Friday, July 18, 2014

Mastodon Bashes Some Life Into Pop

Written by: Jimmy McQuade

Date: July 18th, 2014

What Mastodon seems to be attempting on “Once More ‘Round the Sun,” which dropped this past June, is a consecration of the marriage between the commercially viable and the head-bangingly heavy, between the “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and the aggressive affront of the double-bass drum and the crunchy, long-sustaining guitar lick, between the often scoffed at pop-song structure – verse, chorus, verse, bridge, etc. – and the seemingly interminable riff against intricate, modal, sometimes offensive harmonies; an admirable ambition for a band to have, and if these Atlanta boys were musicians of a lower caliber they would have certainly botched such an ambition.

The opening track, “Tread Lightly,” ironically enough, stampedes its way across the album’s first five minutes. The song begins with what sounds like a sitar riff played on guitar – whose melody recalls parts of Jimmy Page’s “White Summer” – and then, about 30 seconds in, comes an almost cosmic crash that sets “Once More ‘Round the Sun” into motion with relentless force; a force that does not let up until the last seconds of the album. What I think is so striking here and elsewhere about Mastodon’s new record is how they manage to fit the riotous momentum of metal comfortably within the pop music form.

Take, for instance, the song “High Road,” whose opening riff and verse screams out a debt to the Melvins’ “Hooch” but then goes into a chorus you’d hear on a Foo Fighters record, with soaring vocals, spot-on harmonies and all: “You take the high road down/I take the road below you.” “High Road” never strays far from the verse-chorus-verse structure; the exception being an instrumental bridge section that leads directly into dueling guitar solos – Mastodon is after all a progressive metal band. But I don’t point out Mastodon’s adherence to a traditional music form as a criticism. What I think they’ve accomplished on “High Road” and many other songs on this new record is giving new life to an old form. Much in the way The White Stripes revitalized the 12-bar blues in “Ball and Biscuit,” Mastodon has given new life to the otherwise dead form of popular music.

Despite adopting a mainstream approach to writing music, Mastodon never fails to thrash their listeners with fast rolling drum fills, chunky palm-muted guitars and lyrics that could have been taken out of an ancient epic; from “Chimes At Midnight”: “I saw the mountain crumble down/I saw colossus in flames/I heard the ocean draining/Nothing that I could ever tame.” And it’s through this relatively new accessibility, which really came to a head on their album “The Hunter,” that Mastodon honors their heavy metal antecedents.

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