LOUDER REVIEWS: 'Hushed and Grim' - Mastodon
By redefining progressive metal through their textured psychedelic stylings and vast, distortion-laden soundscapes, Mastodon have inspired many more to follow in their wake – and in doing so given themselves a desire and determination to reinvent themselves with each and every release. No matter the myriad of perceived nadirs and heights in their catalogue, every new opus sounds distinct, while also being discernible as a Mastodon album.
Indeed, for all their signature ability to make short and self-contained albums that nevertheless present of tapestry of musical innovation, ‘Hushed and Grim’ may be their bravest work yet – casting aside any notion of succinctness for a double album. With that, of course, comes the expectation that the band can keep the listener constantly engaged across two discs. However, their cerebrally dark yet distinct companion pieces of ‘Emporer of Sand’ and ‘Cold Dark Place’ from 2017, prove their penchant for diversity and experimentation. Both elements that needed to make such a leap work.
In-keeping with the loftier ambitions for this album, the compositions here are winding, snaky and intricate. They’re still technically intriguing and carefully crafted as you’d expect. In fact, in becoming more investigative and indulgent in the paths they allow their music to take, they’ve certainly created a perplexing listening experience. In many ways ‘Hushed and Grim’ is the perfect description in that the piece contrasts visceral anger and moody atmospherics. There are still incredibly beguiling moments here – singles, ‘Teardrinker’ and ‘Pushing the Tides’ stand out as moments which are both theatrical and outstanding in how memorable they are. However, the element of accessibility – one which defined works such as ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Once More Around the Sun’ – has been significantly scaled back this time, in favour of ambitious concepts and dense musical motifs.
Nevertheless, while this album may seem to be a departure, especially for fans who have become interested in Mastodon in recent years, it’s an often-exemplary listen. From the opening notes of ‘Pain With an Anchor’ these musicians reinstate their commitment to being one of the most consistently great acts in metal with Brent Hinds’ nimble guitar passages interacting elegantly with Brann Dailor's disciplined drumming. Some moments go so far as to venture into previously unexplored territory. From the illustrious, synth-laden textures of ‘Skeleton of Splendor’ to the ethereal yet enchanting ‘Dagger’, the record is uniquely courageous in its adventures into new musical territory, which is welcome considering its length. At over eight minutes, ‘Gobblers of Dregs’ proves to be one of the most exploratory pieces, the groove-inspired riffs, and erratic shifts in tempo making for an immersive yet fierce experience. The same could be said for ‘The Crux’ – one of the chief strengths of this act is their unique flair for dynamics and contrast. Crucially, by having them be such a central idea of this album they keep the listener transfixed and hypnotized.
Poignantly, in crafting an album of soaring highs and crushing lows, Mastodon have penned some of their most touching songs. The expansive and emotional ‘Had It All’ beautifully examines their feelings surrounding the loss of their long-term friend and manager Nick John. Its moments like these that make this bands ability for making everything seem gigantic whilst surrounding you in layers of atmospheric harmony deeply affecting on a sentimental level. Likewise, ‘Sickle and Peace’ despite bearing bewildering time signatures, sees the band outstandingly layering their vocals over the involved and elaborate creation. On a distinct yet no less effective note, ‘The Beast’ incorporates influences from blues, and ‘Peace and Tranquility’ while being complex, never lets its skill shroud its determination to be theatrical and impressive. That’s honestly what makes ‘Hushed and Grim’ work. It’s a multidimensional, complicated, and occasionally difficult album yet its the commitment to these ideas that makes for such a resounding experience.
We close on the aptly titled ‘Gigantium’ – a massive, juggernaut of an anthem that gets increasingly imposing in scope and volume, building into a triumphant guitar solo! The word ‘triumphant’ is not used lightly here. This album feels like an achievement. A victory of sorts. Past Mastodon albums have succeeded in being either brilliantly weird or powerfully commanding. Through retaining their penchant as resolute sonic expeditioners, while approaching each idea with a sense of balance and tastefulness, Mastodon have crafted one of their most imaginative and domineering realisations of their artistic vision!
'Hushed and Grim' is out everywhere on October the 28th - stream the record on Spotify here:
Check out the video for 'Teardrinker' below: