Breaking the mold

Mastodon refuses to make metal from a formula

David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly

After beginning its career playing basements and sleeping in vans, Atlanta-based metal outfit Mastodon has, over the course of its roughly decade-long career, become one of the most important and dominating metal bands in the country.

The original line-up of guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher, bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders and drummer Brann Dailor has stuck together for five albums now (six if you count the b-sides of Call of the Mastodon), and their latest, The Hunter, debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 20 in October.

Of course, whenever a once-underground band hits the charts, long-time fan boys will inevitably complain about how the band’s sound has changed to accommodate mainstream tastes and how the band was so much better before everyone started liking them, and Mastodon is no exception. Mastodon’s pummeling, vicious 2004 disc Leviathan, a concept album based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, won the band the rabid devotion of many a metal-head, but it set the bar extremely high for the band’s subsequent releases. Mastodon, to the dismay of the fan boys, has refused to get lazy and make albums that sound like Leviathan over and over again. Each of the band’s offerings differs greatly from the previous one, showcasing a restless band eager to experiment and unafraid to take risks.

Whereas Mastodon’s previous efforts were heavily thought-out concept albums, The Hunter contains no such storyline. Sanders described the album in an interview as a “Mastodon mixtape,” and it’s a fairly accurate description. The Hunter is a loose, relaxed album, containing none of the ebb and flows or transitions one expects from a concept album. When Boulder Weekly talked with drummer Dailor  last week, he called The Hunter “a bunch of loose- leaf songs” that was “a little easier” to make than other Mastodon records.

“This time around, because of the fact that there were a bunch of stressful things happening outside of the band, when we would get into the practice space, we really didn’t want that spot to be a place where there was going to be any stress,” Dailor says. “So, we simplified things.”

The album that preceded The Hunter, 2009’s Crack the Skye, was a heavy concept album that took a lot out of Dailor, who drew upon the experience of his sister’s suicide to write some of the lyrics that appeared on the album. He struggles to find the words when asked to describe the difference between playing songs from The Hunter and Crack the Skye, but he admits that the songs from The Hunter take a little less out of him.

“Crack the Skye was a hard album to play live. I think I remember going through those songs and really trying to sink all this emotion into it, because some of the lyrical content in it was really close to some personal situations that I’ve experienced in my life, and it was … it was tough, man. It was a tough record to get through,” Dailor says, slowly. “This is just a lot different, you know, busting through all these songs. It’s kind of a blast.”

Mastodon is also known for making creative, entertaining videos, from the  insane clown circus of “Blood and Thunder” to the violent puppet mayhem of “Deathbound” (think Sesame Street directed by Hannibal Lecter), in which Dailor dons a button-down sweater and stars as a Mr. Rodgerstype.

The video for “Curl of the Burl,”  the second track off The Hunter, is equally absurd, and equally entertaining.

“‘Curl of The Burl’ video,” Dailor says, sighing. “Well, it’s sort of, like, a meth head out in the woods. … He snorts a bunch of wood chips and saw dust, and [then] he’s got arms coming out of his shirt, whatever. Kind of makes him nuts. Then he goes out and he finds some mushrooms, and he smokes these mushrooms and turns into Paul Bunyan. He goes out into the forest. He picks up a tree and throws it at the sun and kills the sun, and then he starts hallucinating, and the trees turn into these stripper chicks who eventually turn him into a piece of wood and set him on fire with their breasts. So that’s the basic synopsis of that video.”

Turns out, Dailor was the creative source for the video.

“The idea came out of anger, because we started seeing all these treatments coming in and it just wasn’t right,” Dailor says. “I was kind of hoping that someone else would come in with a cool idea, but everything else that was coming in was all this Lord of the Rings stuff. It was weird, you know. … I just got pissed off, and this idea sort of came out of necessity. We had to have something.”


On the Bill

Mastodon plays the Ogden Theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang open. Tickets are $37. 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.