Mastodon - Medium Rarities
Sep 12, 2020
45
Mastodon, one of the most celebrated bands in progressive and sludge metal, rightfully so too, released some albums in the 2000's, that I would consider to be essentials in their respective genres at this point. Despite this, I didn't end up liking much of anything the band did in the 2010's, in fact my favorite of their releases was the Cold Dark Place EP, that was actually just a few B-sides from recent recording sessions that didn't make the cut. I thought Mastodon going psychedelic rock was far more interesting than what they were doing on The Emperor of Sand, so I wouldn't mind a full album in that style. I of course was excited when I heard that the rumors of Mastodon releasing an new LP in 2020 turned out to be true, but I was immediately disappointed when I realized this was a B-Side/ instrumental/ live performance compilation from over the years. I still had hope though, because if we can get B sides on the same level as those on Cold Dark Place, then this could be an interesting change for the band. Even as a big fan of Mastodon though, I can now say that I really could have gone without hearing a majority of this compilation.

Live performances take up a good portion of Medium Rarities, and I like to see them include a fair variety, from Leviathan to Emperor of Sand songs. Your enjoyment of these however, as well as the instrumental versions of previously released tracks, will most likely depend on your liking of the original recordings. Due to this, I will just be focusing on the songs that did not get a formal album release until now. The lead single for the compilation was "Fallen Torches", which is an original B-Side. This riffs much harder than a majority of The Emperor of Sand, which is definitely appreciated, and Troy is ferocious as expected on his verses. What kind of kills it for me though, is Brann Dailor's super smooth, melodic chorus which has this corny Linkin Park quality to it. It picks itself back up a little in the bridge but not greatly enough for me to love it.

"Atlanta" is what we all wanted, a collaboration between Mastodon and Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers... and it's actually not too bad. It starts with a brooding riff, and speedy drumming, before the muffled vocals enter. The latter half is quite psychedelic, and Gibby has quite the odd verse. It's pretty goofy, and the feature was evident of that, but it's actually a fun track. "Cut You Up with a Linoleum Knife" is even more odd, which makes sense, considering this was performed by Mastodon for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. Brent's vocal delivery is more visceral than what you'd find on a typical song from the group, and then you have Brann doing some cheesy glam rock chants. Of course the lyrics aren't going to be geniusly written, but seeing which movie this was meant for, would you expect anything else.

We the have another track that went with a soundtrack, and that is "White Walker" for Game of Thrones. It has some tribal drumming, and medieval sounding acoustic based instrumentation, but this is why I never liked Mastodon playing it super clean, because it is fairly boring. The ending is more dramatic, but nothing leading up to it really makes the listen worth it. "A Commotion" by Feist is the first cover on the album, which is an odd choice because of the indie pop style of the original. Though the punk energy of the hook is pretty corny, at least it isn't a carbon copy of the original. The same can't be said for their cover of The Flaming Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton", which sounds like the original with messier production, and it really ruins the prettiness and the drugginess of The Flaming Lips' Version.

The worst cover here though has definitely got to be their rendition of Metallica's "Orion". There really is only so much you can do to change an instrumental to begin with, but Mastodon just makes a version with so much less bite. The compressed, modernized version of the bass chords of at the beginning sounds so off, and what follows isn't any better. The peak of the song is the loud harmonized bass solo, but Mastodon doesn't make this part any louder than the preceeding section, and the harmonies played on guitar are much weaker.

And that is really it for the non instrumentals and live versions. Even as a big fan of Mastodon, I don't feel as if I needed to hear any of this new material, and I can't imagine many of even the most hardcore fans being excited by this. Since this was just a medium rarities compilation, let's just hope there is an album of new material coming out soon.

Favorite tracks: Core tracks: "Atlanta", other tracks: "Blood and Thunder (Live)"

Least favorite tracks: Core tracks: "Orion", other tracks: "Jaguar God (instrumental)"
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