Written and recorded under a cloud of grief, following the death of longtime manager Nick John in September 2018, Mastodon’s eighth full-length album was always destined to be a heavyweight affair. The creative breathing space that many seem to have enjoyed in the midst of a global pandemic may have also contributed to the fact that Hushed And Grim is absolutely monumental, in both size and scope.
As a tribute to a fallen comrade, it could hardly be more effusive, substantial or expansive. It also feels like a genuine leap into fresh territory, in a way that neither 2017’s Emperor Of Sand nor 2014’s Once More ’Round The Sun did. Those albums were rightly acclaimed and demonstrated that Mastodon were still evolving, but the electrified muscularity of Leviathan and Blood Mountain was slowly being polished away, replaced by more radio-friendly, alt-metal clatter of songs like The Motherload and Grammy-winner Sultan’s Curse. Hushed And Grim has plenty of massive hooks too, of course, but this is a deeply heavy record, both musically and emotionally, and the fearless, ferocious spirit of those early records is very much in evidence throughout.
Fifteen songs deep and impossible to fully comprehend on a first listen, this is a defiantly old-school endeavour. Mastodon’s longest album by a solid 30 minutes, and easily the most adventurous and eccentric record they have ever made, Hushed And Grim feels like a love letter to the exploratory prog rock double albums of the 70s, when record label budgets were seemingly limitless and no idea was too daft to be considered. Fortunately, there is nothing remotely daft about the songs that have flowed from the meeting of the foursome’s minds this time around. Or, indeed, the riffs.
The opening Pain With An Anchor is a rumbling, sinewy torrent of ensemble aggro, with woozy, psychedelic undercurrents and an insidious, keening melody; The Crux is a more straight- forward Mastodon skull-rattler, but played with punk rock urgency and classic rock swing, a wonderfully insouciant Brett Hinds solo thrown in for extra sparkle. Likewise, recent single Pushing The Tides feels like a supremely artful upgrade for beloved Mastodonian tropes: a steroidal, noise rock sprint interspersed with bursts of angular dissonance and a sublime vocal hook to stir any soul.
At the more epic end of the scale, Hushed And Grim delivers some of Mastodon’s most wild and perverse material yet. More Than I Could Chew is a doomy gallop across desert plains, with Mellotron and the ghost of Ennio Morricone lurking with malicious intent in the background; Peace And Tranquility is an audacious blend of intricate prog metal trickery and beatific, lysergic Americana; Gobblers Of Dregs begins as a mesmerising, slow-motion howl to the heavens, before erupting into a squall of acid-rock abandon.
There are many other astonishing highs and startling curveballs here too; Hushed And Grim is 86 minutes long and, thankfully, never less than completely fascinating. It’s also a return to top form, their finest album since Crack The Skye and a rich and resonant salute to those we have lost. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Hushed And Grim is released on October 30 via Reprise Records