5 out of 5
Producer: Matt Bayles
Albums like Blood Mountain should not be possible. The technical skill overload and the metal band lyrical wankery should max the listening experience out early, plus this was Mastodon’s major label record, so aren’t we expecting something stripped down and rinsed through a veil of acceptability? So how is it that every moment of the disc is blistering and aware, that the words actually carry through to the listener moreso than the wizard and dragon world views prior albums have created, and that the work the band and producer have done to slightly tweak the noise turn out the freaking best disc in the group’s career? Who knows the exact answers to those questions, but it equates to something along the lines of necessitating an immense amount of talent, teamwork, and understanding.
Any worries of sell-out distillation can be automatically dismissed by the fuckfest drumroll intro of ‘The Wolf is Loose,’ which is probably the point, before either Troy Sanders or Brent Hinds kicks in with the guttural growls (sorry, I’m not up on the who does the yelling and singing thang) and the speed riffing drops, blossoming into nuanced crooning for a brief bridge… The magic here is in the mix of sound. Bayles works with a lot of groups I love, but I almost always feel like he undercuts their sound to a certain degree with his electronic manipulations. Sometimes that’s for the best – like with Minus the Bear – but sometimes it introduces a weird filtering that thankfully doesn’t detract from overall impact (I’m thinking of Botch) but makes one wonder what would’ve been possible with a more organic recording template. In part, I’m sure Bayles ongoing relationship with Mastodon helps to know how to structure their sound, but with technical metal of this nature, it does benefit from being cleanly recorded, things changing up so fast that you want to hear each and every note. The rounding down of the chaos also makes it listenable from start to finish without feeling like you need to take a break, and yet capable of inducing head-banging on each and every, every, ever song. I mean, it is truly unbelievable to lay down such intense limits of noise as on penultimate track ‘Siberian Divide’ and have it not overwhelm the listener or just get lost at certain points, and yet… Well. Similarly, you can have a mixed up song with distorted vocals and effects lain atop the music such as ‘Bladecatcher’ and it would normally feel like filler, but here it’s mixed such that it’s treated like an actual track and you want to try to sing along with the f-ed up garbles.
Speaking to those garbles, our tracks are called things like ‘Crystal Skull’ and ‘Circle of Cysquatch,’ so we’re still in wizard metal Mastodon territory, but even when the tales are scratching to tear out of your speakers, you can glean what’s being said (Sanders’ or Hinds’ mastery of their metal voice akin to Ironlung’s great Scissorfight growl) and it feels more rooted to the music here; an actual element of the songs as opposed to just a result of their genre.
The album even manages to sneak in some stunning plateaus of soothing choruses – ‘Capillarian Crest’ and closer ‘Pendulous Skin’ can fight it out for most gorgeous kill-’em-all metal tracks of Forever, again falling back on compositional skill to make mad use of quiet and build.
And and and. This is the way to do it. Yes, there’s a bit of homogenizing to the sound, but it’s not at all negative – in fact it strips the group of some of the illustrious clutter that slowed down portions of previous albums. Blood Mountain is a total anomaly – from a major label, from the genre. Or not total, rather, seeing as how the group would consistently follow it up with equally stunning albums of slightly different flavors. If you have any appreciation for heavy music in your catalogue, this disc is a must.