. This intricate guitar playing fills the album from start to finish, sounding like Dream Theater, minus the self-indulgence.  The goal of this band is not to impress; they want to catch you off guard, kicking you in the balls just when you think they are taking a rest.

When “Bullhead’s Psalm” comes to an eerie end,  a ripping guitar riff blasts through the speakers, and John Baizley’s grizzled voice screams out, sounding like Ian MacKaye with a cold, circa Fugazi days (on “A Horse Called Golgotha” you my have flashbacks to the early 90s, listening to “In On the Kill Taker”).    Despite its hardcore leanings, it still stays rooted in the type of classic metal that would make Tony Iommi blush.  Song after song will have your head bobbing uncontrollably. With music this damn good, who gives a shit about lyrics?

The grippingly thrash continues for most of the album, but the band is somehow able to steady the raging storm of metal chaos, finding calmer waters in borderline ballads like “Steel that Sleeps in the Eye” and “Black Powder Orchard”.  On the latter, the band’s southern roots can be heard, with it sounding like something you might hear on an Allman Brother’s album. “O’er Hell and Hide” starts with an enchanting serenade that will lead you into a sleepy listlessness due to its calming acoustic guitar artistry. 40 seconds into the song, when you’re on the verge of sweet dreams, the nightmare arrives with the band breaking into a grinding post-punk sludge tour. Amidst the chaos, a muffled voice can be heard talking in monotone, sounding almost like a metal Slint. Yes. I said it. A metal version of Slint. I think I just squirted a little pre-cum. 

 I may be making this album sound like a compilation of covers, but that assessment would be completely off-base.  Despite the album’s wide spectrum of influences, there is never a doubt of who you are listening to: Baroness mother fucker. This is one of the most focused albums I’ve heard all year, which is pretty impressive considering the wide array of influences the band draws upon.  The only thing that might be better than Baroness’s “Blue Album” may be a stroll through the record collection that inspired this all-encompassing metal sound.

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