Mastodon Live at the Aragon Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Crunching live release from the concepts-ahoy Atlanta metal outfit.

Mike Diver 2011

Released in 2009, Mastodon’s fourth album Crack the Skye was a mind-meltingly ambitious offering, melding significant rock chops with proggy themes and digit-busting fret-work. It was a perfect album for Guitar Hero kids and old-school metalheads alike, and rightly ate up critical acclaim. Not that its makers weren’t used to being on the receiving end of top-marks write-ups – yours truly awarded their 2006 LP, Blood Mountain, a perfect 10 (and I’ll stand by that score today). They are, in short, the most phenomenal metal outfit to break free of the underground since the turn of the millennium.

This is the Atlanta-based four-piece’s first live album, and comes complete with a DVD featuring every video projected behind the band as they tore through Crack the Skye at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom back in October 2009. Played in the same order as their studio brothers, these tracks tell a story – as every Mastodon long-player has – that is more Final Fantasy than Spinal Tap, in this case touching upon astral travel, out-of-body experiences and the dark matter that resides out there in the great unknown. But, mercifully, you needn’t pay super close attention to the concept behind the cacophony – if it suits, simply put your head down and rock the heck out. Be you fair-weather fan or hardcore follower, the results are the same: a warm fuzziness around the temples and a stiff neck the next day.

While the technical prowess on display throughout this set is truly awe-inspiring – Mastodon might turn everything up to 11, but they never compromise the finer facets of their sound, and everything’s captured here in crystal-clear clarity – Live at the Aragon doesn’t bog itself down in extensions to the songs’ structures. A wise move, as distracting solos would leave attentions wandering; but when they’re focused, and on proverbial fire performance wise, this lot are more than a match for any longer-standing titans of the rock world. Seriously, in another decade’s time there’s no reason why Crack the Skye shouldn’t be heralded as of equal influence to the day’s rising stars as …And Justice for All or South of Heaven are right now, parallel markers in the careers of Metallica and Slayer respectively.

Once the Crack the Skye tracks are delivered, Mastodon turn briefly to their back catalogue – a single cut from Blood Mountain; another from Kerrang! album of the year for 2004, Leviathan; and a brace from their celebrated debut of 2002, Remission. Then, a real treat: they cover the Melvins’ The Bit, a genre classic from the sludge-rockers’ 1996 album Stag. It’s an influence given due respect, by a band genuinely pushing metal forward into new designs for new generations.

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