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Mastodon - Hushed And Grim review



Reviewer:
8.2

199 users:
8.11
Band: Mastodon
Album: Hushed And Grim
Release date: October 2021


Disc I
01. Pain With An Anchor
02. The Crux
03. Sickle And Peace
04. More Than I Could Chew
05. The Beast
06. Skeleton Of Splendor
07. Teardrinker
08. Pushing The Tides

Disc II
01. Peace And Tranquility
02. Dagger
03. Had It All
04. Savage Lands
05. Gobblers Of Dregs
06. Eyes Of Serpents
07. Gigantium


It’s not grim in the ‘trve kvlt’ sense, but Hushed And Grim is a fairly apt name for Mastodon’s ambitious double album.

After a pretty extraordinary string of releases in the 2000s that culminated with 2009’s prog-metal masterpiece Crack The Skye, Mastodon opted for a more simplified and cleaner songwriting approach in the following decade, receiving the same mixed response as most other frontrunning metal bands that had opted for a similar change in direction before them. Their most recent full-length, Emperor Of Sand, received arguably the most muted reception of their albums to that point; however, 2017 also saw the release of a second Mastodon release, and there was a far warmer reaction to the Cold Dark Place EP. It seems that the band picked up on that, as of all their previous records, Hushed And Grim feels closest to Cold Dark Place.

What do I mean by that, exactly? Well, this is where the ‘hushed’ in Hushed And Grim comes into play; Cold Dark Place was unusual in that it saw Mastodon focusing far more than usual on softer, more introspective material, and that carries over to Hushed And Grim. There’s no throwaway rock along the lines of “Show Yourself” or stoner rock a la “Steambreather”; instead, there’s a very serious, subdued tone virtually throughout this album. It would be a large exaggeration to suggest that this wasn’t a metal album, but there’s a lot of music here that really delves into the softer side of Mastodon (which may explain the unfortunate absence of Neurosis’s Scott Kelly this time around). There’s bands that have taken similar trajectories where the idea of softening their sound seems to be contrary to their key strengths (Gojira immediately comes to mind), but the intricate Southern rock-heavy guitar work of Brent Hinds has always imbued Mastodon with an appeal that extends beyond pure volume, and songs such as “Skeleton Of Splendour” and “Teardrinker” have a captivating melodic charm to them.

I briefly namedropped Crack The Skye above, which seems somewhat apt, as Hushed And Grim is probably the proggiest album from the band since that record. Not “The Last Baron” levels, but most of the songs run over 5 minutes, taking listeners on compelling journeys such as “Pain With The Anchor”, touching upon Mastodon trademarks such as Brann Dailor’s mind-melting drumming, Hinds’ psychobilly guitar solos and a big crunching rifftastic climax. Perhaps the pick of the early songs on the record is “More Than I Could Chew”; one of several tracks here featuring keyboards, the track is brooding and heavy early on, but gradually meanders towards a melancholic conclusion lit up with an excellent guitar solo.

I was pretty hesitant when I first heard that Hushed And Grim was going to be such a long record; as much as I really appreciated Cold Dark Place, I was increasingly underwhelmed by Emperor Of Sand the more time that I spent with it, with several tracks on there that became increasingly skippable. Thankfully, this new album is a far more impressive record than I feared that it could be. A lot of that is due to the tone really venturing into where Cold Dark Place had hinted towards, but the excellent musicianship definitely helps. As always, Dailor is fantastic behind the kit, and it’s great to hear Hinds seemingly so involved in the record, with the guitar work on the new album probably the most impressive from the band since Crack The Skye.

Sadly, this doesn’t extend to his vocals, which are mostly absent on the new album; it’s pretty much just Dailor and Troy Sanders this time around. I like both as vocalists, but I’d say most of the less impressive moments on the album come from their vocals, which is partly due to a production job that seems to somewhat dull their impact, but also there’s a few sections where the vocal melodies really didn’t jive with the accompanying instrumentation, which has been an increasing issue for me across the past few Mastodon albums.

As I mentioned earlier, Emperor Of Sand featured several songs that I found at best forgettable and worst actively irritating, so I wasn’t expecting Mastodon to put together a 15-song double album without a few duds. On the one hand, I will say that I can find something to enjoy in pretty much all the tracks on the album, which is much better than I expected. On the other hand, there’s few moments, at least for the first three-quarters of the album, that rise above ‘very good’ to stand alongside the greatest work from the band, and a full 86 minutes of music consistently at a ‘very good’ level with a very similar vibe does cause fatigue to set in when doing a full album playthrough, meaning that Hushed And Grim isn’t necessarily greater than the sum of its parts.

Now, it is a double album, so one could instead evaluate it as two separate discs. This does work to the benefit of disc 1; however, it does mean that the second disc is frontloaded with arguably the weakest stretch of music on the album, as “Peace And Tranquillity” through to “Savage Lands” would all sit near the bottom were I to rank the album’s track list in order of preference, even if I do respect how much of a decent stab at a ballad-style song “Had It All” is. On the flip side, this second disc does also feature possibly the three best songs on the album as its closing trio of tracks; heavy on both the prog and the melancholia, “Gobblers Of Dregs” and “Eyes Of Serpents” feature several of the album’s best moments, whilst “Gigantium” has a pleasantly surprising sense of grandeur to it.

Hushed And Grim is a pretty obvious improvement on Emperor Of Sand in my opinion; it’s also arguably better than The Hunter and Once More ‘Round The Sun, although I’ve got a lot of time for both of those albums and appreciate their tonal variety. I’m really pleased overall with the approach the band took this time around in both mood and songwriting approach; however, I do feel like it lacks enough great moments to compete with their 2000s material, particularly given how bloated it is. Still, out of all the albums I’ve reviewed for the site, I think that this is one of the few with the potential to grow on me enough to cause me to re-evaluate my opinion a couple of years down the line.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 7
Production: 7





Written on 03.11.2021 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 20   Visited by: 234 users
03.11.2021 - 07:25
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
I didn't expect to have as great of a time with this album as I did. I don't know when I'll give it another full listen, but I'll return to bits and pieces of it.
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?


2021 goodies
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03.11.2021 - 07:28
Lord Slothrop

Despite a few high points, the first listen left a sour taste in my mouth. I'll revisit it again at some point, but as of now I'm not digging it.
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03.11.2021 - 08:47
Fallen Ghost
Craft Beer Geek
Went from thinking this is one of the weakest and most uninspired album by them, to actually digging disc 1. I have to treat this as two separate albums, it's too long if not. Haven't got a thing for disc 2 yet though.
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03.11.2021 - 10:23
Zap

Nicely put. I think it's my favourite since Crack The Skye, but it's too early to tell. I did like Emperor of Sand, but you are right that it had some skippable tracks (or, for me, skippable moments, each track had at least something that kept me tuned in). However, I do think the high points of EoS (Jaguar God, Scorpion Breath) are higher than the ones here, but there are more to be found on this album. The tracks you singled out in this review are also some of my favourites here.
H&G does feel a bit bloated, they could have cut a few tracks or added them as bonus tracks, but I don't think it's a big problem.
----
And the tears that we will weep today
Will all be washed away
By the tears that we will weep again tomorrow
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03.11.2021 - 10:31
musclassia

Written by Zap on 03.11.2021 at 10:23

However, I do think the high points of EoS (Jaguar God, Scorpion Breath) are higher than the ones here, but there are more to be found on this album.


Yeah, that was one of the few things I would give EoS over this new one: Jaguar God. Because the album is so relatively lower-energy, it doesn't really have any 'go for broke' moments like the climax of Jaguar God that really command your attention in the same way. I'd say the high points from the last three albums (the likes of Jaguar God, Tread Lightly, Diamond In The Witch House, Halloween, Stargasm, Black Tongue, The Sparrow...) reach peaks that I'm not sure anything here does, although I can see Gobblers Of Dregs joining that company over time. On the flip side, Hushed And Grim does have consistency as a strength; there's nothing here that will make me disengage in the way that a Show Yourself or High Road does
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03.11.2021 - 10:55
Zap

Written by musclassia on 03.11.2021 at 10:31

Yeah, that was one of the few things I would give EoS over this new one: Jaguar God. Because the album is so relatively lower-energy, it doesn't really have any 'go for broke' moments like the climax of Jaguar God that really command your attention in the same way. I'd say the high points from the last three albums (the likes of Jaguar God, Tread Lightly, Diamond In The Witch House, Halloween, Stargasm, Black Tongue, The Sparrow...) reach peaks that I'm not sure anything here does, although I can see Gobblers Of Dregs joining that company over time. On the flip side, Hushed And Grim does have consistency as a strength; there's nothing here that will make me disengage in the way that a Show Yourself or High Road does

Exactly, H&G is rather consistent, both in terms of quality and mood. I actually like Show Yourself but I totally get the hate that song gets I was more bothered by some of the choruses on songs like Steambreather (I think). Gobbler Of Dregs and More Than I Could Chew are the only ones I would consider putting in that row of songs you listed, but again, it's too early to tell. (Diamond In The Witch House has got to be Mastodon's best song from the 2010s...)
I started writing a Getting Into article for this band, but will need some time to digest this album.
----
And the tears that we will weep today
Will all be washed away
By the tears that we will weep again tomorrow
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03.11.2021 - 10:58
Gladius

Excellent review!
This is a good release, indeed. I'm in love with that "intricate Southern rock-heavy guitar work of Brent Hinds". Nice work with the guitars and drums.
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03.11.2021 - 11:03
musclassia

Written by Zap on 03.11.2021 at 10:55

I was more bothered by some of the choruses on songs like Steambreather (I think)... (Diamond In The Witch House has got to be Mastodon's best song from the 2010s...)


Hard agree on both of these; I was going to name Steambreather in my 'lowlights' list, but left it out because it seems that everyone has an inexplicable hard-on for that track, glad someone else agrees - considering most of their stuff, it feels like completely pedestrian quasi-desert rock, and considering they've actually done desert rock really well on a song like Dry Bone Valley, no idea why people latch onto that one so much. Diamond In The Witch House is in a completely different tier to 90-odd percent of their post-Crack The Skye material
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03.11.2021 - 11:17
Zap

Written by musclassia on 03.11.2021 at 11:03

Hard agree on both of these; I was going to name Steambreather in my 'lowlights' list, but left it out because it seems that everyone has an inexplicable hard-on for that track, glad someone else agrees - considering most of their stuff, it feels like completely pedestrian quasi-desert rock, and considering they've actually done desert rock really well on a song like Dry Bone Valley, no idea why people latch onto that one so much. Diamond In The Witch House is in a completely different tier to 90-odd percent of their post-Crack The Skye material

I didn't even know it was so well-liked, but now that you mentioned it; I did see tons of people sing along to that (and Precious Stones) last time I saw them live. More so than most of their songs... ugh
They also played Diamond In The Witch House that night with Scott Kelly, which my dad (who had only ever listened to Crack the Skye) said was the best song of the set (I thought it was a tie between that and some of the other songs with Scott Kelly ). That song just makes me feel like they are exploring uncharted territory, something they used to do more often in the 2000s.
----
And the tears that we will weep today
Will all be washed away
By the tears that we will weep again tomorrow
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03.11.2021 - 11:20
musclassia

Written by Zap on 03.11.2021 at 11:17

I didn't even know it was so well-liked, but now that you mentioned it; I did see tons of people sing along to that (and Precious Stones) last time I saw them live. More so than most of their songs... ugh
They also played Diamond In The Witch House that night with Scott Kelly, which my dad (who had only ever listened to Crack the Skye) said was the best song of the set (I thought it was a tie between that and some of the other songs with Scott Kelly ). That song just makes me feel like they are exploring uncharted territory, something they used to do more often in the 2000s.


Sounds like we saw the same tour (it was Jan 2019 in London for me), and what a show that was; saw them only a year or so earlier in the same venue when they opened with The Last Baron but then did a load of Emperor of Sand material, the setlist on that tour was fantastic even before they did the entire Scott Kelly collab session. And I agree, it's a very different approach to both that album and their discography as a whole, whilst a lot of songs on Emperor Of Sand and OMRTS have pretty similar vibes
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03.11.2021 - 11:28
Zap

Written by musclassia on 03.11.2021 at 11:20

Sounds like we saw the same tour (it was Jan 2019 in London for me), and what a show that was; saw them only a year or so earlier in the same venue when they opened with The Last Baron but then did a load of Emperor of Sand material, the setlist on that tour was fantastic even before they did the entire Scott Kelly collab session. And I agree, it's a very different approach to both that album and their discography as a whole, whilst a lot of songs on Emperor Of Sand and OMRTS have pretty similar vibes

Yep, was February 2019 in Brussels for me Amazing show, and the best one I have seen from them. They were on fire that night, opening with some heavy hitters and just a generally great setlist. But most of all, their performance was so much better than the other times I had seen them.

I would kill to see The Last Baron live. I did get lucky and saw them play most of Crack The Skye through the years (including The Czar in 2009) but not that song. They regularly mix up the setlist though, every time I have seen them has been a vastly different selection of songs, with only some recurring ones. I appreciate that about Mastodon.
----
And the tears that we will weep today
Will all be washed away
By the tears that we will weep again tomorrow
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03.11.2021 - 11:31
musclassia

Written by Zap on 03.11.2021 at 11:28

Written by musclassia on 03.11.2021 at 11:20

Sounds like we saw the same tour (it was Jan 2019 in London for me), and what a show that was; saw them only a year or so earlier in the same venue when they opened with The Last Baron but then did a load of Emperor of Sand material, the setlist on that tour was fantastic even before they did the entire Scott Kelly collab session. And I agree, it's a very different approach to both that album and their discography as a whole, whilst a lot of songs on Emperor Of Sand and OMRTS have pretty similar vibes

Yep, was February 2019 in Brussels for me Amazing show, and the best one I have seen from them. They were on fire that night, opening with some heavy hitters and just a generally great setlist. But most of all, their performance was so much better than the other times I had seen them.



Yeah the setlist was excellent (2 songs from Remission!) but the performance was top-notch too
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03.11.2021 - 14:59
MarlKarx

I just wish those vocals weren't so weirdly mixed, specially Troy's. They have this distorted sound to them that takes so much away from his unique tone. As someone who did enjoy Emperor of Sand quite a bit, I'm still glad they went to a completely different place with this one.
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03.11.2021 - 18:22
tominator
At best deranged
Listened to only a couple of songs so far and I do agree with the sentiment that the production on the vocals feels a bit off. Other then that it sounds like solid Mastodon work. Hope that the rest of the songs are of the same quality.
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03.11.2021 - 22:29
Tuonelan

I think Cold Dark Place was Brent not feeling Emperor of Sand and wanting his own space to explore. Part of why I've been thinking of this album as being the one on which they all decided not to compromise on their different approaches and likes and dislikes and just said "yes" to each other's instincts. Not in a bad way that made them uncritical, but in the way that if Brent wasn't feeling a particular song, they let him stretch out a bit in a solo to give him some space, and if Brann was really feeling a particular lyric he had written, then they let him keep it and the part that went with it.

If parts of it don't quite line up, well that's like the band members themselves, just moreso this time.
----
Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy
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04.11.2021 - 14:00
DeliciousDishes
always right
To be honest I only listened to this because I had this review open as a tab in my browser for a few days now and need to close it.
But then I got really surprised! This is a great autumn album. I love the somber/sad feeling the whole record has, which I didn't feel when I listened to Cold Dark Place. I think we both disagree on which songs are the better here (I much prefer the first part of the double album, and in the second part "Dagger" and "Peace And Tranquility" are probably my favourites, while the last 3 left me pretty cold), but I generally agree with the sentiments. If this were half as long, what a great album it would actually be!
I kind of had trouble being very engaged at the end, but that might have been because I was reading the review and the discussions here. And you can only pay so much attention to a song while thinking "yeah, Diamond in the Witch House WAS pretty great!"

Generally probably my favourite since The Hunter, which I really loved. But I haven't really checked out Emperor of Sand again since it came out, so maybe I'll like it more now.
----
You are the hammer, I am the nail
building a house in the fire on the hill
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04.11.2021 - 22:15
Cthulu

Dagger and Had it all were the only songs that stuck out to me, mostly because they were so different.
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04.11.2021 - 23:48
Deviant

Easily their best since Crack the Skye. In my opinion of course, which is worth about what you paid for it.
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06.11.2021 - 04:17
Had they stripped down the tempo and weighted the tracks with some distortion of the first three albums and it would be a top sludge record for me (sludge leads to doom, which is what I breathe every day hehe). Personally, I don't think Mastodon has ever been suitable for the "stoner" label and when they sounded sludge metal, they were way too fast and full of progressions for that, too. To sum it up, this is a very good progressive metal disc for my ears with pitches of southern rock played in a moodier way. And this is the third listen I take. And there probably will be more. And I think you are pretty honest in your review, I like it.
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17.11.2021 - 22:32
BitterCOld
The Ancient One
Just started a first listen earlier today, will likely shelve until the weekend and some cerveja. Liked what I heard a lot.

...

a few days later

...

Yeah, really enjoyed it. At least first two passes through. Had a Crack the Skye shirt that i took all over my travels which eventually just disintegrated. Music and art for this is good enough I'll likely make it the new travel T.
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get the fuck off my lawn.

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