Revisit other SputStaff Top 10 Lists
Greetings, and welcome back to Sputnik’s semi-famous “SputStaff Top 10” series, in which – and get this – our site’s staff members pick their favorite 10 somethings! In this case, we had Mastodon in our crosshairs, a natural progression from June’s feature on Taylor Swift. If you are brave enough for infallible truths, then dare to proceed below to witness the top 10 Mastodon songs of all time — but be sure to also stop by the honorable mentions section to see what barely missed the cut! If you’re new to Mastodon and are just looking to get your feet wet, you might scroll all the way to the bottom of this feature to locate our Spotify playlist, where you can find the ten best Mastodon tracks all in one place for your convenient consumption. Hold onto your hats, here we go!
14. Iron Tusk
13. The Hunter
12. Siberian Divide
from Blood Mountain (2006)
Mastodon has an impeccable history of frantic openers and 2006’s Blood Mountain isn’t an exception. “The Wolf is Loose” fires up the band’s third full-length like a stampede of crazed buffaloes in heat running behind a herd of cows, guided by the swift beat of drum punisher Brann Daylor. The song features one of the most unhinged vocal performances of axe man Brett Hinds before he would find his style in the bluesy crooning of late records. Troy Sanders’ vocals also dominate the mid-section with his mighty grave tone before entangling with Hinds’ in a delirious verse towards the end. This track is also a testimony of Daylor’s tangible love for Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM, as it blends perfectly that classic metal feel with Mastodon’s innovative style; the result is an absolute torpedo of a tune flying across a black hole and going straight into your anus. –Dewinged
from Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014)
Any artist blessed enough to not flame out before establishing themselves will reach a point where they are no longer the New Hotness. In Mastodon’s case, that point was 2010. For good and for ill, Mastodon now had a full decade of success under their belt; their oldest member was about to turn forty. The band’s musical output throughout the ’10s largely reflected this, maturing into a more pragmatic (and often more predictable) signature sound, but “Halloween” nonetheless captures the reckless abandon of an act still barrelling through their best years. All the Mastodon-isms we’ve grown to know and love are accounted for- riffs winding and shifting around key melodic points, hallucinatory lyrics, vocal tradeoffs between the verse and chorus, more snare fills than you can shake a drumstick at- and the band wield these familiar tools with not only the dexterity of seasoned craftsmen, but the enthusiasm of craftsmen still finding new ways to love their craft. –Kompys2000
from Crack the Skye (2009)
‘The Czar’ is one of the biggest tunes on the record, but it’s also one of the strongest examples of how to make an engaging journey without it feeling self-indulgent or overbearing and dull. The iconic synth melody that opens the track sets the tone, before feeding through another banquet of rich hooks, catchy grooves, and countless layers of guitar and counter-melodies. ‘The Czar’ also hears Brent and Troy pushing their vocal capabilities to new spectrums, with the duo accompanying each other perfectly. The two vocalists bring an equilibrium to the track – Troy’s smoky voice meeting with Brent’s higher register delivers a wealth of twists and turns that stand head and shoulders next to the instrumental variety presented here. Indeed, ‘The Czar’ is not only one of the most ambitious tracks thus composed by Mastodon, it’s one of their very best compositions to date. The band absolutely nails the celestial vibe here, creating a lucid picture of the band playing in the endless reaches of space, and the songwriting itself is equally sprawling. –DrGonzo1937
from Leviathan (2004)
It’s hard to pick apart the Mastodon discography without including a few choice cuts from Leviathan. “Hearts Alive” is a clear cut, favourite of the band’s a la carte options, (a mouthwatering Kobe rib if you will) assuming you get past that thunderiffic opener of course. Hinds finds himself bellowing brash, unyielding vocal rituals atop a building heaviness alongside Troy’s typical shouts. The track’s transitions bounds forward, using light motif repetitions as the listener hurdles over waves and into the maelstrom of this thirteen minute ode to vintage Mastodon.
While the band themselves have proven they can churn out digestive bangers spanning mere minutes, there’s something to be said for the formula that would stretch their compositions further, trademarking how Mastodon would be known for a kaleidoscopic approach to prog, story-telling or psychedelic metal rompers (made evident and in terms of the band’s more prolific later material). It’s because of portions like “Hearts Alive” that later courses would be savored… al the while belts loosen under the table. “Hearts Alive” would become the bedrock, broiling deeper under the ocean, dug up by the legend of Ahab and used to fight off little beasty types. –Gnocchi
from Blood Mountain (2006)
I’ve spent enough time skirting prog and metal to understand that each has its separate ethos of bigger is better. The specifics work a little differently, though by no means mutually exclusively, between the two, but at the end of the day they both thrive on suspension of disbelief, and the further a prog metal band can upscale the fantasy-intensity nexus inevitably driving their songwriting, the better. Gods and gnomes be praised, the esoteric fantasies that Mastodon have strived so fervently to materialise in their performance have never sounded bigger or better than on “Sleeping Giant”. Back on Leviathan they gave us an appropriately volatile sense of grappling with the larger-than-life; on “Sleeping Giant”, they allow themselves the space and atmosphere to be completely and utterly dwarfed by it. Thanks in no small part to one of their most innovative lead lines, the song’s winding introduction passage captures the whole cocktail of mystery, intrigue, trepidation, fluctuating courage etc. pitted under the larynx of any questperson worth their salt; the sheer desolation that shallows the lot as the first verse comes crashing in is exactly the plot twist the concept album was born to capture. If you don’t have your own vision of whatever death-encrusted lava-ridden volcano crater this song pans up to with painstaking suspense, only to bring into devastatingly wide focus, you’re in the wrong bookclub sweetheart. It wasn’t until Crack the Skye that Mastodon blundered wholesale into “”aethereal”” territory, but “Sleeping Giant” planted the flag first and remains unrivalled within that pocket of their work. –JohnnyoftheWell
from Crack the Skye (2009)
“The Last Baron” seems to exist, at first, as a distilled example of what Mastodon freed themselves up to accomplish on Crack the Skye with their newly expanded sonic palette. Quiet, acoustic, melodic, the unremittingly gorgeous (that “please, please take my hand” part kills me every time) swing of the first couple minutes warms where (very generally speaking) Remission punched/crushed/destroyed, where Leviathan raged, where Blood Mountain flew. But “The Last Baron” ain’t two minutes, it’s thirteen—thing is capital-P Prog, following the spirit of songitude but not its letter, hurtling from structural idea to idea, collecting delectable riffs in different rhythms and at different paces, always with a full-bodied and thrilling aptitude for the force of “the moment”—weirdo backup vocals, tasteful ride cymbals and shakers, and guitar phaser effects all pitching in.
Mastodon, if nothing else, put on a damn show here, capturing our undivided attention so that each of those disparate sections of melody and rhythm takes on the level of autonomy embodied by those long-ass Homerian flashbacks where suddenly Odysseus is twelve years old and hunting a boar and his father’s uncle teaches his to string a bow and the trees shake etc. etc. until, to an unusual extent, the holding context, the “what-came-before,” slips out of your mind. Try, while listening through the middle chunk of “The Last Baron,” to remember the “what-came-before”. I dunno—shit’s too enveloping. You’re having too much fun. You’re dancing in your goddamn chair. You’re Rasputin at the height of the powers Mastodon have now made exist for so many in some material/intellectual form or other. You want to listen to Crack the Skye, one of the best metal albums of the 21st century, again. Come on. Hit play. “Oblivion” rules too.
I don’t think “The Last Baron” exists as proof solely of Mastodon’s ability to “go full prog,” to “do melody,” or even to modify or annex any particular facet of musical style. I think it’s more that a band that made “The Last Baron” can do anything. –robertsona
from Remission (2002)
Park your arse and open your ears. Men are not born but made; iconic careers are not debuted but detonated; good bands are not supposed to start their first album with their very best song, but hey, if they step right up and fuckin’ go there, are you going to be the one to stop them? Nothing stops “Crusher Destroyer”. This certified barnstormer is massive, blistering hell-for-leather fury from start to end, yet leaner than the skinniest hound in the pound. It’s Mastodon’s Big Bang: the entirety of their first three albums packaged into one two-minute nugget of frenzy. Metal being the mule that it is, this mainly takes the form of one single colossal riff, which our good gang proceed beat it to death with an instantly-trademarked onslaught of indecipherable Georgian grandpa noises and unhinged drum patterns more intent on blitzing every single fill in the bloody textbook through your soy-skeined speakers at once than on, uh yes, keeping the beat (caveman-riff has that one covered).
Just don’t mistake primitivism for simplicity: there’s deceptive complexity in those acts of chaos. I love that the song doesn’t stick around long enough to lay down a structure – the melodic-catchy-thing that arrives where you’d expect a chorus is just a one-off bridge courteously placed to mark the halfway point, and the remainder of the track is essentially accelerated self-destruction by means of SI UN SOLO DELLA CHITARRA DEL MASTODONTE. Che solo geil! Trotzdem das Mastodon im späten Teil seiner Karriere wegen seiner liberalen Benutzung kopierter und eingefügter ausgestreckter Riffs als Band “progressiv” gilt, haben diese Genüsse sich nie die gleiche Komplexität als die Art chaotisch des Zerdrückerzerstörers ausgewirkt. It’s a perfect opener, dig it. –JohnnyoftheWell
from Crack the Skye (2009)
For me ‘Blood and Thunder’ is their quintessential anthem, however, ‘Oblivion’ will always indelibly be their most effective album opener. The track embraces the tenebrous, celestial prog-metal they’re about to embark upon, and it does so without veering course from its goal. This fiery introduction has all of the aggressive hallmarks associated with their previous works – batshit insane drumming, skin-peeling solos, and apoplectic guitar work – but the distinction this time comes from everything being much more reposed and mature. The approach is melodic driven: big choruses, bigger solos, and an almost radio-friendly focus on every aspect of its creation. Crack the Skye demolishes their tried and true formula, but it still rebuilds this new beast on their old foundation – ‘Oblivion’ being a perfectly succinct exponent of what’s to come. –DrGonzo1937
from Remission (2002)
I like the key change downward about a minute and forty-seven seconds into “Hung Up on a Dream” by the Zombies because it reminds me in an odd, defamiliarizing way of the breadth of compositional options (for what it’s worth, I estimate some 98% of key changes are to a higher key) before any given songwriter and the even more expansive palette of effects, emotional or intellectual, they may wish to generate in the listener through their songwriting decisions. I dunno—it ain’t just improvisational modes of music like jazz or onkyo that forge the sensation of watching “the composer at work” rather than just the finished product!
Metal, too!: Mastodon’s debut album, Remission, feels remarkably loose and open compared to the subsequent prog opuses that would come to populate their discography. There’s this part of “March of the Fire Ants,” about forty-seven seconds in, where the song seems to launch into full-fledged existence, seems to slow down and speed up at the same time. More than a badass anti-transition exposing the seams of the songwriting process, this moment feels in the form of its pummel as if it has a lifestyle, a philosophy behind it that kinda guides Remission as it did Odessey and Oracle (one day y’all are gonna miss these scatterbrained analogies, trust): unaccosted by the structural sophistications of Crack the Skye and its successors, “March of the Fire Ants” nonetheless offers in its rip-roaringest form Mastodon’s fundamental and endlessly gratifying belief in the sludge metal jam as a living, breathing organism. Or, like, a dead one. Sing it with me now: “Bone! Grave! Bone! Engraved! Stone! Grave! Stone! Engraved!” –robertsona
from Leviathan (2004)
I can still remember the goofy smile that unavoidably spread across my face the first time I heard the gruff roar of “split your lungs with blood and thunder, when you see the white whale” over a backdrop of surging guitar. It’s a defining moment in modern metal, and the best thing that can be said about “Blood And Thunder” is that, dozens of spins later, I still get the same feeling of exhilaration from every listen. The song as a whole ain’t too shabby either, its gritty sludge tendencies half-masked by an accessible sheen, the prime demonstration of the sweet spot which carried Mastodon all the way to storied position in the landscape of contemporary music. One can quibble if “Blood And Thunder” is truly the band’s best tune, and it’s certainly not their most ambitious or far-reaching, but as the definitive song of the group’s discography, it could only be this one. –Sunnyvale
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