Metal? Rock? Prog? Who knows anymore. All we know is that Mastodon are still exceedingly adept at the ageless art of kicking ass. After 21 years on the job, the venerated Atlanta shredders haven’t lost a thunderous step; in fact, on their eighth album, Hushed and Grim, they’ve gained a whole new footing.
Mastodon began as an aggressive sludge-metal group that came of age in the shadow of bands like Sleep and Neurosis. That sludge-ridden “stoner” style saw a boom in the 2000s with acts such as Baroness and Torche, but Mastodon had especially unique success with their early work; so much success that members Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders, Bill Kelliher, and Brann Dailor are now legends in heavy music.
The 2010s brought about an interesting decade for the band. After producing a line of heavy hitters like Remission (2002), Leviathan (2004), Blood Mountain (2006), and the incredibly progressive Crack the Skye (2009) in the 2000s, Mastodon cut their teeth on a more rock-centric sound, starting with The Hunter (2011) and ending at Emperor of Sand (2017). Although some hardcore fans long for another Leviathan, Mastodon continue to expand their songwriting and show that they aren’t afraid to take risks.
As the band’s legacy has grown, so has its vocal prowess. Dailor, Mastodon’s enigmatic drum wizard, started singing on Crack the Skye, and is now poised as a clean, spacy vocal foil to Sanders’ rugged bellow and the superb gritty twang of Hinds. Hushed and Grim builds on that synergy and plays to the strengths of each vocalist, giving them all space to shine amid Kelliher’s ever-shifting bedrock of guitar riffs.
“Pain With an Anchor,” reminiscent of Blood Mountain‘s “The Wolf Is Loose,” opens the album with a flurry of fills from Dailor. This track sets the heaviness barometer for the rest of the album. The last minute in particular provides optimal mosh material. On a more progressive note, “More Than I Could Chew” nearly reaches seven minutes and gives you everything a Mastodon track can give. Hinds wails on his guitar solo, Brann and Troy trade off vocal lines, and the impact of each phrase is both gargantuan and simultaneously thought-provoking.
That music’s balanced emotional charge is echoed in the lyrics. Sanders’ line in “Sickle and Peace” sums up the mood: “No feeling’s ever final/Just another scar I wear and hold dear.” As that lyric suggests, the album is no doubt influenced by the group’s late manager Nick John, who passed away in 2018. It’s a shared experience that colors longstanding lyrical themes of perseverance, self-doubt, and depression, making Hushed and Grim one of Mastodon’s most personal studio albums to date.
Other lyrical moments, such as Dailor’s verse on “Teardrinker,” also show the depths of Mastodon’s humanity: “I can see your face/And I feel the pain/And I feel the shame/That I have let you down again,” he sings. Tracks like “Dagger,” “Had It All,” and of course “Teardrinker” are powerful songs about picking yourself back up after a devastating experience, and finding your peace amid the aftershock of loss. Meanwhile, opuses like “Gigantum,” “Gobblers of Dregs,” and “Sickle and Peace” add to that sense of urgency to create the heaviest Mastodon record in quite a while. Hushed and Grim never stops giving, and the album’s energy, depth, and power make it a completely unique addition to the band’s mammoth catalog.