MASTODON – Medium Rarities
The remarkable thing about Mastodon is that, like Pantera before them, they have kept the same linup of Troy Jasyn Sanders (bass, keyboards, vocals), William Brent Hinds (guitars, vocals), William Kelliher (guitars, backing vocals) and Brann Dailor (drums, vocals) since the founding vocalist, Eric Saner’s, departure back in the early days of the band (2000), a band of four brothers who write, plan, sing and play everything Mastodon together, which is highly admirable in this cut-throat industry. The album’s title, "Medium Rarities", is likely a double entendre: on one hand a derivative of "medium rare" frying degree, on the other an admission that, outside of the opening 9/11 tribute, "Fallen Torches" (vide: the cover), the tracks are of, indeed, a medium freshness. For this reason, I go further and divide them into "true rarities" and "false rarities". Of the latter are the live tracks: "Capillarian Crest", "Circle Of Cysquatch" and "Crystal Skull" from "Blood Mountain", and "Blood & Thunder" and "Iron Tusk" from "Leviathan", arguably Mastodon’s two finest albums. These are performed with as much ferociousness and intensity as in the studio, if not more so live, all deserving a 6/6 score which I graciously provide. The former, consisting of some previously unrealeased tracks and covers of Feist, Flaming Lips, Butthole Surfers and, interestingly, classic Metallica, are a mixed bag altogether deserving a cumulative 5/6, which results in the final score juxtaposed against the 6/6 for the live tracks.
The highlights, all deserving a 6/6 are the opening "Fallen Torches", the Feist cover, "A Commotion", the Mastodon’s very own alleged instrumental, "Asleep In The Deep" and the instrumental "Halloween". The opener is a mixture of "Leviathan" and "Blood Mountain" with the melodic overtones of "Crack The Skye", a sardonic and sarcastic look at 9/11 which is also a little scathing and bitter at the same time (families live by fallen torches) and is likely an indictment of the U.S. intelligence and the Bush/Cheney’s lackluster reaction to the attacks turned double wars profiteering, but that just might be my interpretation since I am such a digustingly liberal fellow. Either way, the song was designed to rekindle our interest and love for Mastodon and, indeed, mission accomplished. The second, a Feist cover, is so much better than the original with Mastodon giving me Machine Head’s "Burn My Eyes" and Biohazard’s "Urban Discipline" flashbacks, two records of my early youth. The third, "Asleep In The Deep", is a mystery since the youtube version is just an instrumental but my download has actual vocals for a fantastic mix of "Blood Mountain" and "Crack The Skye" and how this never made an official album is beyond me. That last sentiment also goes for the instrumental "Halloween" which, again, combines the 3rd and the 4th album and features some heavy riffing and amazing drumwork, quite a progressive piece with marvelous guitarwork but, sadly, no vocals.
The remaining material is of varied quality. There are some excellent tracks, such as Metallica’s "Orion" which shows Mastodon in top shape (since it’s not an easy track to emulate), "White Walker", a somber acoustic tribute to "Game Of Thrones" which almost got used in the series, is like a worship song for the White Walkers (they come down save us all) with electric classic rock guitars, excellent solo and is medium (sic!) heavy. Megadeth might envy the melodic thrash metal piece, "Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife" with King Diamondish banshee vocals and a screamed warning to Mastodon’s label, Time Warner (Relapse a subsidiary), "if I find this stuff on ebay I will break into your house and tear your wife in half", clearly tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) and the instrumental version of "Emperor Of Sand", "Jaguar God" is just as great as the sung original (except it calls for vocals!).
Not all is great, of course, so the instrumental "Toe To Toes" is a very good The Smashing Pumpkins-like track but falls short of excellence because it does not seem to serve any purpose and "Atlanta" is a mildly amusing Butthole Surfers cover featuring lead singer Gibson Jerome Haynes with an ending comment on motionless songless birds in Atlanta, Gibson sounding high as a kite. The worst track on the album is hands down the cover of Flaming Lips "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton", Mastodon failing to put their own stamp on it (the way they did with Feist cover) and just re-playing this, a mediocre track to begin with, in the same fashion, although, admittedly, very faithfully.
Overall, "Medium Rarities" may not be a must for Mastodon fans but it does show the band as versatile, incredibly agile and skilled ensemble, plus it proves both that they can play just about anything and that they don’t always leave bad stuff behind, which makes you wonder how many more of these pearls they have stuffed in their closets waiting to be revealed to the public at large. I had fun listening to this complilation and you will, too, and that’s why it comes recommended.