||Live at the Aragon
||14 March 2011
Following their much heralded 2009 release Crack the Skye metal sages Mastodon release their first ever live album with accompanying DVD. For fans it is time for salivation. For everyone else, dry-mouthedness remains.
Everything about this band is big. From its name (coming from a prehistoric mammoth-like creature) to previous album Leviathan and tracks like 'Where Strides the Behemoth'. These guys are not hiding behind their guitars and cardigans hoping that you like them. Naturally enough their sound is also monstrously big.
Within the deep sonic metal wall that they create there is much to be admired. When they are on point you get shades of the classic rock and metal of Sabbath and Zeppelin. A bygone time, when bands were like Godzilla with sex appeal.
You also have the epic song lengths and complex time sequences associated with Tool and guitars that are reminiscent of The Mars Volta (two bands that Mastodon have previously toured with).
But does this new live album and DVD work as a package? In short, no.
Crack the Skye was a critical breakthrough for the band, and they have every right to be proud of its success. However, having already released it (and a special edition, entirely instrumental version to boot) you may have thought that they would have left it at that.
Not so. Live at the Aragon “opens” with the entire Crack the Skye album start to finish, before tagging on some afterthoughts at the end. Not only that, but the DVD which boasts “Crack the Skye: The Movie” succeeds only in gazing further and further into the aforementioned navel.
The “movie” element of the DVD consists of their hit and miss visuals that accompany the live performances. These act out the principal concept of the previous album. The concept loosely being the story of a paraplegic man who gains visionary and astral powers and spiritually travels through time. You with me?
In truth most of the visuals resemble Forty Coats throwing a particularly upsetting acid party in the Wanderly Wagon.
The live performance itself begins with great promise. Beginning with its most arresting track 'Oblivion' the band deliver powerful, tight musicianship accentuated with the right mix of dual or triple vocals that lend an appropriate amount of melody to the rocking.
By track four 'The Czar' (featuring a very King Crimson like list of songs within a song on the sleeve) has almost made me a believer in Mastodon as the potential heirs to the “thinking man’s metal” throne. (It is worth pointing out that Forty Coats takes a particularly bad beating at the hands of the Czar’s cronies in the video for this. Quite disturbing.)
Unfortunately 'The Czar' is where the album peaks and then begins to lose all touch with the melodious, classic rock sensibility that it previously upheld.
Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders begins bogarting vocal duties, and although he does have an impressive rock-growl, I soon begin to tire of it, much in the same way as you would the amorous bellowings of a brown bear in heat.
We are briefly brought back to metronomic and melodic metal with a useful cover of the Melvins 'The Bit' but it is all too little too late, as much like the delirious crowd that howls through my speakers from the Aragon Theatre in Chicago, I too must go and wash the slime from me in time for work tomorrow.
Mastodon; they may be dinosaur-like in size, but they won’t be going down in pre-history just yet.
- D. Egan