Without a compelling concept or interesting presentation, this is simply another example of a metal band going after the same exact listeners who crave a specific amount of artificial power, with only the album’s finale showing the amount of bravery and creativity that the rest of the work needed.
The actual organization of each melody was not as upsetting as the overall formulaic approach to the element throughout the whole album. In most cases, the melodies had strong shapes, delivered energy, and were simple enough to mold into whatever texture was present. They also weren’t given much freedom within these textures, and their lack of personality constrained them a bit. That’s not to say they weren’t effective, but I’m listening for intrigue within melodies. The melodic formula became all to recognizable halfway through: quicker and in a lower register for verses, with broadness and a higher register in the chorus. This also made the form rather unbearable. Mastodon seemed to emphasize the importance of vocal register rather than actual pitch collection for their melodies, which is an incredibly weak approach. They have enough wit about them as musicians to create a cohesive line so as to not destroy the music, and the results were actually rather acceptable. But due to the disregard for their potential to give any song real importance, they were also rather boring. Many songs were like this, especially “Word to the Wise” and “Ancient Kingdom”. Where Mastodon succeeded in giving melody a space to fit in and add to the foundation, they failed at giving it any great meaning or uniqueness.
Fans of this sect of music crave strong harmonic rhythm, and while this isn’t a total clinic in that regard, Mastodon delivers pretty well here. In some cases, rhythm was the only part of the song that carried any great substance, as in the first song “Sultan’s Curse”. The harmony got better along the way with nice surprising shifts from section to section, and more importantly the differing between presentation. Sometimes the chords were thrashed in your face, sometimes they were broken up into arpeggios, and sometimes the sonorities completely gave way to the actual rhythm. I will say that there was a little too much harmonic stagnancy at times, and those moments certainly didn’t help bring energy and nuance to the structure. The harmony did provide a powerful force that always grounded the music and moved it along. Going off of that, it wasn’t so good at giving other elements anything sensible to work with. The song “Roots Remain” is a good example of the album’s harmonic successes and failures. Harmony really was its own element, and it didn’t work to really heighten the impact of any song. The melody did quite well as I said earlier, but there really wasn’t a way to create an inspiring melody with a harmony that’s either incredibly disjunct or incredibly flat. All of that goes out the window if the actual sound sets that dysfunction up to be the goal, which would be rather experimental in a cool way. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen here.
It’s a shame that such an amazing drummer was wasted on such lame and uninspiring guitar episodes. The guitars gave neither the raw power that the sound aspired to nor the technical ability to exist as a singular strong entity. The weight of the whole timbre was on their shoulders, and it collapsed into a single mood of unrefined flames that could not start a fire. The first guitar solo or two had a nice effect, but it wasn’t a good enough addition to rationalize putting one in almost every song. Luckily the effervescent drums were able to drown out the guitar’s space in songs like “Precious Stones”. In songs where the guitars were left to do the heavy lifting, as in “Show Yourself”, the weakness got rather annoying. The melodic register-shift formula was not only detrimental to the melody, but to the timbre as well, since the vocals of the singer never really belonged in that higher register for purely scientific reasons. All of this made the final song, “Jaguar God”, a very welcomed surprise. This song came out of nowhere additional instruments, texture balance, and a long form that dismantled everything that the album’s sound worked towards. This, to me, was a sign that Mastodon needed more of these long, experimental works within the album rather than having this stick out like a sore thumb. It was certainly the best song on the album. Overall, the guitarists should have known that simpler is better in these circumstances, and additional timbres to balance them out within the texture would be a good start to improving this sound and actually giving it some fire. Thank goodness for smart drummers.
Mastodon seems to still be important players in the music world. I’ll admit that I don’t keep up with modern metal bands too well, mainly because no innovation or experimentation reaches me on their surface level. They’ve made some heads turn with this new album, and it’s some the most interesting new music to come out this month for most listeners. It’s timeliness doesn’t hide the fact that it’s simply not a work that brings anything musically new, and it doesn’t have as compelling of a concept or presentation that people may have been expecting. Despite some lackluster songwriting and instrumental ability, there’s some decent musical moments here and two solid songs in “Jaguar God” and “Precious Stones”. The band has a strong presence in their circle and this will get strong attention from those certain fans. Any open-minded rock lover should be able to find a good song here, but it’s nothing to praise as a whole.
Final Score: 103/180