Monday, January 21, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #223 - Mastodon - Blood Mountain

I feel like I got introduced to Mastodon in completely the wrong way - I read about them before ever listening to them. Their drummer, Brann Dailer, wants to play drums like Randy Rhodes played guitar, to the extent of having a polka dot drum kit to match Randy’s famous guitar. Loving the intent behind his playing, I picked up their most recent album at the time, Blood Mountain​, without even knowing what they sounded like. I was 14, a freshman in high school, and from the massive drum fill that pummels you in the first few seconds, I became a part of their cult. If you aren't familiar with the band, immediately prior to this album Mastodon had released ​Leviathan, a concept album chronicling the story of Moby Dick in a way no other band or storyteller has. They gave the book a soundtrack and mood that nobody knew it needed. It allowed you to internalize the mentality of these characters in unheard of ways, and for some like myself, introduced me to Moby Dick as more than a reference I would see on TV or in movies. With ​Blood Mountain Mastodon took their newfound success and came out with an album that was even darker, heavier, and more progressive than ​Leviathan​. Above all else this album accomplished the ultimate goal - getting this kid to have a deep love of heavy metal ever since.
When this album starts it grabs you by the hair and drags you into a snowy cave to begin the experience that is Blood Mountain. The Joseph Campbell-inspired story is that of an unnamed character in search of the Crystal Skull to put atop the Blood Mountain - which he will later find out has dire consequences. On his journey he has to fight vicious monsters and overcome obstacles that could most definitely take his life. As our hero ascends the mountain, he comes across a Sasquatch that can see into the future and a colony of half-tree people, the Birchmen.
All of this seems utterly mad until you listen to the music that is behind it. The drum performance by Brann Dailer sounds like the footsteps of our hero as he is running for his life. Bill Kelliher’s guitar playing gives life to the mountain that is trying to protect itself. Troy Sanders' bass and Brent Hinds' guitar provide meaning and vivid images of what our hero is facing, while both of them on vocals (along with an array of guests) give the illusion of hearing voices and hallucinations. As a kid I wasn’t searching for all of that, I was just into it for the music. It wasn’t like anything I had heard before. The only metal music I knew at the time was Iron Maiden and some Metallica, but this album had very clear nods to some other favorites of mine like Yes and King Crimson, references that I heard but wasn’t able to really place. It was the first time I was able to hear the influence of prog bands in heavy music and it didn’t seem forced, it was just a part of their musical language.
By the time the album is in the final stretch with songs like "The Mortal Soil," our hero gets warned of the dangerous territory and his fate as he is approaching the peak, but that won’t stop him. "Siberian Divide" is where this album metaphorically peaks, our hero almost reaching the top, but failing as he starves to death underneath an avalanche. "Pendulous Skin" takes us out of the physical body of our hero as he ascends into the afterlife, which is what was meant to happen all along. No man is ready to conquer the Blood Mountain. After this album ends, and you look back on the trials and tribulations of our unnamed hero, it feels like the kind of folk tale that you can project your own meaning onto. Whatever your Blood Mountain is, even if you don’t succeed in making it to the peak, there is still a lot that went into the journey. All that you learned about yourself on this journey wasn’t necessary for getting to the peak of Blood Mountain, but they are things you now have for your journey into your next life which you are now ready to conquer.
-         Max Kaufman

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