Record Label: Reprise
Release Date: 29.10.2021
For Fans Of: Baroness, Opeth, Yob
In their twenty year career so far, Mastodon have been a band that have constantly evolved while still maintaining the highest quality of music. As such most fans tend to have their own personal favourite ‘era’ of the band, whether that be the mesmerizingly progressive epic that is Crack The Skye, or the more traditionally ‘heavy metal’ hooks of The Hunter. With the release of 2017’s Emperor of Sand we saw the band start to fully meld all of their previous guises into one to create another truly stellar record that was highly emotionally charged and felt like the rawest version of Mastodon we had seen. Until now.
The band’s eighth studio album Hushed and Grim follows in the wake of the passing of their longtime manager and friend Nick John in 2018, and of course the events of the past eighteen months. This combination seems to have unlocked a far more reflective Mastodon. Rather than retellings of Moby Dick and fantastical sand deities masking true meanings, we get some truly contemplative, beautiful and surprisingly candid songwriting, rarely seen within metal. At times, such as on ‘Dagger’ which is the most clearly relating to the band’s loss, it is outright melancholic.
Opening track ‘Pain With An Anchor’ feels like it spans the band’s entire career in just five minutes; shifting from their signature kaleidoscopic riffing to thrashing sludge and back again. This variety continues for most of the record, with the double-length run-time giving the band plenty of room to breathe and manages to strike that rare balance where it feels its length, yet never becomes tiring or overcooked. It may be cliched to say, but this really is a full journey of an album.
The first true surprise comes with ‘The Beast’, an actual fucking country ballad on a Mastodon record. Here is another clear example of how open the band are being when it comes to addressing personal issues; lyrics like ‘Pay no attention to the sound of the beast. Because you know it can’t hurt you when you’re with me’ likely being a clear reference to depression. It’s moments like these that the true genius of how the record has been put together becomes clear as the track feels completely at home amongst the rest of the madness on Hushed and Grim.
Don’t get the wrong impression though, this is still the same Mastodon we all know and love. Tracks like ‘Teardrinker’ and ‘Pushing The Tides’ show the band still have plenty of raging energy when they want to employ it, with the latter featuring the kind of rollicking riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a Motorhead song. Elsewhere the majestic ‘More Than I Could Chew’ has a few proper air-guitar moments with a sound that could easily fill the larger rooms and festival stages the band have sometimes struggled to feel at home on.
On a record of highlights, one moment manages to shine ever so slightly brighter than the rest with the breathtaking ‘Had It All’. This feels like the true centerpiece and the pinnacle of all the emotional build-up that has come before. An airy, near acoustic and Pink Floyd-esque opening leads into a hair-raising chorus that will stop you dead in your tracks before descending into the usual twisting Mastodon psychedelia. As with much of this album, it’s possibly the furthest thing you would expect from the band, but somehow they pull it off with ease.
Only time will tell, but Hushed and Grim truly could be the record that defines Mastodon. Despite touching on directions no one would have ever suspected, it never sounds like it could be any other band. One of the age old questions in metal is how can an artist achieve real longevity and evolve in their later years without simply trying to rehash their former glory? Well, this album shows exactly how it can be done. Mastodon’s legacy as a great metal band was already well cemented, but now so is their legacy as a great band full stop.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Had It All’, ‘The Beast’