Mastodon

Hushed And Grim

Written by: AP on 14/06/2022 22:27:17

“No feeling’s ever final / Just another scar I wear and hold dear", muses bassist and vocalist Troy Sanders in “Sickle and Peace”, perfectly summing up the mood of Mastodon’s latest offering “Hushed and Grim”. Indeed, the progressive metallers from Atlanta, GA are no strangers to dealing with the tragedy of loss, the grief that ensues, and the overarching theme of life and death. On their most celebrated record, 2009’s “Crack the Skye”, the quarter brooded over the suicide of drummer and backing vocalist Brann Dailor’s teenage sister, while 2017’s “Emperor of Sand” was a surreptitious allegory on cancer — rather ominously, it turned out, as a year later, the band’s longtime manager and close friend Nick John succumbed to the pancreatic variant of that wretched disease. It should thus come as no surprise that this eighth and latest album by Mastodon, “Hushed and Grim”, is both a reflection of their grieving process and a tribute to their fallen brother, a dense and sombre double opus totalling 15 tracks and clocking in a formidable 86 minutes of runtime.

It is sprawling, labyrinthian undertaking that bends conventions and encompasses a huge variety of different elements that cover pretty much the entire spectrum of the band’s repertoire from their 2002 début album “Remission” to the aforementioned “Emperor of Sand”. There are the more straight-up, grungy rock chops like “Sickle and Peace” and “Teardrinker” that reel the listener in with an infectious chorus and underscore the group’s stadium appeal, and then tracks such as “The Crux”, “Pushing the Tides” and “Savage Lands” that resuscitate the fire-breathing anger and darkness of Mastodon’s early output. There are brooding epics like “Skeleton of Splendor”, “Gobblers of Dregs” and “Eyes of Serpents” that evoke the ‘60s and ‘70s heyday of progressive rock music, a touch of elegant balladry in “Had It All”, which features an impassioned guitar solo by Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, and a slice of dark Americana in “The Beast”, helped along by some inspired guitar work by genre luminary Marcus King. There is even a soliloquy played with a sarangi (often deployed in Indian traditional music) by guest musician Rich Doucette in “Dagger”, which strikes a fascinating contrast to the dual percussion extravaganza by Dailor and Municipal Waste’s drummer Dave Witte in that song. Indeed, it seems as though everything was possible and nothing forbidden when Mastodon wrote and recorded “Hushed and Grim”, rendering it an album stricken with grief, teeming with profundity, and embodying the spirit of experimentation to the fullest.

The question is whether the band’s loyal following will find the quartet’s free-wheeling style here to be more foolhardy than adventurous? There are certainly enough dulled textures, shifting dynamics, and intricate musical arrangements present on this record to lose yourself in for months. But it is also hard to shake the feeling that not everything fits together — a hodgepodge exacerbated by, at times, dubious sequencing and excessive bloat in the form of particular songs that seem to serve no other purpose than extending the album’s runtime. Combine that with both the elegiac vocal exchanges of Dailor, Sanders and guitarist Hinds, and the unflinching solemnity of the soundscape in general, and “Hushed and Grim” always seems to be teetering on the border between cathartic and exasperating. The effort is thus perhaps best enjoyed by those who find themselves in a similarly dark place as the four musicians, or, rather mischievously, by creating one’s own, custom edit with less tracks arranged into a slightly different order. That is, if you accept listening to it on a digital streaming platform rather than on CD or vinyl.

Be that as it may, the fact alone that “Hushed and Grim” reverts back to the adventurism that defined the first decade of Mastodon’s career, rather than creating a holding pattern around the streamlined, Grammy-winning style of “Emperor of Sand”, suffices to keep me intrigued. It is an album marked not only by its imperfections, but also a sense of genuine wanderlust, which is what drew me to this band in the first place. Who dares wins, is the inspiring motto of the British Special Air Service, and while “Hushed and Grim” does not deliver the victory many, yours truly included, had hoped for, at the very least it reassures me that Mastodon still have the guts to do the unexpected.

7

Download: The Crux, Skeleton of Splendor, Teardrinker, Savage Lands, Gobblers of Dregs, Eyes of Serpents
For the fans of: Baroness, Dvne, Elder, Intronaut
Listen: Facebook

Release date 29.10.2021
Reprise Records

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