Friday, March 26, 2010
Writing anything about this album is hopelessly silly, as it came out six years ago. That's not long enough to be useful as a re-look review. Clearly, I'm just behind the times. But I think it's worthwhile here, because the target demographic, I suspect, probably missed this one just like I did. Because it's firey, bile-spewing, headbanger prog-metal. I know what you're thinking because I was thinking it myself when I first started hearing buzz about this album: metal is for lifting weights and when the Yankees are winning going into the ninth inning. Keep reading.
"Leviathan" by Mastodon is a concept album loosely based on Herman Melville's "Moby Dick."
Sure, not the most arcane literary reference, but if you require your thrasher metal to take the form of full-album-length tributes to classic works of fiction, you can't be choosy.
Taken with that grain of salt (along with the proviso that you understand that metal lyrics will sometimes be somewhat over-the-top), "Leviathan" is perfect. To convince you, I would like to suggest some visualization.
Close your eyes. Now picture yourself as a deck-hand on an early 19th Century whaling boat in the middle of a great storm. Now imagine the weathered captain. Bloodthirsty, obsessed beyond reason with revenge against a creature which is probably mentally incapable of such high-order thought processing. Now imagine the whale breaking the surface and charging the boat.
At this moment, could there be anything more perfect than the following lyrics (sung in a singular guttural roar) from "Blood and Thunder":
Split your lungs with blood and thunder
When you see the white whale
Break your backs and crack your oars men
If you wish to prevail.
From this point on, the album is a relentless tribute to the madness and obsession that drives Captain Ahab. Songs 1-3 are utterly perfect, and they are sequenced perfectly. Not until song six, "Megalodon," does the listener get even a moment of breathing room, and that for only a few seconds. By only by song 9, the sprawling 13-minute "Hearts Alive," does the album begin to wind down; it ends on the subdued "Joseph Merrick." But everything fits together as a singular experience that a properly executed concept album must produce in the listener.
Instrumentally, "Leviathan" is extremely lush and complex, somehow finding a way to blend the primal blood-'n-guts and guitar-shredding that you come to expect from metal with interesting and harmonious orchestration. Like those high points of Metallica's early material, you'll find yourself in the middle of a headbanging scream-fest when suddenly the band changes signatures and blasts forth with the kind of power chord melody that demands to be listened to again.
Really, I can't think of a more perfect metal album. At the very least, anyone who is harboring the preconceived notion that metal is all trash (which it mostly is) needs to hear this album.