Mastodon – Hushed and Grim [Things You Probably Didn’t Miss 2021]

Yeah I know, anyone who gives two shits about Atlanta’s veteran modern metal/progressive sludge rock juggernaut Mastodon will likely have formed an opinion on their eighth studio album, and first double LP, Hushed and Grim. And I won’t lie, it is selfish reasons for including the album in this traditional end-of-year segment. We missed promo and the album turned out way better than a loyal but skeptical long-time fan was expecting. Tipping the scales at an eye-watering shade under 90 minutes, Mastodon threw everything at this lovingly curated album, essentially a heartfelt tribute to former manager Nick John, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2018. Mastodon could never be accused of phoning it in on an emotional level, using personal tragedies, loss and heartbreak as inspiration behind the lyrics and concepts of their albums. Hushed and Grim bleeds emotion, inspiring a flawed but frequently engaging journey. Progressive and psychedelic flourishes color songs that represent a more meditative and mature turn for the band, working through their collective grief.

A couple of things to get out of the way. Firstly, if you were never a Mastodon fan, nothing will change your mind. Same probably goes for anyone who dialed out altogether post-Crack the Skye. Secondly, Hushed and Grim is a hot fucking mess of an album. Yet weirdly I have been compelled to return, and for all its flaws, Hushed and Grim is a deeply emotive, adventurous, and at times brilliant album, featuring some of the most inspired material the band has written in ages.  Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders, Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher all produce strong individual efforts. Hinds shreds through the most inspired and sparkling solos he’s played in years, while those who find Dailor’s drumming too hyperactive might be pleased by a typically busy but more pocketed performance. The band’s multi-pronged vocal approach holds a rough-hewn charm, becoming more seamless and refined through later efforts. Sanders, Hinds and Dailor share the load nicely, their differing styles working to the album’s advantage.

Hushed and Grim delivers variety and quality aplenty, with infectious rockers that bring the feels (“Teardrinker,” “Sickle and Peace”), songs recalling shades of the Blood Mountain/Crack the Skye-era (“More Than I Could Chew,” “Savage Lands”), heartfelt balladry with experimental elements (“The Beast,” “Had It All”), and hook-laden sludgy prog-rockers (“Pain with an Anchor,” “Peace and Tranquility”). Elsewhere they spread their wings on progressive epics (“Eyes of Serpents,” Gigantium”). Compared to recent efforts the songs, generally speaking, carry more depth and cut deeper, compelling me to return for more frequent listens, even if front-to-back listens can be exhaustive due to its unnecessary bloat.

While there is little in the way of outright stinkers or cringeworthy moments, the bloat is frustrating, and the pacing and song sequencing issues stifle momentum and damages the final product. To negate the length and sequencing issues I cooked up my own Custom Made Recut to create a edit that suits my personal preferences while reducing album length and tinkering with the sequencing. Numerous songs could use some trimming, while cuts like “Pushing the Tides” are stock standard modern Mastodon fare.

Mastodon have transitioned from critical darlings across the first decade or so of their existence to the far more divisive modern sludge rock/prog metal force they are today. Haters will continue to hate and rag on Mastodon. As a long-time fan I have ridden the wave, and while their post-Crack the Skye output has drifted off in quality, sacrificing heaviness and proggier adventurism for a more streamlined approach, I have still found reason to stick around. Hushed and Grim is more progressive and experimental than recent efforts, despite its issues, it’s great to hear Mastodon taking risks and pushing themselves into ambitious and progressive realms.

Tracks to Check Out: “More Than I Could Chew,” “Pain with an Anchor,” “Savage Lands,” “Gigantium,” “The Beast,” “Peace and Tranquility”


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