Mastodon – “Leviathan”

dB HoF No. 136

Label: Relapse Records
Release date: August 31st, 2004

Recently, I stumbled across a graffiti mural that read, “Every winner was once a beginner.” This got the gears turning, thinking about how long it’s been since Mastodon was considered an unknown, underground entity. These days, the Atlanta superstars are not only headlining and selling out venues and supporting some of the biggest names in metal, but have also become musical guest mainstays on network television talk shows and found its music featured in countless movies, commercials, video games and other mainstream media platforms that were unfathomable when the quartet was tooling around on fumes and belting out abrasive ragers like “Hail to Fire” and “Crusher Destroyer” to a hundred folks a night. When you ask those on the inside—bassist Troy Sanders, drummer Brann Dailor and guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher (all contributing vocals)—they’ll tell you their growing popularity with large pockets of metalheads and the respect afforded them in industry boardrooms all started with Leviathan.

Back in 2004, Mastodon may have been one of underground metal’s greatest treasures, but they still existed as a blip elsewhere. After the release of 2002’s Remission, they became the metallic equivalent of the mighty albatross, seemingly embarking upon a non-stop quest to circumnavigate the globe before even thinking about being tired enough to take a break. Remission was an excellent work in its own right (inducted into our Hall way back in issue #38) and the band capitalized on the bubbling interest, setting out on 18 months of touring until it was time to refocus energy toward a new crop of songs. In light of this whirlwind schedule of perpetual motion, it’s almost shocking to think they were able to craft the delicate intricacy of “Hearts Alive,” the pensive “Joseph Merrick” and that the meat of Leviathan was hammered out during a couple months break before opening for Clutch across the country then refined while on the road. It was in front of unsuspecting audiences, in mildew-y green rooms, the sanctuary of their van, in overcrowded motel rooms or at the residences of fans who’d offer them temporary floor space that the band’s second full-length was sculpted into form and readied for a second go-round with producer/engineer Matt Bayles. This time, however, the unfamiliar environs that Bayles experienced when capturing Remission in Atlanta was reversed, as Mastodon, being indomitable asphalt warriors, found themselves on Bayles’ turf in his hometown of Seattle.

Not only was Leviathan a musical triumph that saw upbeat sludge and flashes of tech-metal meshing with progressive rock and southern grit-groove, it was a thematic triumph that borrowed from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick re-imagined to shine a light on the band’s navigation of the murky uncertainty and pitfalls of the music business. Mastodon demonstrated to both their growing audience and insiders that metal could be propped up by musical nuance and diversity, thematic intelligence and a whole lot of brain activity. And similar to Melville’s tale eventually becoming recognized as a classic slice of literary artistry, Leviathan has since been accepted as one of heavy metal’s crowning achievements since its original release 12 years ago. Thus, allow us to recognize its importance to both our world and the band itself by welcoming it to Decibel’s Hall of Fame.

– Kevin Stewart-Panko

Got to get more Mastodon? To read the entire seven-page story, with featurings interviews with all members on Leviathan, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.