Almost everything has been said about it that can be said, but I’m saying it again – Mastodon‘s very esteemed, very popular, 2004 album Leviathan catapulted them into the limelight, even more so than their debut Remission. While this may border on hyperbole, Leviathan is the millennial generation’s own Master of Puppets or Screaming for Vengeance. It ushered a new era for Mastodon, but more than that, it brought their proggy brand of sludge-soaked supremacy to a massive audience and embodies the term “modern classic.”
As metalcore was gaining traction in the early 00s, many bands were trading riffs for one-note breakdowns that the kids could “hardcore dance” to — Mastodon was not one of them. As if the infectious stomp of opener “Blood and Thunder” wasn’t enough, “Iron Tusk” brings the sludge while balancing it with harmonies rooted in both doom metal and Southern rock, and the dizzying fury of “Aqua Dementia” soon gives way to a hardcore-inflected marathon and a spacey, ambient breakdown that would be indicative of the band’s succeeding efforts. There are practically no throwaway riffs on Leviathan, and that’s a songwriting feat that is becoming more scant in metal as years go on.
On the rest of the performance front, Brann Dailor’s insanely technical drumming from Remission has been trimmed only slightly, but his chaotic, amorphous fills and patterns better fit the undulating dynamics of the songs here; Troy Sanders’ bass is pleasantly audible, weaving its own melodies around the shifting guitars. The production is both more polished and more confrontational: The guitars pierce, the bass grinds, and Dailor’s drums pop and snap like shrapnel as Brent Hinds and Sanders weave tales of pursuit and madness inspired by Melville’s famous Moby Dick.
Of all the metal albums that have crossed over into mainstream consciousness, Leviathan is one of the few that did so without compromising the aggression and attitude of heavy metal. It’s a famed album, and justifiably so; some would call this Mastodon’s high water mark, but even if you disagree with that sentiment, you can’t disagree with its impact on the global metal scene.