Mastodon are the quintessential modern metal ‘album’ band. That makes Medium Rarities a strange proposition – after all, how do you process a compilation release from a band whose 20-year career is often typified by drastic shifts in tone between records? By packing it with characteristic brilliance, of course.
The tracks on Medium Rarities each point to serving specific sectors of Mastodon’s fanbase. Prog musos can gorge on the luscious tonal banquets of instrumental playthroughs of Toe To Toes or Halloween, whereas fans of more meaty fare can revel in rollicking live renditions of Blood And Thunder and Circle Of Cysquatch. But ultimately, this compilation’s strongest offerings come from the titular rarities; Fallen Torches whets the appetite for things still yet to come, while Atlanta, featuring Butthole Surfers vocalist Gibby Haynes, is a gloriously unhinged fuzz-punk-metal mash-up coming on like the Surfers’ Independent Worm Saloon 2.0.
As multifaceted as the band it celebrates, Medium Rarities isn’t mere nostalgia, it’s exemplifies why Mastodon have become one of metal’s most reliable and beloved bands. This is particularly prevalent in the selection of covers that showcase their prowess as songwriters. Feist’s A Commotion is subsumed almost entirely into the Mastodon framework to lend it a meaty ethereality, while The Flaming Lips’ A Spoonful Weighs A Ton sounds so classically proggy you can practically hear the band shedding their denim for suede.
Even amidst all this prog majesty, Mastodon have never shied away from poking fun at themselves. Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife sees the band go Dethklok-meets-King-Diamond, with a lyrical message that should be heeded more in 2020 – ‘Be considerate to others or I will bite you in the torso and give you a disease’, treading the line between deranged and brilliant in a way only true genius can.