Album review: Mastodon – Hushed And Grim

Mastodon turn tears into triumph as they navigate grief on stunning double-album, Hushed And Grim.

Album review: Mastodon – Hushed And Grim
Nick Ruskell

There is, so often, a weight of sadness beneath the surface of Mastodon. As often as the Atlanta quartet have used their songs to tell tales of Moby Dick, dinosaurs, weird occurrences and freaky visions, they've also carried with them something much more real. Crack The Skye dealt with the death of drummer Brann Dailor's sister, while The Hunter was a tribute to guitarist Brent Hinds' brother. Their last album, Emperor Of Sand, was informed by bassist Troy Sanders' wife's battle with cancer, from which she has since mercifully recovered, but which nonetheless made its presence felt.

“When loved ones close to us pass, we feel obligated to pay this tribute to them musically for some reason,” Brent told Kerrang! recently. “We’ve got all of these records under our belt, and so many of them are paying homage to fallen friends.”

In this case, the grief going into Hushed And Grim is that for Mastodon’s late manager, Nick John, who passed away in 2018. Knowing this, and hearing Brann explain some of the concept behind the lyrics – a tree into which human souls go when a person dies – the already heavy weight above these songs takes on a sharper focus. But there is also so much more: there is joy, there is confusion, there is loss, and simply thoughtfulness. There is the sadness of grief, but there is grateful reflection as well.

At an hour and a half, it is the longest record to which Mastodon have ever put their name, but it runs that full spectrum of emotion that comes with loss, allowing it all proper time to digest and process. Taken whole, the full effect is not a solemn lament, but a celebration, a fond, loving, at times warm-smiling tribute.

All of this is reflected in sound. Opener Pain With An Anchor flits expertly between minor-key prog movements and knotted riffs that dart around like …And Justice For All done by Rush. On The Crux, there’s an almost angry heaviness, tempered by a calmer mid section, before the strangely uplifting burst of metallic intensity towards the end. Sickle And Peace, in which engineer Tom Tapley’s daughter opens by intoning ‘Death comes and brings with him sickle and peace’, rides on a tricky, picked riff that acts as perfect illustration of Mastodon’s prog end as it undoes grief’s confusing knots, but then there’s the feral Pushing The Tides, harking back to an earlier pummelling power found on Remission.

Elsewhere, between its enormous melody and loss-heavy lyrics (‘Leaving you behind is the hardest thing I’ve done’), Teardrinker is a soaring highlight, while Gigantium brings things to a heavy, euphoric close.

Hushed And Grim is a triumph from a band who have long been the final word in balancing the intelligent and the primal. But knowing what’s gone into it, the things being processed and the emotions being shared, there’s a depth and beauty here that even by Mastodon’s standards is something else. With such a sense of purpose, it is creatively and emotionally florid, a vessel into which so much humanity has been nakedly poured.

​“When you make music about someone who’s passed, it makes them still alive,” Brent said to us. This is true. And when in doing so an artist finds themselves excelling and stretching themselves at every point, there is no finer tribute.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Metallica, Rush, Enslaved

Hushed And Grim is released on October 29 via Reprise

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