Mastodon are, to be honest, a band that has only won me over recently. Unfortunately, it took me years to seperate them from the many craptastic bands which are loosely grouped together under the banner of "New Wave of American Heavy Metal." When I picked up last year's "Crack The Skye"-- an album about wormholes, imperialist Russia and the suicide of drummer Brann Dailor's 14 year old sister Skye (to name a few things)-- I realized I'd cheated them. Mastodon have got something going on here. Really, Mastodon are what metal-- no, music-- is all about, warts and all.
Let me explain that to you, my now-oh-so-skeptical reader. Mastodon is not just as metal as we get, but Mastodon is the "tradition of metal." Or at least their last album, "Crack the Skye," was. Take the doomy, occult-laden atmosphere of Black Sabbath, combine it with Iron Maiden's penchant for the 'fine-arts' of literature and drama, Motorhead's realness and grit, Dream Theater's willingness to turn what the genre of 'metal' can actually mean on its head and, finally, a contemporary sound that only a modern band can offer and you have Mastodon. If you love metal, I don't understand why you wouldn't like this band, unless you're one of those purist guys who care more about clinging to stylistic carrion than you do about appreciating music.
Anyway, "Live at Aragon" is a necessity for Mastodon devoutees and a good point of departure for new fans. It includes a full live version of what I consider to be their latest and greatest, as well as a handful of older classics from their sludgier roots.
A quick word about the vocals, which have been a frequent subject of complaint about this live-set. As I said above, this is metal, "warts and all." Before singers like Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson were mythologized and every metal band had to have an awesome, allegedly "classically trained" vocalist, things were a lot rougher around the edges. With Mastodon, you get three less-than-stellar voices:
There's the bassist, who's got a really cool yelp but consistently fails to hit the high-notes. Then you have the drummer, who's got a great machine-like Maynard Keenan impression going. He's the most on-key, but he sings relatively few parts and his voice doesn't really have much character. Finally, there's the guitarist. His voice has the most character, but is the hardest to swallow, but getting used to it is worth the endeavor. His high-pitched quivering slurs genuinely sound like the voice of someone who's just woken up from of one-too-many mescaline-inspired "vision-quests"-- it's got an ancient, shamanistic quality to it. These three, when singing alone, do sound a bit weak. But when they harmonize together, it creates this awesome semi-discordant chorus that is just way too cool and has way too much character to resist.
And that, my friends, is Mastodon. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. For $15, this DVD/CD live set is a steal. Check it out, especially if you don't know anything about Mastodon already.