Metal? Rock? Program? Who knows more. All we know is that Mastodon is still extremely adept at the ageless art of ass-kicking. After 21 years of hard work, the revered Atlanta Shredders have not lost a thunderous stage; in fact, on their eighth album, Calm and sinister, they have gained a whole new footing.
Mastodon started out as an aggressive sludge metal band that grew up behind bands like Sleep and Neurosis. This mud-packed “stoner” style flourished in the 2000s with artists such as Baroness and Torche, but Mastodon had particularly unique success with his early work; so successful that members Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders, Bill Kelliher and Brann Dailor are now heavy music legends.
The 2010s brought an interesting decade for the group. After producing a line of heavyweights like Delivery (2002), Leviathan (2004), Blood mountain (2006), and the incredibly progressive Break the Skye (2009) in the 2000s, Mastodon cut his teeth on a more rock sound, starting with The hunter (2011) and ending in Sand emperor (2017). Although some die-hard fans yearn for another Leviathan, Mastodons continue to expand their roster and show that they are not afraid to take risks.
As the band’s legacy grows, so does their vocal prowess. Dailor, the enigmatic mastodon drum magician, began singing on Crack the Skye, and is now poised to be a clean, spacious vocal sheet for Sanders ‘rugged bellow and Hinds’ superb grainy twang. Calm and sinister builds on this synergy and plays on each singer’s strengths, giving them all the space to shine amid Kelliher’s ever-changing guitar riffs.
“Pain with an anchor”, recalling Blood mountain‘s “The wolf is coward”, opens the album with a flurry of Dailor fills. This track sets the barometer of heaviness for the rest of the album. The last minute in particular provides an optimal mosh material. On a more progressive note, “More Than I Could Chew ”is almost seven minutes long and gives you everything a Mastodon track can offer. Hinds moans to his guitar solo, Brann and Troy exchange vocal lines, and the impact of each phrase is both gargantuan and uplifting at the same time.
The balanced emotional charge of this music is reflected in the lyrics. Sanders’ line in “Sickle and Peace” sums up the vibe: “No feeling is ever final / Just another scar that I wear and cherish.” As these lyrics suggest, the album is undoubtedly influenced by the band’s late manager, Nick John, who passed away in 2018. It’s a shared experience that colors long-held lyrical themes of perseverance, self-doubt. and depression, making Calm and sinister one of Mastodon’s most personal studio albums to date.
Other lyrical moments, like Dailor’s verse on “Tearrinker,” also show the depths of Mastodon’s humanity: “I can see your face / And I feel the pain / And I feel the shame / That I have given up again, ”he sings. Songs like “Dagger”, “Had It All” and of course “Teardrinker” are powerful songs about getting up from a devastating experience and finding peace amid the cries of loss. Meanwhile, opuses like “Gigantum”, “Gobblers of Dregs” and “Sickle and Peace” add to that sense of urgency to create the heaviest Mastodon record in some time. Calm and sinister never stop give, and the energy, depth and power of the album make it a very unique addition to the band’s gigantic catalog.