February 27, 2006

Music DVD Review: Mastodon - The Workhorse Chronicles

Rising like a prehistoric beast from the tar pits of time, Mastodon has emerged from Atlanta, GA. They have come bearing one of the thickest, heaviest sounds ever recorded. The Workhorse Chronicles shows the bands development over the past decade, from playing to no one, to sharing a stage with Ozzy Osbourne on the 2005 Ozzfest.

My respect for and enjoyment of the band has grown tremendously after viewing this DVD. My first experience with them came last August. On a night off from Ozzfest, they accompanied Rob Zombie to Poughkeepsie, NY to play to a rabid sold out crowd. At this point, my only knowledge of Mastodon came from the occasional mention about how good they were. When they took the stage, I learned that was no lie. These guys tore up the stage with their heavy, sludgey metal sound. I went out and picked up Leviathan, and after 1 listen, I wasn't terribly impressed for some reason, of course, I admit to not giving it much of a chance. I set it aside and moved on to other things. That brings me to this DVD, where I decided to revisit the band. I wanted to see if the live material was anything like what I had experienced live in August.

The disk is broken up into three sections, fortunately it has a handy Play All function. First up is about 45 minutes of interview footage, that is followed by nearly 2 hours of live material spanning from the mid 1990's to the present, and closing out the disk is 20 minutes of music videos, with context.

The interview footage is interesting, it shows the guys goofing around on tour and such, as these things usually contain, but it also has interesting information on the birth of the band. All of the band members weigh in on how they came to be in the band. Plus the touring life, there is always talk about life on the road. But, as interesting as this footage is, the main reason to be watching this disk is the incredible live footage.

Clocking in at nearly 2 hours, this is a comprehensive look at the band on the stage. All of the performances here, no matter what the lineup, are very impressive indeed. I must say, I don't care what the lyrics are. I mean no offense, I just never understand what they are saying, and frankly, it doesn't matter. What I am growing to love about their music is the intense heaviness. They sound like no one else, their sound is like the prehistoric beast that is their namesake, rising up and trampling all who get in their way. The vocals, to me, are more like another instrument adding to the sound, rather than a conveyance of ideas. I don't doubt that their are concepts worthy of knowing there, I just have other interests in the music at the moment.

The live footage opens with some of their earliest tracks, including "Deep Sea Creature," "Slickleg," and "Call of the Mastodon." You can watch as the disk goes on, how the crowds grow in size over the years. The crowd seems to get bigger with each consecutive video, just as the performances and recordings improve. It is easy to see that those early recordings were amateur recordings. But it doesn't matter, the remastered audio sounds great, and you can see these guys are destined for great things.

They remind me of a metal jam band, if Dave Matthews and his ilk had put down the acoustic guitars and picked up their electric brethren, this could have been the direction they headed in. Heavy, throbbing rhythms that take on a life of their own. The live performances captured on this disk present their live sound as this organic mass with its own life force, and ebb and flow that gives this illusion that it is a being growing in size to massive proportions.

If you are not too drained from the live stage Mastodonian onslaught, move on to the final segment. Here we get to see the videos for "March of the Fire Ants," "Iron Tusk," and "Blood and Thunder." Each track has some exposition from the band on its genesis. Each video gets better, culminating with the bizarre "Blood and Thunder." This video was shot in a bar and had a carnie base. They filled the bar with clowns, and performed while wearing fez hats. It is heavy, uncompromising, and just plain weird.

This is a fantastic disk, any fan of heavy metal needs to check this out. This band has great things in store for us. If you couldn't tell, I have been inspired and will be revisiting my copy of Leviathan. They may not have the technical precision of Avenged Sevenfold, or the crisp presence of a Dream Theater, but they bring forth a sound unlike anyone else. This disk is a testament to the unique brand of heavy that Mastodon practices, not to mention, the charismatic stage presence.

If you haven't guessed it, you should see this disk.

Highly Recommended. **** / *****

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