Mastodon blends musicianship, different styles of metal
Metal band Mastodon has been moving toward bigger commercial success, but on their own terms. Starting as a brash, heavy band and lately transforming into something closer to progressive rock, the group will play on Oct. 27 at Reno Ballroom, the largest venue it has played so far in the area.
The band has been the same since its inception in 2000: guitarists Bill Kelliher and Brett Hines, bassist Troy Sanders and drummer Brann Dailor. In a rarity in metal, everyone but Kelliher takes turns singing lead vocals for Mastodon, sometimes within the same song. The band is known for its strong musicianship as well as blending different styles of heavy music, from the more intricate prog-metal to the noisier strains of what it called sludge metal.
Mastodon started when Dailor and Kelliher, friends and former bandmates from upstate New York, moved to Atlanta and met Sanders and Hinds in the music scene. It was only within a year, after recordings on their own and some regional touring, that the group was signed to prestigious metal label Relapse Records.
The group’s first album, “Remission,” was released in 2002 and received a lot of critical acclaim, even in non-metal circles. That increased significantly with the second album, “Leviathan,” released in 2004. The record, a concept album based on the classic novel “Moby Dick,” was named album of the year by magazines Terrorizer and Revolver, while it received rave reviews from Time magazine and National Public Radio.
This success led Mastodon to a major label contract with Warner Brothers Records, who released “Blood Mountain” in 2006. By this time, the band also became a major concert attraction, especially in England. It also broke through to mainstream rock and alternative music audiences, playing in prestigious U.S. festivals like Bonnaroo and Pitchfork.
Mastodon’s good fortunes continued with “Crack the Skye,” released in 2009. Another concept album – this time featuring Rasputin as a character – it was the band’s first album to reach the top 20 of Billboard’s albums chart. It was followed up by “The Hunter” in 2011, which reached No. 10.
The band’s next two records did even better. “Once More ‘Round the Sun,” from 2014, hit No. 6 on the album chart, while the group’s latest album, “Emperor of Sand,” released in March, debuted at No. 7. After several non-thematic records, “Sand” is another concept-heavy piece, an allegorical song cycle about cancer, which band members said in interviews had recently touched the lives of their family members.
Among the band’s best known songs are “Crystal Skull,” “Blood and Thunder,” “Oblivion,” “Black Tongue,” “High Road” and “March of the Fire Ants.” Recent set lists online show that Mastodon is playing many new songs from “Sand” on this tour – including “Sultan’s Curse,” “Andromeda” and “Show Yourself” – but it’s also reaching back often for old favorites such as “Colony of Birchmen” and “Megalodon.”