September 8, 2020 Mastodon – Medium Rarities (Album Review)
You likely already know that the Grammy Award-winning Hard Rock juggernaut Mastodon formed in Atlanta in 2000. With a Progressive Rock/Metal sound chock full of intricate and inspired instrumentation, the quartet has released seven studio albums over the past 20 years, from 2002’s Remission to 2017’s Emperor of Sand.
And now that 2020 marks their second decade as purveyors of phenomenally eclectic, heavy, and sometimes stony Rock-n-Roll, Mastodon—Vocalist/Guitarist Brent Hinds, Guitarist Bill Kelliher, Bassist/Vocalist Troy Sanders, Drummer/Vocalist Brann Dailor—is set to present their fans with a special collection of rarities aptly-entitled Medium Rarities. Reprise Records delivers the sonic celebration on Friday, September 11, 2020.
The 16-track Medium Rarities digs deep from its outset with the previously unreleased “Fallen Torches”—featuring guest vocals by longtime friend and collaborator Scott Kelly of Neurosis—as dirge, devastation and melody coalesce together to offer something that only Mastodon could pull off so flawlessly. Unfortunately, this is the sole previously unreleased track on the collection. Instead, what follows is composed of four cover songs, five live recordings, four instrumentals, and two tracks that previously appeared on film/TV collections.
However, there’s no pointing fingers when it comes to diversity, particularly in the quartet’s selection of covers. If you’re listening to the LP front to back, you will first encounter their take on Feist’s 2011 downtempo offering “A Commotion,” an intensity of percussion and gang vocals that perfectly suits Mastodon’s exceptional talents. Never confining themselves inside a box, they also tackle a cover of The Flaming Lips’ “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton,” the magical 1999 Alt Rock offering that feels perfectly suited to 2020 and our desperate need for the roaring sound of love.
Next, the proud parade of losers blasts through a supersonic original called “Atlanta,” featuring Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes. This incarnation of the cover first appeared as one of Adult Swim’s Singles Collection, and so it should be no stranger to fans. Similarly, they’ve already released their take on Metallica’s 8-minute epic, “Orion,” as part of Kerrang! Magazine’s 2006 20th Anniversary tribute to Master of Puppets, entitled “Remastered.” So for Medium Rarities we’re merely taking the instrumental journey again, remembering when Metallica was still worth praising.
Obviously Mastodon are no strangers to instrumentals that showcase their Grammy Award-winning musicianship. On this LP, we first tango with the instrumental version of “Asleep in the Deep,” which was also a B-side on the “Asleep in the Deep” single, though it’s original vocal version first pussy-footed (see what we did there?) across 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun. There’s also the alluring eclecticism of “Toe to Toes,” its original from 2017’s Cold Dark Place, and the thrumming bass and swirling guitars that race throughout the core of the groove-laden “Halloween.”
But the stand-out? Well that honor goes to the instrumental version of “Jaguar God,” which was first heard (with vocals) on the band’s most recent collection of all new material, 2017’s Emperor of Sand. Stripped down to only its instrumentation, there’s an almost “Nothing Else Matters” feel to the track. That is until the entire mood shifts into bolder textures and explodes into an incendiary profusion of Prog Rock might.
For their live offerings, Mastodon pull from some of their heaviest material, particularly 2006’s Blood Mountain and 2004’s Leviathan. The former is represented by the frenetic guitar and bass of “Capillarian Crest (Live),” “Circle of Cysquatch (Live),” and the evil stomp of “Crystal Mountain.” The latter? Well, it offers us the brutal “Blood & Thunder,” as well as “Iron Tusk.”
Aside from the above selections, Mastodon opt to offer up two tracks that, though previously released, have never appeared on one of the band’s own LPs. Originally appearing in the 2007 Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, “Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife” blends goblin growls with a blitzkrieg of guitars to craft something perfectly deserving of Frylock, Meatwad, Master Shake, and co. Conversely, acoustics and percussion open the ethereal and atmospheric “White Walker,” which originally appeared on the Game of Thrones Mixtape: Volume II, which arrived in 2015 ahead of Season 5 of the show.
And though it’s not on this collection, Mastodon’s brand new “Rufus Lives” can be heard in Orion Pictures’ Bill & Ted Face The Music, which arrived in theaters and On Demand as of August 28, 2020. If for some reason you can’t catch the film, do not fret: the track will also appear on the official soundtrack.
But back to Medium Rarities. Far from a skimpy collection, at well over an hour of Mastodon’s virtuoso musicianship, the anthology explores a multitude of the band’s sonic personalities. If you embrace the blistering side of the foursome, then there is plenty to choose from, while for those that relish tracks closer in feel to “White Walker,” there is still plenty to enjoy. Although it would have been nice to see more previously unreleased and/or brand new material, and some more diverse selections in the live material, it’s pretty safe to say that nothing Mastodon touches is ever bad. Taking it all into account, Cryptic Rock gives the rarities collection 4 of 5 stars.