Mastodon – Hushed and Grim

I have a special way to choose which bands to give a chance and listen too, and which not. Because I really haven’t time to listen to all music out there. If I’m not sure if the band will deserve my time but if the genre and style seems interesting, I have my special method of distinguishing who I’ll give a shot and who I’ll probably never hear. I look at a band photo. 

After looking at a band photo I never hesitate. It gets so clear to me after that one glimpse at the band, and I know if I’m gonna put them into the oblivion casket or to the listen to-playlist. Of course I can’t know if it’s a good method, because I’ll probably never know if the bands I throw away are good or not. But I really feel that I am a master in knowing if a band is good or not, by only looking at one band photo. 

And here’s where Mastodon comes in. I thought about it the other day, looking at different band photos of them, both new and old. I think Mastodon are the ultimate band photo-band. Not that they are more good looking than the general band or something like that (even though they are that too), but that their band photos are by definition how band photos look when I know I’ll like the band. 

They look a bit like locked up criminals. And they don’t look too self-aware, not too fancy and you can see in their eyes that they have some amount of self-irony. With other words, this music will be dirty and not take itself too seriously. A bit hard to describe, but the music of Mastodon fits their band photos incredibly well. And you can see it right away.

The problem is that I feel that their music the last years has more and more begun to sound less like how their band photos tell us they’ll sound. More and more Mastodon has tried to make hits. More and more they’ve let, the more than excellent drummer, Brann Dailor use his clean voice in the songs and more and more the records haven’t really had something new to offer, like every new Mastodon album had 10 years ago.

With that said, I don’t think Mastodon have ever released a bad album yet. The three latest though (Hunter, Once More ’Round the Sun and Emperor of Sand), are a great bit from the extreme high standard of the bands first four records. I think Emperor of Sand was a little bit better than Once More ’Round the Sun, which I think is their least good album, and I liked it but it told us that if they’re gonna go this way, it’s just a matter of time before they release their first bad album.

And I’ve been really afraid lately that Hushed & Grim was gonna be that album, the first album I wont like at all. Many things pointed in that direction. The style of the latest albums has slowly gone more and more in some kind of alternative rock/metal direction, with glimpses of Foo Fighters, more chorus oriented and too willingly to sound radio friendly. Another thing was the length of the new album. I can say that I wasn’t too excited that Hushed and Grim is 90 minutes. Too often bands can’t handle that, and especially when I’m already concerned about the style. One more thing that felt a bit off beforehand was the one they’ve chosen to produce the album, a guy who’s never produced anything I really love. David Bottrill has produced Tool, Muse and Stone Sour and there’s nothing wrong with them but it’s very far from Mastodon. 

So I was prepared to hear some kind of Foo Fighters radio hard rock, with some Tool prog baked in, and to make it even more painful – outdrawn to a 90 minutes long moment of death of favorite band. So I bet you can tell that I almost cried of happiness when I realized I was wrong.

Now I’ve listened to Hushed and Grim many (many like in the words true meaning) times. And I can tell you that I am so damn glad that it is nothing like what I worried about. It feels like the guys have talked about these issues and reinvented themselves a bit. Like they’ve had the self-awareness to hear that they needed a bit of a direction change. And now I’m gonna tell you why they succeed with that and I’m gonna do that by talking a little bit about some of the songs. 

Pain with an anchor starts the album with some really cool Brann Dailor drumming and then it’s a dark and melancholic piece with a great tempo, and the melodies are a bit sinister which gets really beautiful with Branns clean voice accompanying them. After almost four minutes a Leviathan sounding heavy metal riff comes in and it’s an eerie and heavy instrumental ending to a great track.

Bang! Right after that it’s like we’re back in 2002 and The Crux starts with something that could fit right into Remission. Wow, haven’t heard something like this in many years from the band. Troy Sanders really rocks this song with his desperate, energetic voice. And in The Crux we can hear that they’re back in the chorus game again! I’ve complained before that I don’t like that Mastodon has tried to make ”good” choruses lately and my opinion has been that they should just quit that. I’ve requested choruses like the ones on the first three albums and it’s like they’ve read my mind. In The Crux Troy screams ”I feel pressure / I feel the pressure” exactly like on for example Blood and Thunder (”White Whale / Holy Grail”). Wow, thank you. That’s how a Mastodon chorus is done. 

Next up is Sickle and Peace and I love this song. Just listen to the progressive main riff, also the intro. It’s pretty, it’s weird and it’s catchy. Great drumming from Brann which makes the riff even better. And then it’s a perfect Mastodon chorus once again. Simple, not cheesy, not radio adapted, but just really bad ass. I’m overwhelmed, they know how to do it again.

Let’s jump to The Beast. One of my favorites on the album much thanks to Brent Hinds and his voice. Feels like this is ”his” song on the album, not only because he sings lead but also the psychedelic stoner rock sound of the song. The song is spooky, has a Crack the Skye quality to it and has such a nice flow. 

Now let’s talk ballads. There’s been a few failures on that on recent albums from the band but on Hushed and Grim they finally nailed how to do a Mastodon ballad. Skeleton of Splendor is one of them here. And just listen to the chorus, it’s beautiful without trying to be anything else than who they are. Troy just whispers ”To my detriment” four times and that’s the chorus, and it’s really simple and lovely. 

There’s some more ballad-ish songs and they’re not trying to do their own Nothing Else Matters, instead they’ve cracked the code how to make terrific metal ballads without sounding like any other band than Mastodon. The other ones is Had it All and partly the finishing song Gigantium. Both are good but Gigantium is probably the best song on the album. It’s the definition of powerful. This song I would say is a hint of the next 10 years of Mastodon. Heavy gloominess, strings, powerful riffing, beautiful but not cheesy, intense and virile as hell.

But let’s talk about a couple more songs. Teardrinker, the hit! I wanna mention it because it’s the song that reminds most of their latest albums. The difference is that it’s darker. And darkness is a theme on the album. Just like the album cover the album has a sad, dark vibe that embraces the whole thing. And with that feeling Teardrinker is their best ”hit song” in a long time. Actually it sounds a bit like Swedish band Ghost, in the best of ways. 

Pushing the Tides is one of the songs reminding me of the Remission and Leviathan era, which is very welcomed. An obvious peak of the album. Peace and Tranquility has one of the coolest riffs on the album, sounds just like one of the best and proggiest riffs from masterpiece Blood Mountain. The band really impress me with this song and if you take a listen to the contrast between the typical Mastodon super prog riffing and their new way of making really good melodic choruses I think this song shows us how the reinvented Mastodon really wanna sound.

Dagger has one of the coolest parts of the album when suddenly out of nowhere a kind of ritualistic, mysterious, eastern sounding instrumental section begins. I can play this song on repeat forever just because of that. This is a good example on how they actually succeed with doing a really long album, and it’s exactly thanks to a song like Dagger – where something unpredictable happens. And Hushed and Grim are full of those moments and I can sincerely state that this is why the album never gets boring despite being 90 minutes long. I’ll let Dagger represent that quality of the album.

As you might know Mastodon have three lead singers. What I really miss on Hushed and Grim though is the voice of guitarist Brent Hinds. What I can hear he only sings in two songs and in my opinion that’s way too little. He sung much more in the beginning of their career and I really love his voice. He has a special voice, like a dirtier Ozzy, and his singing is so good that he really deserve to be the lead singer in a band. Troy Sanders, the bassist, is also really great and he sings a lot as always and the drummer, perhaps the best drummer I’ve heard of all bands that started releasing albums after the turn of the millennium, Brann Dailor gets a lot of airtime. And even though he has the voice of an angel I just don’t think his style of voice fits the Mastodon sound perfectly. I would like it if Brent got to sing a bit more and Brann a bit less. 

That issue together with the production is the only obvious things that I feel could be done better. The production isn’t bad and it’s not something that bothers me too much, but it’s not optimal either. It could be heavier and the drum sound is a bit messy, kind of like on Once More ’Round the Sun. The underrated album The Hunter has issues with the songwriting but the drum sound and overall production on The Hunter is super heavy and would have been more suitable here on Hushed and Grim. What’s in favor for the album though is that the songs are so intriguing, interesting and damn good that I forget those small issues easily. 

Mastodon has come to a conclusion, it feels like, that it was time for a new era and that something interesting and new had to happen. The album is both more progressive and more melodic than in a long time. The progressiveness is like when they do it better than any band in the world – it’s incorporated in almost every song but it’s done to make the songs better and you never feel that they try to brag or be difficult. It sounds as natural for them as ever and they’re experts at making progressive metal with their hearts and not with their brains. When it comes to the melodic side of the album, they’ve taken the melodies down to a more Mastodon-ish place again, where the melodies are almost always present but they’re subtle, mystical and not the main attraction. The album is discreetly super melodic. Like a really good dish with the exact right amount of sauce.

This is a good time for us Mastodon fans. Because with Hushed and Grim I can declare that my favorite band are back in business again and their first bad album hasn’t come out yet. Instead they’ve given us their best album in over 10 years and that’s something to celebrate. Welcome back to the front seat of metal, Mastodon, and now when I see a band photo of you I know that once again you sound exactly as cool as you look. 

MASTODON

HUSHED AND GRIM

Album, 2021

Progressive Metal, Sludge Metal

RATING: 9.5/10

Origin: USA

Best songs: Gigantium, Teardrinker, Peace and Tranquility

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