Mastodon is an American heavy metal band from Atlanta, Georgia, formed in early 2000 and composed of bassist Troy Sanders, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher and drummer Brann Dailor. Their musical style features progressive concepts and unique instrumentation. All four members participate in vocals, creating a unique blend of singing styles and voices.
Mastodon has released six studio albums, as well as a number of other records. The band's debut album, Remission, released in 2002, garnered significant critical acclaim for its unique sound. Mastodon's second full-length release, Leviathan, is a concept album based on the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Three magazines awarded the record Album of the Year in 2004: Revolver, Kerrang! and Terrorizer. The song "Colony of Birchmen" from the band's 2006 third album, Blood Mountain, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2007. Blood Mountain was followed in 2009 by Crack the Skye, and in 2011 by The Hunter, which achieved major commercial success in the United States, debuting at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. The Hunter features the song "Curl of the Burl", which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 2012. Mastodon's 2014 full-length, Once More 'Round the Sun, peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart and features the band's third Grammy-nominated song, "High Road".
Formation, early years and Remission (2000–2003)
Mastodon was formed after drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kelliher moved to Atlanta from Victor, New York and met bassist/singer Troy Sanders and guitarist/singer Brent Hinds at a High on Fire show. They discovered they had a mutual appreciation of sludge metal bands Melvins and Neurosis and '70s hard-rockers Thin Lizzy, and shortly thereafter formed Mastodon. In an interview in 2009, Kelliher revealed that the first time Hinds attended a practice with the band, he "showed up so wasted he couldn't play".
The band recorded a demo in 2000, which featured the band's first lead singer Eric Saner on vocals. Saner left the band for personal reasons after just a couple of months. After recording a four song demo and a 7-inch picture disc through Reptilian Records, Mastodon landed a record deal with Relapse Records in 2001. Mastodon released an EP, Lifesblood, in 2001, and its first full-length album, Remission, was released in 2002, with the singles "March of the Fire Ants" and "Crusher/Destroyer" (which was also featured on Tony Hawk's Underground). On each of Mastodon's first three full-length albums the last track was an instrumental composition with a title that related to the Elephant Man.
Leviathan & Call of the Mastodon (2004–2005)
The band's second full-length album, Leviathan, was released in 2004. It is a concept album loosely based on Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick. The band received critical acclaim for Leviathan and the record was named album of the year by Kerrang! and Terrorizer. "Blood and Thunder" which featured Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon was chosen as one of the most important recordings of the decade by National Public Radio in November 2009, and that the entire album epitomizes " a phenomenal decade for metal". Leviathan also ranked second in a list by Metal Hammer of the best albums of 2004.
"Iron Tusk," the fifth track on the album, can be found on the soundtrack of the skateboarding video game Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and in 2K Sports video game NHL 2K9. "Blood and Thunder" is featured in the video games Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Saints Row. "Blood and Thunder" was added as a playable track on all instruments in Guitar Hero: Metallica and was featured in Japanese music games Drummania V2 and Guitarfreaks V2. It has also been released as downloadable content for Rock Band 3, with Pro Guitar support also available at extra cost.
Leviathan was followed by the 2006 release of Call of the Mastodon, a remastered collection of the band's first nine songs, and a DVD of interviews and concert footage called The Workhorse Chronicles that includes material from the band's early days as a five-piece. The band has stated that "Call of the Mastodon" is their third studio album even though the album is a compilation album. These two releases were the band's last for Relapse Records, as they would later go on to sign with Warner Bros. Mastodon also recorded a cover version of Metallica's "Orion" for a 2006 Kerrang! tribute album marking the twentieth anniversary of the release of Master of Puppets.
Blood Mountain (2006–2008)
Their third studio album, Blood Mountain, was released on September 12, 2006, followed by a tour to support the album along with Tool in Europe and Slayer in Australia and New Zealand. The Mars Volta frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala lent his vocals to the track "Siberian Divide." Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme contributed vocals for the song "Colony of Birchmen."
The band performed the song "Colony of Birchmen" on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien on November 1, their first appearance on network television, to a viewing audience of around 2.4 million people. This song was also featured in the video games, Saints Row 2 and Rock Band 2.
The band's first single off Blood Mountain, "Capillarian Crest" was ranked number 27 in Rolling Stone Magazine's Top 100 Songs of 2006. The album itself was ranked 9th in the magazine's best albums of the year chart. The UK's Metal Hammer voted it the best album of 2006 in its end of year critic's poll. The album was voted in at No. 5 by Kerrang! in their end of year list. Also number 6 on PopMatters' Best Albums of 2006 and number 1 on The Best Metal Albums of 2006. About.com rated it the top metal album of 2006. Blood Mountain was also named best album of 2006 in the 10th anniversary birthday edition (issue 119) of Bizarre. It also came in at No. 2 on Revolver magazine's list of the top albums of 2006. The band was named Artist Of The Month for March 2007 at Gametap.com.
The band had been touring and playing numerous shows during this time. Mastodon joined Against Me!, and Cursive for a North American tour, with Planes Mistaken for Stars opening for one leg and These Arms Are Snakes the other. A performance in Milwaukee had to be canceled due to illness on the part of Brent Hinds. Mastodon would play the Hove Festival in Norway as well as on the Main Stage of the Download Festival and then the Pitchfork Music Festival. During this time the band opened for Metallica on the Sick of the Studio tour. The band also played at the 2007 Dubai Desert Rock, the 2008 Bonnaroo Music festivals, and the inaugural Mayhem Festival. Mastodon then toured with Slayer, Trivium, Lamb of God and several other metal bands in 2008 for The Unholy Alliance tour 2008.
The band performed "Colony of Birchmen" at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards live with Josh Homme. After the televised performance, member Brent Hinds was reported to have sustained a severe head injury. Blabbermouth.net initially reported that it was the result of a brutal assault but the police report later suggested that an inebriated Hinds had started a fight with System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian and vocalist William Hudson, also known as Reverend William Burke of Achozen.
"Sleeping Giant" was made available as a downloadable song for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, "Colony of Birchmen" was included on Harmonix's Rock Band 2 and also volition's Saints row 2, and "Divinations" was featured in Madden NFL 10 and Saints Row: The Third. Mastodon contributed a cover version of Harry Nilsson's "One" to the video game Army of Two's advertisement campaign. The band members are fans of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and in 2007, Mastodon performed the opening song of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, "Cut You Up with a Linoleum Knife".
Crack the Skye and Live at the Aragon (2009–2010)
Crack the Skye was released on March 24, 2009, as a normal version and a deluxe version (which includes all songs in instrumental versions as well as their normal versions) and entered the Billboard 200 at number 11 a week later. The album is produced by Brendan O'Brien and Scott Kelly of Neurosis returns as a guest musician on the title-track. In a MusicRadar interview, guitarist Bill Kelliher confirmed the album is about an "out-of-body experience", and looks at the concepts of astral travel, wormholes, Stephen Hawking's theories and the spiritual realm. The album follows a quadriplegic who learns astral projection. On his journey he flies too close to the sun, burning his umbilical cord which connects him to his body, and flies into oblivion. At the same time in Czarist Russia, Rasputin and his cult were channeling spirits and brought the quadriplegic to their time. He explains his situation and foretells the assassination of Rasputin. Inevitably Rasputin is assassinated and Rasputin guides him back to his body. The band had debuted three new tracks at the Bonnaroo Music Festival, but did not play any more live shows before the album's release, due to fears of internet distribution and wanting to play the songs to the right audience. Drummer Brann Dailor sings lead vocals for the verses of the song "Oblivion." Mastodon was a headliner at the Scion Rock Fest on February 28, 2009, performing a set containing three tracks from Crack the Skye, the first time these songs were played since being finalized and recorded. On May 15, 2009, Mastodon performed a shortened version of "Oblivion" on the Late Show with David Letterman.
In order to support their new album, Mastodon toured with Metallica on the latter part of the 2009 European leg of their World Magnetic Tour. In Fall of 2009, they embarked with Dethklok on the "Adult Swim Presents" tour along with Converge and High on Fire. On October 17, 2009, they recorded a DVD documenting the tour at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Mastodon played the alternative music festival Big Day Out, touring across Australia and New Zealand in January and February 2010.
On October 29, 2009, they performed "Divinations" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Teaming up with bands Deftones and Alice in Chains, Mastodon went on tour in September 2010 in the United States and Canada. The tour was called Blackdiamondskye, a portmanteau of the three bands' latest albums (Black Gives Way to Blue, Diamond Eyes, and Crack the Skye).
Film director Jimmy Hayward contacted the band during their 2009 tour of Europe and expressed how much listening to Blood Mountain had helped his creative process while finishing a screenplay, and he offered Mastodon a chance to score the film he had been working on - Jonah Hex. In an interview with Paste magazine, bassist Troy Sanders said that Hayward "called us out of the blue as a fan. It was the most beautiful, authentic way to collaborate." Mastodon used scenes from the film as inspiration during the writing and recording process, and the instrumental soundtrack, Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly EP, was released on June 29, 2010, through Reprise Records.
In 2010, the band was confirmed as being part of the soundtrack for Namco Bandai Games' 2010 remake of Splatterhouse. The game's protagonist can also be seen wearing a Mastodon T-shirt in certain flashback cutscenes.
On March 15, 2011, Mastodon released their first live DVD/CD entitled Live at the Aragon through Reprise. The recording features the entire performance of their fourth studio album, Crack the Skye, along with songs from their previous records.
The Hunter (2011–2012)
The Hunter, Mastodon's fifth studio album was recorded at Doppler Studios in Atlanta with producer Mike Elizondo. The first hints of the new album were given by the band via Facebook in January 2011. Drummer Brann Dailor revealed during interviews the title of the band's new album and described the new material as not so much proggy as riff-oriented and "a little more stripped down".
Meanwhile, the band performed in many major summer festivals. and on June 28, 2011, Mastodon released through Adultswim.com a leftover track from the "Crack the Skye"' sessions called "Deathbound".
The first taste of The Hunter came in July 2011 where Mastodon released via YouTube the song "Black Tongue", set to a video of AJ Fosik creating the sculpture used for the album cover. By August 12, the band had revealed the track listing from the Hunter and debuted "Curl Of The Burl", the first official single from the new album. Mike Elizondo was chosen to produce the album which marks his first time working with the band. It was also announced that a deluxe edition would be released. It featured the two bonus tracks "The Ruiner" and "Deathbound" and a different cover.
On September 16, the band released a 53-minute custom visualizer with all of the album tracks, 11 days prior to the release of "The Hunter". In support of the album a North American headline tour was announced. The album was very well received by fans and the media. It also performed strongly on the official charts, rising to number ten on the Billboard top 200, which is their best placement to date. On October 5, 2011, they performed "Curl of the Burl" on Late Show with David Letterman.
On October 12, a UK tour was announced that will run through February 2012 with fellow bands The Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang as support acts. They were at Later... with Jools Holland where they performed "Black Tongue" & "Curl of the Burl". A seventeen date European tour was announced that featured dates in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Latvia.
On December 1, "Curl of the Burl" was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best Metal/Hard Rock performance. It is the band's second nomination with the first being for "Colony of Birchmen" in 2007.
In January it was announced that Mastodon and Swedish prog metal band Opeth will tour together in a joint tour across North America. It was named the "Heritage Hunter Tour" after both bands latest releases, The Hunter and Heritage. The bands will take turns of the headlining spot. Support will come from the Swedish heavy metal band Ghost. On February 11, 2012, the band performed a sold-out show at the Brixton Academy in London, it was the band's biggest headline show ever. Dry Bone Valley" was released on February 13 as the third single of the album. A music video for the song was also released.
On April 21, 2012, to commemorate Record Store Day, Mastodon released two separate vinyls. The first is a split 7″ with Feist titled Feistodon. Mastodon will cover Feist’s “A Commotion” and Feist will cover Mastodon’s “Black Tongue”. The pair released a one of a kind interactive, crossfading music video for the song 'A Commotion'. The second release was a cover of The Flaming Lips' “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton”.
The band spent the summer performing at festivals across Europe and South America. It was the last tour in support of The Hunter.
Once More 'Round the Sun (2014–2015)
Mastodon began recording again in early 2013. Guitarist Brent Hinds described the new music as "really eerie" and "very spooky-sounding", and stated that he has written three new songs. On December 3, 2012, the band announced via their Twitter page that they were writing a song for the film Monsters University. However, the song used in the film was the previously released "Island". They will also be part of the 2013 Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. On May 6, 2013, the band stated that they are "...VERY busy writing and putting songs together for the next studio MASTODON album..." In an interview on Fri, Jul 26, Brann Dailor was reported as saying that the band would "probably [go into the studio] end of September". The band is also playing at the 2014 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
On February 27, Brann Dailor told in the interview that their sixth album would be released in summer of 2014, and he also stated that the band would release an EP in winter of 2014. Some of the confirmed tracks were: "Tread Lightly", "Buzzard's Guts", "Scent of Bitter Almonds", "High Road" and "Aunt Lisa".
In an interview with Troy Sanders in Paste Magazine released on April 3, he revealed the album was called Once More 'Round the Sun and had 15 tracks. He also confirmed that Mastodon recorded 90 minutes of material, but only 60 minutes of it will be present on the album; the unreleased material possibly might be released on an EP later in 2014. A few more tracks that have been confirmed are: "Diamonds in the Witch House" (which has Scott Kelly from Neurosis on a guest vocal appearance), and "Ember City".
In an interview on April 11, Brann revealed the album will release in June.
On April 17, the first single "High Road" was made available for streaming.
On 26 April, Bill Kelliher revealed the title of the second single "Chimes at Midnight".
As of June 16, 2014, the entire album is streaming on iTunes.
The album was released on June 24, 2014 through Reprise Records. The album sold around 34,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release to land at position No. 6 on The Billboard 200 chart making it the band's first consecutive top 10 debut, with their previous album, The Hunter, peaking at No.10 after opening with 39,000 copies in 2011.
Upcoming album (2015–present)
On January 18, 2015, it was reported that Brent Hinds is working on new Mastodon album, showing a picture with him playing the 13 string pedal steel. The same report was later confirmed by Troy Sanders, who stated: "Every record that we do is gonna sound different, because we always want to evolve and create our own musical path. And every record will be different. We do not wanna write the same record twice."
On March 12, 2015, Mastodon released a new track called "White Walker", which will appear on the upcoming Game of Thrones: Catch the Throne Vol. 2 mixtape to promote the fifth season of the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Dailor, Hinds, and Kelliher also appeared in episode 8 of the season as wildlings. This mixtape will also feature songs by various other acts, ranging from Killswitch Engage to Snoop Dogg.
Mastodon cross multiple heavy metal genres such as progressive metal, sludge metal, alternative metal, stoner rock, experimental metal, and groove metal. James Christopher Monger of Allmusic describes Mastodon as "one of the more notable New Wave of American Heavy Metal acts, a genre spawned in the mid-'90s" and says that "Mastodon's innovative, lyrically astute blend of progressive metal, grindcore, and hardcore helped position the band as one of the preeminent metal acts of the early 21st century."
Bassist Troy Sanders stated about their musical style:
|“||We don’t consider ourselves a metal band. We recognize there is a lot of metal in us, but we also want to believe we have a lot of rock 'n' roll in us, and we have a lot of progressive rock in us, we have bits and pieces of thrash and punk, and psychedelic-ness sprinkled throughout. A lot of times for me personally, just having the metal tag itself seems kind of limiting on us because we have such an appreciation for all styles of music and we like to incorporate bits and pieces of those into our songs. But we also recognize all the different subgenres and the millions of times people say, "Oh, what do they sound like?" and you say something, I understand that. But, it doesn’t affect how we create anything at all.||”|
Mastodon's musical style has evolved much from their earliest pre-Remission releases to The Hunter. Their early work is significantly heavier and more abrasive than their later work, primarily or exclusively using harsh vocals, more distorted instruments, and more atypical song structures; this is especially prominent in their earliest work. The release of Mastodon's third studio album Blood Mountain, which incorporates both clean and harsh vocals, marked a shift in the vocal styles used, with subsequent albums favouring clean vocals almost exclusively.
Over its first four albums, Mastodon had specific concepts in mind, specifically the classical elements of fire, water, earth, and aether. Remission does not deal with a particular theme but it is loosely based on the theme of fire. Songs like "Crusher Destroyer", "Where Strides the Behemoth" and "Ol'e Nessie" deal with the theme of fictional creatures.
Blood Mountain is about a man who is searching for the "Crystal Skull", which is on top of the "Blood Mountain". According to bassist Troy Sanders, "It's about climbing up a mountain and the different things that can happen to you when you're stranded on a mountain, in the woods, and you're lost. You're starving, hallucinating, running into strange creatures. You're being hunted. It's about that whole struggle."
Crack the Skye deals with many different themes. The title, as well as some lyrical content, is a tribute to "Skye", the little sister of drummer Brann Dailor, who committed suicide at the age of fourteen. Themes touched on within the album include "dark magic(k), astral travelling and the role of Rasputin in the downfall of Czarist Russia".
The Hunter does not deal with an entire concept like their earlier work, but is remarked by the band to have an attachment to the Chinese classical element of wood. Songs such as "Spectrelight" or "Black Tongue" seem to have no meaning related to this theme, although the former seems to have themes of redemption and trusting oneself while the latter focuses on pain and betrayal. Meanwhile, songs such as "Dry Bone Valley" (especially) and "Octopus Has No Friends" are seemingly cut from a concept album. The title is a tribute to Hinds's brother, Brad Hinds, who died of a heart attack on December 4, 2010 while out hunting.
Artist Paul Romano was responsible for all of the band's album art and backdrops up to 2011. The artwork for the band's 5th studio album The Hunter was made by AJ Fosik, a wood carver who was also responsible for the backdrop the band used live at the time. Oakland-based artist Skinner, who, in his own words, specializes in “psychedelic nightmare paintings”, has taken the reins on Once More 'Round the Sun. “It’s going to be a work of art for sure. It’s going to be very eye-opening", said bassist Troy Sanders before the album's released. "Very striking. It’s from another dimension, and a lot of our music is geared toward that idea—taking you to another planet on songs. It’s out there, and I think it’s incredible.”
Following their first tours in the early 2000s, Mastodon have performed at many major festivals such as Download, Roskilde, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Big Day Out, Rock Werchter, Pinkpop, Metaltown, Ottawa Bluesfest, Sonisphere and Soundwave. When performing the band has traditionally had a fairly lo-fi visual presentation. However, during the band's "Crack The Skye Tour" (2009–2010), they used a large screen behind the drumkit showing a visual show.
Legacy and reception
The "sludge/stoner/alternative metal outfit" Mastodon, as labelled by Allmusic, is "one of the preeminent metal acts of the early 21st century". The BBC stated about Mastodon: "They might be bonkers of lyric, full of fantasy mumbo jumbo, but the band is unashamedly committed to its complex-of-composition craft, and the results have frequently stunned ever since their 2002 debut, Remission. They are the most ambitious, most fearless, most fun heavy metal band to have breached the mainstream since the genre oozed its way out of The Midlands in the 1970s." Alternative Press has stated: "Mastodon are one of the all-time great hard-rock groups." Rolling Stone stated: "Mastodon are the greatest metal band of their generation — no one else comes close."
- Studio albums
- Remission (2002)
- Leviathan (2004)
- Blood Mountain (2006)
- Crack the Skye (2009)
- The Hunter (2011)
- Once More 'Round the Sun (2014)
Awards and nominations
- Grammy Awards
|2007||"Colony of Birchmen"||Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance||Nominated|
|2012||"Curl of the Burl"||Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance||Nominated|
|2015||"High Road"||Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance||Nominated|
- Kerrang! Awards
|2012||The Hunter||Best Album||Won|
|2007||Brent Hinds & Bill Kelliher||Golden Gods Award for Best Shredder||Won|
|2012||The Hunter||Golden Gods Award for Best Album||Won|
- Revolver Golden Gods
|2012||Brann Dailor||Golden Gods Award for Best Drummer||Nominated|