Mastodon Unleash the Beast Within: Rolling Stone's 2009 Feature

The violent, acid-fueled journey of America's new kings of metal

March 1, 2011 4:05 PM ET
Mastodon Unleash the Beast Within: Rolling Stone's 2009 Feature
Photograph by Peter Yang

Brent Hinds, frontman and lead guitarist for Mastodon, has reached the inevitable point in the evening when his speech starts to slur. A few hours back, during a listening session for his Atlanta metal band's epic new album, Crack the Skye, he polished off at least six Budweiser tallboys; here at a clubby midtown Manhattan steakhouse, where his tribal forehead tattoo and reddish lumberjack's beard are comically out of place, he's deep into a procession of Jack-and-gingers. He's cracking some increasingly nasty but harmless jokes about an encounter with a female celebrity (upshot: she's fat), when he slowly begins to remember that there's a reporter at the table.

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"Don't put this shit in Rolling Stone," he mumbles, blue-gray eyes turning feral. His next words are not at all slurred: "I'll kill you."

When Hinds is functional, Mastodon are the greatest metal band of their generation — no one else comes close. Their music is a gloriously chugga-chugging throwback to the epic heyday of Seventies prog-rock and the best of Eighties thrash, led by drummer Brann Dailor, a Neil Peart-style monster who writes lyrics about Moby Dick, crystal skulls and interstellar travel. And in Hinds they have an authentic rock & roll madman — sometimes too authentic.

This article appeared in the April 16, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

The day the foursome first played together nearly a decade ago, Hinds got in a parking-lot brawl with a cook at a restaurant. Over the years, it's only gotten worse. In 2007, the guitarist almost died after a drunken incident in Las Vegas. Around 3 a.m., Hinds approached System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian and his friend William Hudson, swinging a wet T-shirt over his head. "He was more wasted than any human being I've ever seen," Odadjian says. When Hinds got close with the T-shirt, Hudson smacked him — in self-defense, according to Odadjian. Hinds went down, fracturing his skull on a curb and ending up in a coma. "He sucker punched me out of nowhere and almost ended my life," Hinds says. "If I ever see that dude, I will have to spend some time in prison."

At the moment, though, he's still more concerned with me. "Keep in mind, I will kill him," he tells Dailor, and then mumbles, "I'll kill you," at least one more time. But minutes later, he leans his nappy head companionably on my lap. "What do you think about stroking my brow right now while I lay back?" he asks.

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"I feel kind of weird about that."

"Just asking," he says, sitting up.

Women — pretty, well-dressed yuppie women — keep coming over to the table to talk to Hinds, to admire his tattoos, to invite him over to the bar, to suggest that they're up for partying later. "It's always like this," says Mastodon's other guitar player, Bill Kelliher, a Star Wars obsessive covered with tattoos of the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back.

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Hinds' female admirers don't quite know who he is, but they're fascinated, even if his idea of making small talk with a Carrie Bradshaw type in a ruffled top is to ask, "Have you ever been homeless?"

"I'm definitely an alcoholic," Hinds says, sitting in his New York hotel a couple of days later, as he cracks his first Heineken of the day. "I've been a drunk person ever since I was old enough to drink booze. It sucks, but whatever, I can accept the truth." Ever gone to AA? "Nah," he says. "That's for losers."

The Mastodon brain trust of Hinds and Dailor get their weird lyrical ideas the old-fashioned way: "It comes from us doing too much acid," Hinds says. "Acid is the best drug in the world. It did the most amazing things for my creative psyche, and it still is doing it for me."

Seeking refuge from an operatically awful childhood, drummer-lyricist Dailor tripped almost nonstop from the age of 14 until his early 20s. "I went to high school on acid," he recalls. "Droppers filled with liquid acid on my tongue and just going for it, fully exiting what I consider to be an earthly plane. And when the acid wore off, I had a connection with that kind of music, with Frank Zappa and Yes and King Crimson."

Mastodon formed from two pairs of old friends: Hinds and bassist/co-vocalist Troy Sanders — a very tall dude with an impressively pointy metal beard (it has its own MySpace page) and an air of calm authority — played together in Atlanta, while Dailor and guitarist Kelliher slogged away in Rochester, New York. Dailor worked night shifts in a porn shop (he was spared the task of cleaning the video booths: "Roland the jizz mopper took care of that") and in a convenience store that was constantly robbed. Hinds had steady work as a carpenter but was so messed up that colonies of lice took residence in the green dreadlocks he used to have.

In 2000, Kelliher and Dailor moved to Atlanta, befriending the other two within weeks. The music they started making drew from an impressively diverse set of influences: the Melvins, the psychedelic metal act Neurosis, Rush, Genesis, Metallica, ZZ Top and Kiss. Over long, pot-fueled drives in their van, Dailor introduced the others to his favorites. "I grew up with all this awesome music," says the drummer. "David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye — down the line, all the real shit. All the real shit that doesn't exist anymore. That's what I hope Mastodon is. I want Mastodon so badly to be able to be spoken in the same breath as that stuff."

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