When Atlanta prog-sludgers Mastodon released their debut, 2002’s Remission, everyone paying attention in underground metal at least cocked an eyebrow; by the time they released their second album, 2004’s Leviathan, people were doing more than cocking eyebrows (ew, get your mind out of the gutter). The feeling was that something big was happening: no longer just prog-sludgers, the band had released a concept album around Moby-Dick, and, amazingly, it wasn’t ridiculous. Musically, they had begun a progression which continues to this day. Plus, everyone loved that cover art. Decibel‘s Kevin Stewart-Panko recently inducted the album into our Hall of Fame (you can purchase the issue here); we thought it was as good a time as any to rank Leviathan‘s tunes from least-rad to most-rad.
10. Joseph Merrick
This short instrumental closes off the album, so it’s kinda weird putting it anywhere on this list, but in the name of inclusion, here, this is “Joseph Merrick.” It’s a cool little tune, but really works best within the greater framework of the album (I can’t say I’ve ever typed this title into YouTube when I need a quick Masto-fix at work). It does, however, show how the good the band was getting at playing with ’70s prog and classic rock sounds; the guitars are pure sky-high Zep.
Not sure if anyone else was ever as annoyed as I was at that vocal line, but it’s the only thing holding this mini-epic back; the excellent guitar work totally kills it on this tune. And as much as I may not click with that vocal pattern, it is catchy as… a fishing line hook? Is that how I write about the Moby-Dick concept album? No idea, but the drumming is on fire (as it is throughout the album, of course), and, again: that guitar work.
Although this song is a good example of what Mastodon were starting to nail down pat with this album—ambitious songs cloaked as short rockers—this song lacked anything too memorable going on during it; on a lesser band’s album, it would be amazing. Nestled next to Leviathan‘s other, greater, songs, it tends to just kinda be… there. Make no mistake, sounds great when it’s playing, but hard to remember when it’s done.
7. Naked Burn
I tend to forget about this song for some reason, which is odd because it’s awesome. It features a vocal line that echoes “Seabeast”’s, which I don’t like, but the band totally make up for it with the best melodic performance on the album, both vocally and musically. Then the music loses its melody and gets progressive and strange, with some of the album’s neatest razor-wire riffing. You know when a great, random Mastodon-y riff gets stuck in your head out of nowhere when you’re walking down the road? It probably sounds a lot like something from “Naked Burn.”
6. Aqua Dementia
Love that opening riff, and love it when the drums come crashing in, trying their hardest to not just keep up with the labyrinthine riffing but to do constant fills over top of it, as is the Mastodon way. Then, when things suddenly go straight and 4/4 for what feels like the first time in the album (bearing in mind this is the eighth song of 10), it’s absolutely victorious. This song is incredible, which gives you an idea of how strong the rest of the album is, considering we’re only at number six here. Plus, insane Scott Kelly guest spot for the win.
5. Hearts Alive
A little bit torn on this 13-plus-minute epic: it was exciting as shit at the time, but nowadays when I want Mastodon I tend to go for their less sprawling moments. But when you have time and energy to invest, this rules. I mean, it’s a 13-plus-minute epic Mastodon song. Of course it rules. Plus, it just kinda sounds like a few songs put together, so it’s not as exhausting as it promises to be. And it shows the band delivering on the great concept-album promise: this song feels like a journey, yet it’s still fun to listen to, no small accomplishment.
Track six on a 10-track album is always a huge one; it’s the album’s midway point and time to either pick up the pace or… drop some acoustics and get weird, like Mastodon did here, with much success. I don’t even know what to call the guitar work on here except “Mastodonian,” and you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that. A wild, fun, technical prog-metal feast, and one that features that weird moment when the instruments drop out and that long guitar riff is laid down before the stomp und burn comes back in at double-time, a classic Leviathan moment.
3. Iron Tusk
Who doesn’t love it when Brann Dailor starts a Mastodon song with a drum fill? Answer: the same numbskulls who don’t put on a song like this and revel in its absolute glory and power. Riffs galore, maniacal drumming, and the strange Masto-melodies that this band does so well are all over the place on “Iron Tusk.” One of the best tracks on a truly fantastic album, this tune is one for the metallic ages.
2. I am Ahab
A short, concise ass-kicker that proved how good Mastodon was becoming at cramming technical skills into a surprisingly listenable, near-rock structure. The chord changes evoke all the fear and mystery of the ambitious concept the band was on about here; the rolling tom, quiet(-ish) breakdown brings the listener down to the bottom of the sea with Mastodon.
1. Blood and Thunder
That opening riff. That intro drum fill. The sudden tempo change at 1:32. The opening riff returning at the end of the song. Neil Fallon guesting. It all adds up to not only this album’s shining moment, but also one of Mastodon’s greatest songs ever. Leviathan opener “Blood and Thunder” was a huge announcement of arrival, and it sounds as exciting today as it did the day it came out. This song perfectly exemplifies what Mastodon was doing at this point in their career, and holy crap does it rule. This song rules; it just completely rules.