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Mastodon Hushed And Grim

2021 Reprise Records

Grim and bear it.

Mastodon - Hushed And Grim

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Bearing a hulking fifteen tracks, Mastodon‘s first double-LP “Hushed And Grim” serves up a considerable amount to chew on—even from a band with a pedigree as esoteric as that of these Atlanta natives. There’s a reason for this breadth of material though and it’s not solely due to downtime from the COVID-19 pandemic—though the uncertainty brought on by it did play a part.

While not their playbook, tragedy has deeply influenced many of Mastodon‘s releases. 2009’s “Crack The Skye” put a cosmic bent on the teenage suicide of drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor‘s sister Skye. A few years later 2014’s “Once More ‘Round The Sun” broadly took inspiration from the concept of life & death.

Somewhat more recently, 2017 ‘s “Emperor Of Sand” shrouded cancer in menacing allegory as several members of the band’s parents and spouses were afflicted with the disease during the album’s creation. With “Hushed And Grim“, a shared loss took center stage: the 2018 death of the band’s long-time manager, Nick John, who passed away from pancreatic cancer.

Given the circumstances, “Hushed And Grim” feels like a shared voyage through the grieving process of his transition off this mortal coil; a way for all four of the band’s members to pick up the pieces together and create a tribute to their fallen friend and his legacy, while also figuring out how to move on without him.

It’s understandably a somber affair. Produced by David Bottrill (Tool, Mudvayne), much of this album plays out like a sprawling 60s/70s progressive rock magnum opus. Everything has weight and meaning and nothing is forbidden.

At times impenetrably layered, the band traipse through brooding psychedelia, asphyxiating darkness, expansive prog rock melodies, exasperated aggression and much more.

The lanky Southern rock that opens the country influenced track “The Beast“—which itself boasts guest guitarwork from Grammy Award winning Americana artist Marcus King—is a solid indicator at the musical wanderlust on display here.

On the opposite end of the spectrum comes the implementation of a sarangi—an instrument common to traditional music in India—on “Dagger“. Its inclusion showcases not only genre ambiguity, but also a confident foray past cultural boundaries. Notably, that song is complemented with understated guest percussion from Municipal Waste‘s Dave Witte, adding ever-shifting mass to its ethereal haunt.

Elements of the cut that follows, “Had It All“, which sports thundering percussion, elegiac vocals and a glacial momentum, could be considered doom metal with a bit more prominent riffing. Even so, the included guitar solo from Soundgarden‘s Kim Thayil should still manage to gracefully bend more than a few minds.

If you’re ready to dive into the deep end and immerse yourself in dulled textures, labyrinthian part changes and keen sonic intricacy, this album is more than capable of having you lost in your headphones for months.

However, what some Mastodon fans may find a lack of is the more upbeat and explosive numbers that have helped galvanize the band as prog metal titans. The absolute unflinching profundity and sobering lament found on so many of the tracks here, coupled with a wearying mid-pace momentum and wrenching lyrical content, do not come without a substantial mental toll.

It’s only on the few cuts like “The Crux” and “Savage Lands” that listeners are treated to a fire-breathing display of tenacious anger of the Mastodon on old. While their scarcity allows them to stand out as a highlight in comparison, the lack of that emotion and cathartic release being served up elsewhere blunts the many lumbering moments of this oft mournful voyage.

For better or worse, “Hushed And Grim” is unbridled creativity harnessed underneath the weight immense loss and sempiternal respect. It’s a reverent tribute to a fallen friend that bristles with weathered emotion and wide-eyed splendor.

The band soulfully unburden themselves through their art here, largely stripping back their more characteristic metaphors and peculiar storytelling to ensure nothing gets lost in translation. But unless you are in a similarly dark place, it may not entirely appeal to you.

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