The Horns Up Top 10: Mastodon

Happy Monday, metalheads! Or I guess by now, it’s technically Tuesday. So I’m late on this. Later than Quickies, in fact. But hey, when blogging’s not your day job, these things happen. At any rate, it’s time for another edition of The Horns Up Top 10. This week’s artist doesn’t really need any introduction–but we’re of course going to give you one anyway. It’s Mastodon.

mastodon-grammys-corbis-630-80

As a photo of the band at the Grammy Awards might hint at, Mastodon’s perhaps the single best-known contemporary metal band among mainstream circles. Over a nearly-15-year career, the band’s covered more than its share of ground: six albums, Grammy nominations, a major-label record deal and, most importantly, zero lineup changes. By evolving their sound so dramatically during that time, they’ve become a band that just dares you to try and ignore what they’re working on. You may no longer like them as much as you used to–or at all–but when they’re working on something new, you’ll wind up at least checking it out sooner or later, if only to be able to remain part of the conversation.

Anyway, I’ll stop the introduction there, because as I mentioned before, it’s superfluous. Let’s get into the Top 10, shall we?

“Black Tongue” (from The Hunter, 2011)

Goddamn, does this band know how to kick off a record. You’ll find no less than three album-opening tracks on this list, and “Oblivion” just missed the cut as a possible fourth. Regardless, “Black Tongue” just slays. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher’s guitars screech through the intro, while Troy Sanders’ howled chorus confirms the song’s earworm status. And those harmonized lead lines during the bridge? Drool-worthy.

“Crusher Destroyer” (from Remission, 2002)

Oh look, another album opener! What a way for the band to introduce themselves to the world than this two-minute ball of fury? (Led in by a Jurassic Park audio clip, no less!) It’s some of the rawest, most aggressive material Mastodon’s ever given us, pure and simple. Plus, true story: when I saw these guys back in May, this song got the single loudest reaction from the audience of any in the 15+ song setlist. People know what’s up.

“March of the Fire Ants” (from Remission, 2002)

Because including “Crusher Destroyer” without “March of the Fire Ants” would be like watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 without then following with Vol. 2. And because THAT RIFF.

“Divinations” (from Crack the Skye, 2009)

FIRE IN THE EYEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. No, seriously…do you need more of a reason than that? Okay, fine. “Divinations” boasts some of Hinds and Kelliher’s most intricate guitar work on the entire album. Or of Mastodon’s existence as a band, for that matter. Hinds’ screechy co-lead vocal performance has a way of growing on you as well. But it’s also the leanest, most streamlined song on Crack the Skye, and one that’s very easily accessible out of context of the weighty, concept-driven record.

“Octopus Has No Friends” (from The Hunter, 2011)

I’ve always loved the frenetic nature of this thing–be it the almost nonsensically noodly intro guitar line or the chaos of the verses. And then, oddly, we get an almost anthemic chorus (“I’m on my way back home”)–or as close to “anthemic” as Mastodon are capable of, I suppose–and “Octopus Has No Friends” truly earns its pay.

“Iron Tusk” (from Leviathan, 2004)

The first Mastodon song I ever heard (thanks, MTV2 Headbangers Ball!), with an absolutely killer drum intro from Brann Dailor that ranks up with Iron Maiden’s “Where Eagles Dare” and Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” on the heights of my list. (Yes, I do have a ranking list for favorite drum intros in songs, why do you ask?) At any rate, “Iron Tusk” is grim and riffy as anything, and one of my personal standouts on an incredible sophomore album.

“The Czar”

One of the proggiest moments on Mastodon’s proggiest album to date, the ten-minute, four-part “The Czar” is a masterpiece. For its first four minutes, the song serves up some of the spaciest, most haunting stuff the band’s ever given us. Once it picks up, it’s a different beast entirely–upbeat. Gnarly. Worth more than a few headbangs. And as the track draws to a close, the band recalls the track’s initial trippiness and takes us back to square one. Incredible composition.

“Curl of the Burl” (from The Hunter, 2011)

So I’ll admit, I HATED this song when I first heard it. HATED it. I wanted more of what we got on Crack the Skye, and instead got something very much the opposite. I hesitate to call it “poppy,” but it’s certainly one of Mastodon’s more accessible tracks. But here’s the thing I realized after a bunch of repeat listens (and after seeing it in a live setting): “Curl of the Burl” is so much goddamn fun that it doesn’t matter. I’m more than happy to sacrifice intricacy and progressiveness for something this enjoyable every once in a while.

“Hearts Alive” (from Leviathan, 2004)

Though the band certainly did some experimenting on Remission, for me, this was their first true epic–their first outwardly proggy song to not only reflect what kind of band they were at that point in time, but also what kind of band they’d go on to become on subsequent releases. “Hearts Alive” gave us a clear look at Mastodon’s potential, and it was quite a sight to behold.

“Blood and Thunder” (from Leviathan, 2004)

If you don’t know why this one’s on here, you need to go back and re-evaluate your life.

THE HORNS UP TOP 10 ON SPOTIFY

That’ll do it for this week. Check back next week for another Top 10!

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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