MASTODON fully lives up to its name and cements its status as one of the best newer American metal bands out there with, of all things, its major label debut. The band's third studio offering is an immense slab of brutally heavy rock that veers wildly between all-out thrash on cuts like opener "The Wolf Is Loose" and progressive, almost jazzy acrobatics on songs like "Bladecatcher". The disc also benefits from its loose conceptual feel, the band's bizarre "Blood Mountain" storyline offering dark, fantastical imagery that's appropriate to the sound, while giving the album a cohesive overall structure.
"The Wolf Is Loose" gives way to the equally powerful "Crystal Skull" and "Sleeping Giant", both of which rumble ominously out of the speakers with one monster riff after another. Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds have both crushing tone and nimble, rapid fingers, enabling them to delve so quickly and elegantly from thick slabs of monolithic guitar to more complex, complicated passages. Even deep into the album on cuts like "Hand Of Stone", the pair switch with often stunning ease between the two, before breaking into the more subtle, softer intro to "This Mortal Soil".
It's been noted elsewhere that neither Hinds nor bassist Troy Sanders, who share vocal duties, have the most distinctive or wide-ranging voices. That may be true, and it may also hold back a tune like "This Mortal Soil" from soaring as high as it could. But at the same time, their rough-hewn vocals work well within the solid granite music all around them, and at this point fit both the sound and lyrics so well that it's hard to imagine where else they could go.
Like the "Moby Dick"-themed "Leviathan", this disc relates the story of a quest to climb a dark, dangerous mountain populated by everything from treemen to a Cysquatch (a cross between a Cyclops and a sasquatch). The tale works as both metaphor and heavy metal adventure, bringing back the huge scope inherent in the genre without overdoing either the literary allusions or the fantasy quotient. But "huge" is the operative word when it comes to this record and this band, and in a world where everything, especially music, seems to be getting smaller, we could use a few more MASTODONs roaming the earth.