Mastodon - Leviathan
by Mike D'Ariano / 5/2005
1. Blood and Thunder 2. I Am Ahab 3. Seabeast 4. Island 5. Iron Tusk
6. Megalodon 7. Naked Burn 8. Aqua Dementia 9. Hearts Alive 10. Joseph Merrick
Drums: Brann Dailor / Bass, Vocals: Troy Sanders
Guitar, Vocals: Brent Hinds / Guitar: Bill Kelliher
Relapse Records / Release Date: August 31, 2004
I had never heard of Mastodon until it was announced that they'd be playing this year's installment of the Ozzfest. My first thought when I read their name was that it was a very silly handle. It called to mind embarrassing visuals of the band Man-O-War parading around in cod-pieces and spandex. I didn't give it much more thought.
A few days later, Mastodon blipped onto my radar for a second time. This time it was a story about how their new album, Leviathan, was a concept album based on Herman Melville's novel, Moby Dick. On any other day, this would've just compounded my opinion that the band was just another goofy heavy metal cliché. As fate had it however, I happened to come by this information on a day that I was personally 600 pages into reading Moby Dick. There was no avoiding it at that point, I was going to have to hear this album. Sigh.
Now personally, I wouldn't think that nineteenth century literature was the best source material for a heavy metal album, but it happens all the time. Iron Maiden has a song called "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner", based on Coleridge's poem. Symphony X has written music based on The Odyssey. Even Metallica, the kings of metal, have songs named after or based on writings by Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dalton Trumbo . . . none of which are quite as old as Melville, but you get the point. Metal bands seem to be inexplicably drawn to material that is, no doubt in anyone's mind, over their average listener's head.
That said, perhaps Moby Dick is a more appropriate reference than most. It is, after all, a book primarily about premeditated murder, inspired by revenge. That's pretty metal. There's plenty of blood and guts in the book. Lots of people get killed, and a few people get maimed or go crazy. Again, sounds metal to me. And the main person that goes nuts, is Captain Ahab who at one point cools a freshly forged harpoon which he made specifically to kill Moby Dick, by soaking it in the blood of his crew. As Ahab does this he says. "Ego non baptizo te in nomine pathris sed in nomine diaboli" . . . I baptize you not in the name of the father, but in the name of the Devil. Now that's fucking METAL!!!
After a few days of looking around, I got a hold of the album, loaded it onto my iPod and headed out into the world. After thinking about the ideas I mentioned above, I was really pretty excited to see what the album was like.
I'm not sure how long I had been listening to the album before I shook my head in disgust. I think it was about fifteen seconds into the first track "Blood and Thunder." That would be about the first second that the vocals kicked in. And that would be the moment that I realized that these guys had made a concept album about a 175 year old classic, a 700 page novel written in the English language . . . and you could not understand one fucking word of it!
The whole thing is sung in that unintelligible growl that has replaced the high pitched howl as heavy metal's new irritating vocal style. On my third listen I was able to pick out the title of the song being screamed somewhere about halfway through.
You can tell that the album is about Moby Dick based on the giant white whale on the cover, and song titles like "Seabeast" and "I Am Ahab." But otherwise, there is no way in hell that you'd figure it out.
The music on here is actually pretty good. It sounds like Pant-allica, which is to say it sounds like most other newer metal bands music which is clearly influenced by, derivative of, or whatever you want to call it of, the scene's two biggest names, Metallica and Pantera. It's really heavy, and lyrical disappointment aside, it's one of the better metal albums I've heard in a long time.
I probably would've loved this album and this band whole-heartedly ten years ago, when I was in high-school. The irony is this - at that age, I might have stayed away from it when I heard it was based on Moby Dick.
First, Led Zeppelin writes a song called "Moby Dick" and it has no words, and now a full concept album is dedicated to it, and you can't understand the words. It all calls to mind another quote from the book, which is actually my favorite in all of its 600 plus pages:
"There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he dimly discerns, and more than suspects the joke is at no one's expense but his own."
I'll leave it at that.