Monday, November 20, 2006

The Crossing Of The Threshold

Mastodon – Blood Mountain

After subjecting myself to Dragonforce's embarrassingly stupid swords and sorcery nonsense it was just as well I had another metal album with similar subject matter to turn to that's actually worthwhile. Blood Mountain is a concept album chronicling the journey of a nameless adventurer as he (or perhaps she) scales the titular mountain. The reason it works where Dragonforce doesn't is that the story is kept very ambiguous. Despite having listened to it quite a few times and read through the lyrics I still only have a vague idea of what the narrative is about as the lyrics are more than a little opaque. For example:

Hunt for ogres and dwarves/
Lion slicer/
Run with death/
Run with death

is a fairly typical passage.

Still, the important thing is that the general feeling of the words and music and the incredibly cool album art are enough to inspire all kinds of fanciful interpretations.

The album's music all fits within the broad church of metal, but changes wildly between styles from song to song. The opening track 'The Wolf is Loose' is almost a hardcore song while 'Bladecatcher's spastic rhythms and gibbering vocals are more than a little reminiscent of Fantomas. 'Sleeping Giant's slow, ponderous riffs could have been lifted straight out of an Isis album. Throughout there's a general restlessness and schizophrenia to the compositions, so that it can be an offputting listen to start with but once it becomes familiar it's very good.

Another comparison with Dragonforce that I can't resist making is that of their guitar solos. Dragonforce's are tedious five minute wankfests, while Mastodon's are short, to the point and inspired. They're also infrequent enough to leave you wishing there were more.

The reason why Dragonforce is lame and Mastodon is cool is analogous to the difference between good and bad fantasy novels. The bad ones (or at least the ones that are only enjoyable when you're in your early teens) are nothing more than escapist fantasies, whereas the better ones reflect the real world, usually through metaphor but also just by presenting realistic issues or experiences in a different light. For example in the song 'Hunters of the Sky' Mastodon recognise that at times during our lives we all find ourselves running away from something, and in this case that something just happens to be a pack of ravenous flying lizard sharks.

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