In 2021, Mastodon are a band that need no introduction. Most metal fans will have an opinion on them one way or another, and if you don’t you’re certainly in the minority, but it’s been a while since they last put out a record and things have changed a little since 2017’s ‘Emperor of Sand’.
They are renowned for their highly conceptual records that lean on evocative and cinematic concepts, with an undercurrent of real-life tragedies experienced by the members of the band. 2009’s Crack the Skye, for example, follows the story of an astronaut falling through space, before inhabiting the body of Rasputin and attempting to overthrow the Tsar (trust us, as wacky as it may sound, it really works). Aside from this interesting concept, however, the album was also about the death of Skye Dailor, the sister of drummer Brann. And this is just one of many of such examples throughout the band’s back catalogue.
It stands, then, that Mastodon have a lengthy track record of putting out music with hefty emotional weight, even if it’s wrapped up in metaphors, and that’s certainly the case on their 9th studio record ‘Hushed and Grim’. This latest effort pays tribute to their manager and friend Nick John, who passed away after a battle with cancer in 2018, acting as a sombre backdrop to the writing process. Once more, Mastodon have taken their own personal grief and transformed it into something beautiful.
‘Hushed and Grim’ is the band’s first-ever double album; clocking in at a whopping 88 minutes, it’s similar in length to your average Hollywood movie. As with any album of this length, it’s a tough nut to crack for the listener but the more effort you put in, the more you get out of it. Once the songs work their way inside your head, it slowly reveals more and more of its stunning beauty. Once you’ve given it the time it deserves, you’ll see this record for what it is: a truly staggering piece of work that is completely unique within the band’s back catalogue while still sounding undeniably like Mastodon. When it’s at its best, it’s nothing short of exceptional.
‘Hushed and Grim’ is also the Georgian four piece’s most expansive and experimental release to date, during which they shrug off any expectations or genre restrictions to create a really varied record. It’s a luscious patchwork of different sounds, including southern rock on ‘The Beast’, cleanly picked guitars on ‘Skeleton of Splendor’, and even psychedelia on ‘Dagger’. The result is a much more melodic, down-tempo, and emotive record than we’re used to from the American metallers.
That’s not to say there are no riffs, though; this is a Mastodon record after all. The sonics on many of the tracks here will be familiar to longtime Mastodon fans, with tracks such as ‘The Crux’, ‘Pushing the Tides’, and ‘More Than I Could Chew’ scratching that heavier itch.
As well as having variety in spades, the quality on ‘Hushed and Grim’ is absolutely sky-high. Make no mistake, this is an ambitious record, and it’s one where the band’s ideas often pay off. Unfortunately, though, the quality does take a slight dip for a fifteen-minute section on the second disc – on tracks ‘Gobblers of Dregs’ and ‘Eyes of Serpents’. On a record with shorter song lengths, this would’ve been less of an issue, however, the average track length here is around 6 or 7 minutes, making any sudden decline impossible to ignore.
With that said, double albums that are hit factories from front to back are rare, and credit must be given to Mastodon for not only attempting such a feat but also for pulling off a record where 13 out of 15 tracks are of the very highest quality. And in any case, the final track of the record ‘Gigantium’ is absolutely monumental, ending the album on a stellar note.
If you’re a Mastodon fan already, you don’t need us to tell you to check this out. For the most part, this is a stunning, raw, and ambitious record that’ll keep growing on you over and over again as you keep listening. If you’re not already familiar with Mastodon, however, it’s probably best to go for one of the classics first, such as Leviathan (2004), Crack the Skye (2009), or even the more recent Emperor of Sand (2017). ‘Hushed and Grim’ is a long record that can take a while to get into but take your time and put in the effort, and you’ll discover something truly wonderful.