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What the Hell Has Happened to Mastodon?

Mastodon in 2011
Mastodon in 2011
Photo by Marco Torres

If you're a metalhead and you're on the Internet, you may have heard that there's a new Mastodon album out now called Once More 'Round the Sun. It's funny they call it that, because in my opinion it's really just once more around the block for a once-great metal band that has lost its way.

That's a pretty unpopular opinion these days, as Mastodon seems to be getting more popular than ever. I suppose they bridge the gap between extreme metal and more easily digested rock music pretty well for some people. I, however, find their directions over the last eight years intensely troubling, as I see Mastodon declining worse and worse as time goes on.

A lot of this is, of course, subjective. It seems perfunctory to constantly have to preface opinions by saying that, because opinions are inherently subjective, but this is the Internet and everything is taken as an ad hominem attack.

What the Hell Has Happened to Mastodon?

This is not an attack on Mastodon. Mastodon is a band with many supremely talented musicians who have churned out some great records over the years. Remember how great and refreshing Leviathan was in 2004, with its unrelenting heaviness and technical prowess? In a scene then dominated by either Metallica ripoffs or boring metalcore, Mastodon stood alone in trying metal outside the box.

Blood Mountain was equally as great in 2006, even if it let up on some of the heaviness and injected more progressive overtones into the mix. That was my personal album of the year in 2006, and it still remains a great record today.

Then, three years later, Mastodon released their "magnum opus," Crack the Skye. For many, this was the culmination of all the work that went into Leviathan and Blood Mountain. For the first time, they went head-on into progressive metal.

Crack the Skye, however, failed to click with me. It seemed that Mastodon lost their edge with it, instead trudging into the realm of overtly progressive music that can so easily become trite and pretentious. It was an accomplished work, I'll give it that, but it didn't resonate as a fan of heavy music.

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When they returned in 2011 with The Hunter, they reeled it back in. At first I thought this could be a good thing. When they first announced their intentions to rein in their progressive tendencies, I was happy to think they might be returning to real metal.

Unfortunately, instead they decided to abandon metal and prog for what came off as a weak hard-rock record. I hadn't heard this much '80s Ozzy Osbourne influence on a record since Zakk Wylde first launched Black Label Society.

It was infinitely accessible for fans of that sort of thing, but as a metalhead it left me cold. I just didn't know what to do with this watered-down sort of rock music coming from a band that I knew could do better and had done better in the past.

The Hunter was lukewarm. For some reason, I didn't give up though. Now Once More 'Round the Sun has arrived, and the singles are meeting similar acclaim to the intense popularity that The Hunter received.

I still just don't get it, though. It's the same sort of boring, '80s-influenced hard rock Mastodon pursued on The Hunter, and nothing compared to the grandiose, extreme metal this band once produced. It may be more beneficial for commercial success, but can musicians of this caliber even be satisfied producing music like this?

Mastodon, in my opinion, has fallen off hard. Once More 'Round the Sun seems to be just another unfortunate reminder that where these guys were once the gods of extreme metal, they're now content to simply rock out with their cocks out like a slightly heavier version of something you might hear on 94.5 The Buzz. Sadly, I just can't join them on that path.

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