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2 stars US prog metal big shots Mastodon just released their eight LP, a nearly 90-minute double-album whammy titled Hushed and Grim. I have been following the band since their 2009 breakthrough Crack the Skye and I enjoyed all releases since then, so my anticipation for the new album, that had been described as darker and more progressive than anything before, was high. Alas, my expectations were quickly disappointed after I gave the new record a couple of spins. After sitting with it for over a week, I can confidently say that Hushed and Grim is a strong contender for my personal "biggest let-down of 2021", perhaps only second to Steven Wilson's The Future Bites. So what went wrong?

In an interview to UK magazine PROG, drummer Brann Dailor introduced the album by saying: "We could only get it down to 15 songs. We had multiple listens at my house and those 15 songs just felt like they needed to be together. To whittle it down to 55 minutes, our usual sweet spot, we would have had to get rid of six or seven songs and it wasn't happening.". And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the mother of all problems with this album. The band and renowned producer David Bottrill (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Tool) decided to take an "everything goes" and "more and more" approach to songwriting and album production, which on the surface may seem to push the "progressive" ambitions of Mastodon' music, but it ultimately greatly harms its listenability.

The main problems of the album for me are direction and consistency. This album does not have either. Its 15 tracks move back and forth between dark alternative rock/metal, spacey progressive metal and remnants of the more sludgy and metallic sound from the band's origins, without deciding which sonic identity to give to the music. Do not get me wrong, I love albums that incorporate a set of diverse influences into the sound. But this requires careful arrangements to balance the various ingredients into the music. Here the driving approach seems to have been to just let the different influences surface at different points of a song, or in different songs, without worrying too much about how these may flow into one another. The end result is a collection of songs that are yes diverse, but also feel somewhat schizophrenic and directionless, moving back and forth between the various styles without managing to settle on a sensible compromise or achieving a satisfying amalgam. In other words, the album stutters rather than flowing gracefully, and this makes for a rather uncomfortable and frustrating listening experience.

There's plenty of examples of this across the 15 songs of the album. "Pain with an Anchor" is an interesting opener, introducing influences from modern dark rock/metal bands like Katatonia or A Perfect Circle, that I would not have expected to hear on a Mastodon album, but the following track "The Crux" immediately reverts expectations, harking back towards the heavier and spacey metallic sounds of Once More 'Round the Sun. The album seems to settle on this groove for a couple of tracks, before "The Beast" confusingly throws in some incongruous bluesy sections to bookend what is otherwise a fairly standard piece of atmospheric progressive metal. Meanwhile "Skeleton of Splendor" and the single "Teardrinker" return to the mellow alternative vibes of the opening track, before "Pushing the Tides" veers again towards a heavier sound. The second disc pretty much continues in this ambivalent vein, almost as if Mastodon were undecided between embracing the new alternative rock/metal sound and sticking with their more traditional heavy sound.

While flow is a characteristic that I find very important in a full-length album, I could have forgiven the album's deficiency in this department if Hushed and Grim were consistently high quality across its 15 songs. Alas, it is not. The album is crammed with mediocre material that should have absolutely been filtered out. "The Crux", "More than I Could Chew" (which, come to think about it, is a pretty accurate description of how I feel about this record), "The Beast", "Pushing the Tides", "Savage Lands", "Eyes of Serpents" are all pretty subpar songs that really do not add much to Mastodon's extant discography, sounding like a re-hashed version of their earlier material. The frustrating thing is that the filler material severely dilutes the impact that strong tracks like "Pain with an Anchor", "Skeleton of Splendor", "Teardrinker", "Peace and Tranquillity" and "Gobblers of Dregs" could have made on the listener. All these songs are interesting, some even exciting, but it is excruciating to have to wade through almost an hour of average material to get to listen to the good bits of the album.

Mastodon are top notch musicians and the playing throughout Hushed and Grim casts no doubt on this, from Brann Dailor's frenzied drumming to Brent Hinds' and Bill Kelliher's dazzling guitar playing, the album brims with excellent musicianship. Where Hushed and Grim falls considerably short, however, is in the songwriting and arrangement department. Ultimately, the combo of lack of direction and watered down tracklist was definitely a killjoy for me and I do not see myself returning to this record anytime soon. I nevertheless choose to believe that this is just a blip in Mastodon's impressive discography and I remain hopeful and looking forward to the band's next move.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

Report this review (#2635834)
Posted Sunday, November 21, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars It seemed like not so long ago that progressive metal fans were lamenting Mastodon's pivot away from prog- inspired sludge metal and into a more commercially viable riff-happy direction. While 2018's Emperor of Sand signaled a minor but welcomed course correction for the group, Mastodon's latest effort, Hushed and Grim, is nothing short of a triumphant return to form, perhaps in even greater measure that any time before in the band's legendary career.

I'll admit that upon learning Hushed and Grim was a double record spanning almost 90 minutes, I assumed it was going to be yet another covid-lockdown-inspired slog; an under cooked serving by another artist bored and unsure of what to do with themselves with all their new-found time. Bucking this trend, Mastodon have managed to utilize the time to commit every ounce of creative and pent-up emotional energy they could muster to crafting what is an album that is every bit as heavy, psychedelic, technical, experimental, and proggy as anything else they have ever done in their career. While it might be tough to justify a 90-minute run time, it is truly remarkable just how every track has at least something about it to admire.

The record's only real flaw is the muddy mix that tends to drown out the finer textures of the melodies and riffs. This gets particularly upsetting when comparing the mix to the crisp clean gloss of their previous effort. But putting that flaw aside, Hushed & Grim forces even casual Mastodon fans like myself to come to one inescapable conclusion: this band is simply incapable of making a bad album. And whether you fancy the progressive greatness Crack the Skye or the raw but subtly ambitious onslaught of Leviathan, I think you'll find Hushed & Grim a worthy contribution to the Mastodon discography.

Report this review (#2637860)
Posted Sunday, November 28, 2021 | Review Permalink
A Crimson Mellotron
4 stars Mastodon released their eighth studio album 'Hushed and Grim' on October 29, 2021, on the label Reprise, on which they have been even since 2006's 'Blood Mountain'. For the first time ever, the band present a double album, and almost 90 minutes of music for the listener to delve into, making this the band's longest studio LP. The band is joined by producer David Bottrill, who is known for his work with Dream Theater, Tool, and Coheed and Cambria, among other well-known rock and metal acts.

It is the striking cover in shades of gray that gives the listener the first impression of the album ? dark, unwelcoming and with lots of things happening at once, the beautiful artwork certainly sets a grim tone for an album that is shockingly uplifting. The band take a massive risk by releasing a double LP, mainly because they are known for carefully selecting the material they present on studio releases; Moreover, 'Hushed and Grim' seems to be their most versatile collection of songs so far, with some quite adventurous compositions and often unusual for the band itself, this record is simultaneously reflective and starless, and inspiring and uplifting, as said before. Perhaps because it is very authentic and sincere, perhaps because it comes from a cold and dark place, and this is something that the listener can experience throughout the whole duration of the album, 'Hushed and Grim' will blow you away with its emotional depth and masterful and crafty songwriting, arguably its strongest asset.

Interestingly, this is the first Mastodon album since their 2002 debut not to feature Scott Kelly of Neurosis as a guest vocalist on a track, another sign that this collection of songs sets itself apart from the rest of the band's catalogue.

The album kicks off with the powerful 'Pain with an Anchor', a fast-paced song that has some tremendous licks and features Brann Dailor as the lead vocalist, who performs exquisitely; the massive breakdown around the final third of the song reminisces the band's early 2000s days. It is evident from this very first glimpse at 'Hushed and Grim' that the album is going to be very atmospheric, very embracing and unapologetically bleak, but also very heavy and acutely produced. What follows is 'The Crux', a song that should likely become a live staple, and the emotive 'Sickle and Peace', a groovier entry on the album, yet again with a very memorable and menacing chorus. 'More Than I Could Chew' opens up with a late 60s mellotron intro that is then contrasted by the crushing main riff; once again, the vocals are handled by Dailor and Sanders who are the most 'present' vocalists on 'Hushed and Grim'. So far, the songs develop effortlessly in front of the listener, always surprising with the direction they are going to and always sounding sheltering, despite the heavy tones and the dark and introspective topics. 'The Beast' features Brent Hinds on lead vocals, a song that could remind some of the title track from 'The Hunter', or even 'The Sparrow', another very atmospheric composition from the Atlanta quartet. 'Skeleton of Splendor' is another excellent song that will astonish the unprepared; 'Teardrinker' will certainly go down as one of the most recognizable songs by the band, as it was released as a single. Same goes for the final entry on side one, 'Pushing the Tides'; both this and 'Teardrinker' are Mastodonian enough to satisfy each fan's expectations from the band.

Side two opens with 'Peace and Tranquility', an experimental alt-metal powerhouse that features all three vocalists we are used to; 'Dagger' is another risky track for the band, as they give us a melancholic song that has a touch of Oriental soundscapes; 'Had It All' is a powerful song that oozes sadness and even tragedy, yet it is one of the most touching moments one could find on any Mastodon album, a beautiful and well-written song. That far into the album, it is sufficiently clear that tremendous effort has been put into the songwriting process, as each and every track seems to be patiently constructed. The following couple of songs are not a bit worse that all that came before - 'Savage Lands' is one of the more aggressive offerings here, while 'Gobblers of Dregs' is the band's prog peak, clocking in at eight minutes and a half, and featuring some creepy synths that add an extra layer of greatness to the already-excellent mini-epic. 'Eyes of Serpents' is quite interesting as well, while 'Gigantium' is a bit hard to understand, mainly given the fact that it serves as the album closer.

It is hard to comprehend how a band could be so consistent in putting out quality releases eight times in a row; With no weak entries in their catalogue up to that point, 'Hushed and Grim' makes no exception to the rule that when Mastodon release a new studio album, it is among the most intriguing and immersive releases of that year. This time the band present an exhaustive collection of atmospheric progressive metal that, if allowed, will stay inside your head for days, making you want more and more from this colossal band.

Report this review (#2650851)
Posted Thursday, December 9, 2021 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Are our musicians on the verge of becoming parodies of themselves? Did Aldous Huxley or George Orwell secretly write This Is Spinal Tap?

CD 1 (43:04) 1. "Pain with an Anchor" (5:01) great drumming within well-worn metal sounds, riffs, and expressives. (8.5/10)

2. "The Crux" (4:59) impressive, aggressive drumming that sounds separate from the rest of the music (which is made up of well-worn metal sounds, riffs, and expressives). I do like the second part starting at 2:38. (8.5/10)

3. "Sickle and Peace" (6:17) opens with a very catchy whole band groove--including some nice melody present in the singing! (The drummer is in the pocket.) Something about this takes me back ? to AMERICA's "Ventura Highway" (a melody I know and love very well as it is one of my all-time favorite songs). I even love the PROGHMA-C-like chorus. This is metal I can connect with! There's even a little ALICE IN CHAINS here! (9/10)

4. "More Than I Could Chew" (6:51) Mellotron?! Is this Anekdoten?! (Great title!) Interesting intro--that leads into a great, easy-to-access metal groove with heavily-treated vocals. Great Geoff Tate/Ozzie/Layne Staley vocals--easily the best vocal on the album: the dude sounds so invested, so present. What?!! Going for the Peter Hammill vocal sound in the fifth minute! This is sick! (i.e. "great"!) Not a great electric guitar solo. Still, my favorite song on the album. (14/15)

5. "The Beast" (6:03) into the swamps for some Southern Rock. Nice! Even a Billy Gibbons-like vocal! Wow! Hard to dislike this classic-sounding music. With dirty walls of sound like this it's hard for the drummer to stand out so much. Too bad about the divergent chorus. Now they've left the swamp; they're in the realm of Robotic TOTO. Trying to get back--more like switching channels--at 4:45, but something is lost: the song feels split; two-faced. Too bad. (9/10)

6. "Skeleton of Splendor" (5:04) this multi-vocalist shtick is starting to bug me. nice Blue Öyster Cult-like music. Cool Richard Wright synth work in the fourth minute--followed by a raunchy guitar solo. (8.5/10)

7. "Teardrinker" (5:20) this one sounds awfully close to 80s hair-metal bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, with a little Whitesnake and Metallica. (8/10)

8. "Pushing the Tides" (3:29) the impressive drumming is back! The music and vocals more aggressive, more insistent, more Metallica-like--with a Bon Jove chorus. (8/10)

Reaction at the half-way point: 86.47/100. Why do these guys sound like old guys--like a heavy metal tribute band?

CD 2 (43:13) 1. "Peace and Tranquility" (5:55) another song of multiple personalities trying to work together. (8.25/10)

2. "Dagger" (5:12) Uriah Heep channeling special guest Richard Wright trying to be Alice in Chains? Simple weirdness. (8.5/10)

3. "Had It All" (5:25) despite the nice sounds, the whole vibe here is creepy for its echo of bands and musics long past (esp DEF LEPPARD, Ten-era PEARL JAM, and Layne Staley-era Alice in Chains). Nice use of the wah-effects on the lead guitar solo. (8.75/10)

4. "Savage Lands" (4:24) despite the obvious Ozzie-ness here, this song at least sounds like it comes from the 21st Century. (8.5/10)

5. "Gobblers of Dregs" (8:34) great start--sucks me in like molasses or a tar pit. The second movement that starts in the fifth minute is just too divergent. Two songs that are meant to be two songs, not mish-mashed into one. Very impressive drumming. (17.5/20)

6. "Eyes of Serpents" (6:49) Fender Rhodes?! another song built around more familiar sounds, riffs, and stylings. Interesting guitar solo in the fifth minute. Are those background choral vocals real or sampled? (13/15)

7. "Gigantium" (6:54) sounds like a Devy Townsend song--though the walls of sound aren't quite as thick and impenetrable. (13/15)

Total Time 86:17

Second CD: 86.11/100.

B/four stars; an enjoyable journey through the history of late 20th Century metal music. Recommended for those who will remember; highly recommended to those appreciators of fine drumming.

It must be so hard for prog metal artists to come up with new riffs, new tricks, fresh ideas. I'm beginning to feel a little sorry for them.

Report this review (#2650906)
Posted Thursday, December 9, 2021 | Review Permalink
5 stars To be honest, I wasn't expecting this album to be so good. The singles were alright, but nothing that took my breath away. "Pushing the Tides" didn't do anything for me when I first heared it, and "Teardrinker" although being a good song was nothing that I haven't listened from the band before.

However, Hushed and Grim is an album that is meant to be experience in full. In the same way that in classics such as Tales From Topographic Oceans or The Lamb Lies on Broadway, the songs doesn't have the same impact if you listen to them separately, as they are conceived to be listened as a hole. In fact, the two aforementioned singles have a vital role in these matter. This album is by far the most experimental, laid-back and alternative that Mastodon has put out, and those two energetic songs serve as a break in between the two chunks of more elaborated and calmer songs.

On the first LP we have bangers such as "Sickle and Peace", a psychedelic anthem that will drown you in his hypnotic riffing. I also love the change to the chorus and the riff of that part, which reminds me a lot of a more heavier Black Sabbath. "More Than I Could Chew" is another one of my favourites, with a 10/10 riff by Bill Kelliher, which is reminiscent of that from "The Last Baron" that is loved by every fan of the band. "Skeleton of Splendor" is a splendid ballad and "The Beast" is the most clear example of Hinds taking the reins in all of the album. I didn't really like this song that much on the first hearings, but it has grown in me a lot. Although I would say that is something that fits better on an album from West End Motel (the other band of Brent Hinds) than on a Mastodon one.

But for me, the second LP is what takes the cake. All of my favourite songs are in there. "Had It All" is possible the most precious song that the band has ever written and always makes me shed a tear. "Savage Lands" is alongside "Pushing the Tides" the more direct song of the bunch and I like it better than the other one. "Gobblers of Dregs" is my favourite song of them all, being a modern version of the best years from Black Sabbath. "Eyes of Serpents" is another banger (Kelliher says that it is his favourite song from Mastodon at the moment), and "Gigantium" is a beautiful piece of art cut into two parts, having the second one the best solo that Hinds have ever put to tape.

I also love the lyrics of the album. This time they haven't taken the conceptual approach, but all the songs talk about similar topics, suchs as loss, depression and nostalgia. They are for me the best ones they have written alongside the ones from "Crack the Skye". Maybe in the mucianship department they are more restrained (specially Dailor), but I think that is for the better, and the performances always fit the songs.

Hushed and Grim don't have the raw power of Blood Mountain or Crack the Skye, but it shows a band in his maturity, a band that is not afraid to swim in other waters and comes out victorius doing it. For me is a clear top 3 from the band and a contender for best prog metal album of 2021.

Report this review (#2669080)
Posted Wednesday, January 5, 2022 | Review Permalink
3 stars As a testament to how out of hand my queue of albums has gotten, I'm finally getting to the latest release by Prog Metal giants Mastodon. Released back in October of last year, Hushed and Grim is their first album in 4 years--if I'm not mistaken, the longest amount of time between any two releases for them. [I'm realizing only now that I actually completely missed the other 2017 release when it came out, their EP Cold Dark Place. This will be rectified ASAP.] A double album at about an hour and a half long, this is a big'n... [Methinks too 'big'. See my final thoughts below. Plenty of great material on here, and I hope my notes are of assistance to future listeners.]

Opening the affair, we have "Pain with an Anchor", driving and immediate. It features numerous lead vocals. Heavy, melodic, balanced, and atop it all, a killer solo.

The track "Sickle and Peace" has a very nice, sort of hypnotic main guitar melody. Decent bridge.

"More Than I Could Chew" starts off with a classic Proggy, spacy and most creepy Mellotron. Keyboards were performed by Stone Giant's João Nogueira, most recently involved with The Claypool Lennon Delirium! Sweet main riff and melody this'n. Epic.

"The Beast" starts off with a very... country twang? Very very interesting choice; frankly unfamiliar territory coming from Mastodon. It's pretty actually. Very unique sound. Couldn't not mention it. I can't say some people aren't going to hate it. Around minute 2 is a pretty sizeable shift. Great rhythm here. Given the weird(?) start, a surprise favorite for me!

"Teardrinker" was... alright. It had a pretty interesting synth(?) solo. Just a sound you don't hear too too often in the scope of Prog Metal, if I can say anything. The performance in the latter half was pretty spectacular from all camps, so it's a shame it's not a great song in and of itself--weird it's the... top(?!) played song from the album on Spotify(?!). Whatever haha. I will never pretend to understand the tastes, desires and expectations of 'your average listener'. [Wow. I sound like a dickhead, don't I?]

The starting riff on "Peace and Tranquility": Wow. Always impressed by Brent. Overall a very nice song. Plenty in the office of instrumental excellence and great melody to offer. I mean, honestly, it keeps on giving. Best song on the album? I think so.

"Eyes of Serpents" nearly satisfied, but didn't quite get there. Not much going on on this'n, not to mention the numerous tracks throughout that I purposefully did not mention.

The final track is "Gigantium", a big swelling song (I suppose 'gigantic', sure haha), in classic Mastodon style. Actually quite lovely melodically speaking.

If anything, this album has proved as a nice step in their discography and creative output, but I must say, it strikes me as a tad too long. Ambition shouldn't always be met with a pat on the back haha. Plenty of great moments on here and if they would have been released as an EP, just those few songs, it would have been their best haha.

Best I can offer them is a True Rate of 3.5/5.0. At best.

Report this review (#2677068)
Posted Thursday, January 27, 2022 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Hushed and Grim" is the 8th full-length studio album by US progresive/sludge/heavy metal act Mastodon. The album was released through Reprise Records in October 2021. Itīs the successor to "Emperor of Sand" from 2017 and itīs the bandīs first double album (although such a description almost doesnīt make sense anymore in these digital release times), featuring no less than 15 tracks and a total playing time of 86:17 minutes. Itīs a lot of material and probably a result of the long recording and touring break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. They wouldnīt be the first act to have been extra creative during those special circumstances.

"Hushed and Grim" features a progressive metal sound that is unmistakably the sound of Mastodon (although at its least heavy itīs closer to alternative rock than metal). The busy, organic, and innovative drumming, the distinct sounding guitar riffs (lots of open string chords), and the vocal style. Mastodon used to play a far more aggressive and technically challenging progressive sludge metal style, but the last many albums have featured a more accessible, melodic, and sometimes even laid back style of music. Mastodon can still deliver the occassionally harder edged, heavy, and raw section, but itīs almost always accompanied by a memorable melodic chorus, a mellow psychadelic tinged section, or an adventourus progressive structured part. The fact that the album features lead vocals by three of the four members (and backing vocals by guitarist Bill Kelliher), makes the vocal part of the album relatively varied. While itīs not the dominant vocal style anymore, there at still some pretty raw vocals on the album, but the vocals are often more mellow, melodic, and laid back in nature.

Pick any individual track from "Hushed and Grim", and youīll find that any track you pick is a quality composition, but to my ears 15 tracks and a total playing time of 86:17 minutes are an excess of material and playing time, and the album does overstay its welcome when listened to in one sitting. The album is a quality product in every other way, featuring brilliant musical performances, adventurous songwriting, and a powerful and detailed sound production, so other than the fact that Mastodon should probably have shown restraint and culled a few tracks from the album, "Hushed and Grim" is still an enjoyable listen and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

Report this review (#2735518)
Posted Monday, April 4, 2022 | Review Permalink
3 stars I have a problem with overlong albums. It's rare for a band to come with more than 50 minutes of good music in each release. In the vinyl era, the artists were forced to choose the best material to fill an album, and the "fat" would be used as B-sides or never be recorded at all. When CD arrived, many bands tried to put many songs as possible in their albums, and frankly, that was a unnecessary move by most?

Anyways, here we are, with Hushed and Grim, the most recent release from the prog/sludge band Mastodon. A double album with some great tracks (Pain and Anchor, More Than I Could Chew, Gobblers of Dregs, Gigantium) and many not so great songs that I don't even remember the name. This is a more mid-tempoed album, with some furious and fast moments scattered through the songs. I would like to hear more faster tracks, to add a bit more of variation. And surely this album would benefit from some editing ? pick the best music and put the rest in an EP or in the aforementioned B-sides.

Mastodon never made a bad album, but their last great release (and masterpiece) was Crack The Skye. I still recommend this one, but it's a tiring listening.

Report this review (#2849930)
Posted Friday, November 4, 2022 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
3 stars I didn't hear Mastodon't debut album, 'Remission', when it was released back in 2002, but did come across 'Leviathan' a few years later and have followed their career with interest since then. Released in 2021, 'Hushed and Grim' was their eighth studio album and their first in four years, following on from 'Emperor of Sand' where I said they were moving into a lighter direction. That has happened again with this release, except this time they have taken it too far and it is hard for me to associate this release with the mighty behemoth they used to be.

Frustratingly, drummer Brann Dailor is having one of his finest times behind the kit, always pushing hard with loads of fills and changes in rhythm and attack, but for the most part the guys in front of him are not doing the same. There are times when they show just what they are made of, but too many when they just sit back, with "Sickle and Peace" being a case in point with some fine guitars and crunch at times, but way too much cleverness and not enough volume at others. This is also a very long album (86 minutes) and in that sense it reminds me of some of The Flower Kings' releases in that some judicious pruning and editing might well have been in order as much of this album just washed over me.

There are times when an artist can keep moving and eventually leave some of their fans behind, and I must admit this is pretty close for me, yet there are times when they really show what they are capable of (such as on "More than I Could Chew") so I live in hope that the next one will be better.

Report this review (#2873815)
Posted Saturday, January 7, 2023 | Review Permalink

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