When they formed Mastodon back in the year 2000, it’s unlikely that Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders, Bill Kelliher and Brann Dailor could have predicted that their underground sludge metal project would transform into a Grammy award-winning band with three US Top 10 albums to their name. But a string of stunningly original and consistently excellent records gave the band exactly that, crossing over into the mainstream whilst maintaining a reputation for being one of metal's inventive forces.
The Atlanta band can lay a strong claim to having the strongest back catalogue of any 21st Century metal band, meaning there’s no such thing as a bad Mastodon album. But we've taken on the thankless task of sorting out the great from the slightly-less-great. Here goes…
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8. Once More ’Round The Sun (2014)
Mastodon laid the groundwork for shorter and more instantaneous songs on 2011’s The Hunter, and Once More ’Round The Sun picked up where that album left off. High Road and the title track work as well as standalone rock radio singles as they do in the context of the album, which hasn’t always been the case with this band. But if we’re being picky, OMRTS loses half a point because it wasn’t such a huge leap forward from what had come before it. Even so, it’s still tremendous.
7. The Hunter (2011)
The Hunter marked the point where Mastodon began to embrace their inner Black Album-era Metallica, dialling back the head-spinning prog metal complexity a little and serving up a set of anthemic bangers. There are many who consider this approach to represent the band at their finest, and you certainly can’t fuck with Curl of the Burl, Octopus Has No Friends or Black Tongue when it comes to horns-in-the-air, beer swigging metal. But while The Hunter is far from an easy ride, as the sprawling title track proves, but Mastodon are always at their best when doing something challenging. Still an essential listen, though, as well as a hugely important commercial breakthrough.
6. Hushed And Grim (2021)
Hushed And Grim isn't the first time Mastodon confronted and converted the pain of loss and sickness into an emotional and cathartic experience. 2008's Crack The Skye paid homage to Brann Dailor's sister Skye who took her own life aged 14, while 2017's Emperor Of Sand used a high-concept story to explore the turmoil experienced in a battle with cancer. In turn, Hushed And Grim was conceived in tribute to the band's fallen manager Nick Johns who also passed from the disease in 2018. Spread across an expansive 86-minute double-album, Hushed And Grim sees the band exercise the fullness of their sound, drifting between the melodically enchanting prog of The Beast and Dagger, the anthemic metal of Sickle and Peace or Teardrinker and even old-school heaviness in the form of the hyperactive The Crux to assert why they remain one of metal's most thrilling creative forces.
5. Emperor Of Sand (2017)
Believe us when we say that we have no beef with Mastodon’s output over the last decade – it’s just a measure of how off the scale the albums they made in the 2000s were. Emperor of Sand was a fantastic meld of their older, more progressive work with the contemporary sheen of The Hunter and Once More ’Round The Sun. The huge metallic riff and woozy grooves that drive Steambreather, the QOTSA-style rock hooks that lift lead single Show Yourself and the psychedelic freak-outs in Scorpion Breath all congeal into a massively satisfying whole. But it’s closing track Jaguar God that steals the show, condensing Mastodon’s entire output into one, near eight-minute masterpiece.
4. Remission (2002)
In a career with some real heavy ones, this is the really heavy one. Mastodon’s debut still sounds as extreme, cutting edge and visceral as it did back when it was released in 2002. The lush melodic textures of later albums sounded a long way in the future here – Remission was a frantic race to the finish all the way, throwing up so many twists, turns and ideas that it was nigh on impossible to keep up. Where Strides the Behemoth is a 100-hand slap of a song that finds all manner of new ways to sonically destroy you, Trampled Under Hoof is as close to classic death metal as they have ever been, and, in March Of The Fire Ants and Mother Puncher, they served up two stone cold classics.
3. Blood Mountain (2006)
If any other metal band released an album as good as Blood Mountain, it would be considered their masterpiece. The fact that it’s not even the runner up here says everything about just how monumental Mastodon are. Conceptually, the album tells the story of a climb up rough, mountainous terrain and the many hazardous, and usually fictitious, situations, that could arise. Like the landscape they’re singing about, Blood Mountain feels treacherous, earthy, dangerous and ascending all at once. Josh Homme’s guest vocals on Colony of Birchmen cut through you like biting wind, Crystal Skull’s rolling riff evokes the feeling of scrabbling up uneven rocks and the manic Circle of Cysquatch is like being pursued through thick woodland by some unholy bast. All together, it makes for one of modern metal’s most thrilling records.
2. Crack the Skye (2009)
If any album represents Peak Mastodon in terms of musical and lyrical complexity, it’s Crack The Skye. A metaphysical narrative based around mad Russian mystic Rasputin, astral travel and allegorical tributes to drummer Brann Dailor’s late sister is matched by a set of songs that took the band deep into progressive metal waters. Pulling out individual songs is a pointless exercise, given that Crack the Skye works best as one singular piece. But if you want an idea of why this record is considered such a landmark then heading straight for the magnificent, 13-minute The Last Baron should give you some idea. The fact the band somehow managed to bury such high-falutin' concepts amidst their (then) most accessible record to date remains testament to just how insanely talented they are as songwriters.
1. Leviathan (2004)
There’s some stiff competition, but Mastodon’s Moby-Dick-inspired second album stands as their best. This was the point where it became apparent that they were more than just another sludge metal band content to churn out filthy great riffs to clubs of sweaty fans until the end of time.
Leviathan features all the elements that would come to define Mastodon, from the stunningly heavy riffs of Iron Tusk and I Am Ahab that as technical as they are savage to the vortex-warping prog wizardry that runs throughout. And then there’s the conceptual narrative that would become part of the band’s arsenal: you can also feel yourself in Captain Ahab’s boots as Seabeast crashes around you like waves. And the anthemic Blood And Thunder featuring Neil Fallon of Clutch – may well be their defining song.