It’s the last frontier.
I can find many things to love about punk, rockabilly, psychobilly, indie rock, emo, screamo, hardcore, shoegazer, blues-based boogie, lo-fi, power pop, and just plain rock ‘n’ roll. Electric guitars and I are old buddies, and we go way back. But I’ve never been a fan of metal. I would rather undergo a root canal than listen to Metallica. I think Ozzy Osbourne is a totally engaging reality TV star, but that’s about it.
And yet, for reasons unknown, two new metal albums have shown up in my mailbox recently – the eponymous big-label debut from California’s Saosin, and something called Blood Mountain, from the atrociously-named Atlanta, Ga.-based, Mastodon.
I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking it too. Good God, Mastodon? Blood Mountain? The image wasn’t aided in the least when I saw song titles like Crystal Skull” and Circle of Cysquatch. I conjured visions of the Stonehenge scene from This is Spinal Tap, and inside my brain, gap-toothed guys whipped their greasy hair around in some sort of heavy metal ecstasy while drinking goblets of fresh Type O Negative.
But you know what? After actually listening to it, I came to realize Blood Mountain is really great. It’s loud, it’s angry, it thrashes like crazy. No big surprises there. But it is also articulate, witty and wise. And every couple of minutes it evolves into something that can only be described as prog-thrash. The Mars Volta aims for this territory, too, but I’m always derailed about six minutes into any of that band’s fifteen-minute opuses, put off by the seemingly endless wankery and nonsensical lyrics. Not this time. Mastodon’s songs are tight and concise, but endlessly surprising. Just when you expect them to descend into the usual metal clichés, they veer off into completely unexpected and delightful directions. And these guys are seriously great musicians. I’m very impressed.
Saosin, on the other hand, takes similar hardcore elements and welds them to populist, early Def Leppard anthems. Seemingly a far more serious metal band than Def Lep ever was, Saosin revels in the same multi-tracked harmonies and soaring choruses that should win the band a large and devoted fanbase. In fact, Saosin will probably be huge if it ever gets the right promotion from EMI, and I suspect that will happen.
At the end of the day, I’m still not a big fan of metal as a genre. But these two albums are going a long way to change my mind.