At what point does a band’s signature sound transcend personal identity to assume a greater role, joining the ever-growing lexicon of subgenres? For example, it’s impossible to hear any given Meshuggah track and assume it to be any given band that isn’t Meshuggah, and yet the latest scientific studies and figures conclude that any given djent track will contain at least 85% ‘shuggah byproducts; similarly, at one point the Swedish reformed Toolists Soen even went so far as to denote the American band’s sound as being a genre in and of itself. The lines between mimicry, homage and inspiration can be blurry, at best, but we here at AMG Industries eternally persist in our endeavor to discern and
damn judge them all the same. We’re saints like that, yo. Today’s line defilers are stuck between a rock and a Mastodon place, but to what end? Keep reading, tvrdz, the exciting info isn’t packed into this intro rant – what do you think this is, the fucking news?
So before we get too far into this discussion of Burn Scar, let me make something clearer: Shadow Limb sound like early (read: good) Mastodon. Like, a lot. The only way to experience the earnest, adventurous riffs and rhythms of tracks like “Rudiger; his name is not important ” or opener “Asger Arisen” without immediately recalling Mastodon is to have somehow never heard Mastodon in the first place. Every hungry, frantic bit of the golden-era Mastodon sound1 is summoned forth on Burn Scar, and if you didn’t care for the original Georgia boys you’re not likely to find yourself particularly in favor of this Californian alternative. That is, of course, unless you happen to be a fan of Neurosis, as their influence on Shadow Limb is nearly as prominent on Burn Scar as the Mastodon worship. One could argue that the two are one and the same, but I know what I mean anyway, and if you listen beyond the embedded track you just might, too.
The riffs might have Mastodon all over them, but the Neurosish harsh vocals and sludgy atmosphere pay moderate dividends towards Shadow Limb attaining their own identity. To that end, the Californians do a pretty stellar job of blending and balancing these musical mediums, essentially blurring the best bits of both bands into something that seethes and spasms skillfully at the center of their respective spectrums. Given the band’s origins as an instrumental act (La Fin du Monde) it’s somewhat unsurprising how smoothly these sounds are stitched together; regardless of who might have inspired them,2 Shadow Limb definitely have their songwriting shit together. The ebb and flow of Burn Scar is organic and exceptional, and if Mastodon weren’t already a thing I’d likely feel that these guys were onto something special here.
The problem, ov course, is that Mastodon are a thing3 and this being the case makes it incredibly difficult to hear anything on Burn Scar without immediately correlating it to a particular Mastodon moment ov olde. The album is not without its own standout quirks — the snarling bass groove that closes out “Watered Down Alby,” for example, straight up rules — but nor can it stand out particularly effectively when the whole thing is a tour de force through someone else’s tonal territory. The riffs are engaging, evened out with expertly nuanced atmospheric lulls and made to flow as smoothly as hobo wine through Steel, and the varying vocal shades of harsh sludge and clean stoner doom hues fit in as naturally as the music itself, yet none of this elicits much more than a “meh” from me — largely because I’ve already given away the majority of my “oooh’s” and “aaaah’s” for this music the first time I heard it all.
I’m out of ways to say “sounds like Mastodon,” and given how little else there really is for me to discuss regarding Burn Scar4 I suppose this is as good a place as any to cease my senseless prattling.5 It’s an enjoyable enough album; Hell, it’s downright fun, but the sheer level of Mastodon-ness coming from this not-Mastodon band makes for a tricky overall assessment. Ultimately, the music is executed quite effectively and enjoyably; if adventurous, prog riff rompery with a side of sludge is your thing,
listen to Mastodon give this thing a whirl, you hardly risk being disappointed. The technical and compositional talent are all here, but Burn Scar‘s lack of any real uniqueness to speak of left me somewhat cold. A tough break, but I suppose that’s just the curl of the burl.67
- To be clear, that’s everything preceding and including The Hunter. Don’t hate the Muppet, hate the trvth. ↩
- You know, aside from the obvious: Machine Head. ↩
- Damn you for existing, yo’s! ↩
- Its music, anyway. I could probably talk for years about the cover/Album Artwork ov the Year, but I won’t. ↩
- Novel use of a closing paragraph, I know. ↩
- I regret NOTHING. ↩
- I do… – Grumpy Grier ↩