When listening to metal, you would think the last thing on one’s mind would be “This makes me want to read an 800 page book!” This is quite true for Mastodon.
Mastodon is an american sludge/stoner/progressive metal band. (They’ve also been praised by pitchfork and have a fuckyeah tumblr page so I guess you can consider them an alternative band as well.) I’ve seen them twice in concert where I got hit in the face and got a strained shoulder; nonetheless, I will be seeing them again week.
Mastodon’s first 4 albums are concept albums, each of them revolving around an element: earth, wind, fire and water. Their second album, Leviathan (water) was written about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. It is because of this album I am spending the summer reading a book I spark-noted in 10th grade english class. It’s been named best album of the year by two magazines and best album of the 21st century by MetalSucks.com. It is also often brought up when arguing with people who think metal is stupid.
Almost every song pertains to the book, and with the exception of the first two songs, they are chronological to the story line. I am always against the use of the word epic, but for this album I’ll make an exception. There are 10 songs on the album, but these are the 7 Moby Dick-centric ones.
1. Blood and Thunder
This song is my personal favorite, and one of the more hardcore songs on the album. It gives you a sense of danger. For me, it conjures up images of a rough sea, and some sort of battle, and that’s without even knowing the lyrics. The lyrics are written from the perspective of Captain Ahab. It brilliantly portrays his descent into madness and how Moby Dick has totally taken control of his mind.
“I think that someone is trying to kill me
Infecting my blood and destroying my mind
No man of the flesh could ever stop me
The fight for this fish is a fight to the death
White whale, Holy Grail
What remorseless emperor commands me
I no longer govern my soul
I am completely immersed in darkness
As I turn my body away from the sun”
2. I Am Ahab
This song is full of complex rhythms and opera-like in that the melodies themselves provoke their own emotions. The title strongly suggests that this song is another from the perspective of Ahab, but it is not. The song is based on the first chapter of the book which is told by the narrator, Ishmael. In this chapter, he describes why man is drawn towards the ocean and why he chose to hunt the mighty whale.
“There’s magic in the water that attracts all men
Across hills and down streams”
This song starts out very slow, melodic, and is mysterious sounding. It then alternates between the soft vocals of guitarist Brent Hinds and the growling death metal vocals of bass player Troy Sanders. This song is a characterization of Queequeg, the “noble savage”, a cannibal and a harpooner. The song refers to a specific part of the book where Queequeg jumps into the ocean to save a passenger who has fallen over board and how it proves to the crew he is not the heartless savage he appears to be.
“If I stand around and watch them drown in a pool of gray
When we dive in I can surely say there’s feud with force”
“Dear Mr. Queequeg you have been informed your life’s been saved
You are not a black-hearted vicious mess so it has been claimed”
4. Iron Tusk
This is the next Moby Dick related song. It is about the killing of a sperm whale. The great thing about this song is that it sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a whale killing. The music is chaotic but the vocals sound confident and command-like.
Feel it burst liver and lung
Long and strong
‘Til she spills her black blood”
This song is another one which starts off very slow and mysterious before it picks up. The middle is very unique because it turns into cowboy music right before changing into hardcore thrash metal. The lyrics refer to a specific chapter of Moby Dick “The Life-Buoy”. In this chapter, the crew hears what they think is a mermaid, which is a bad omen to some of the seamen. This is followed by a crewman falling to his death into the ocean.
Falling into jaws
Teeth that chatter
It distracts them all
The Fiji mermaid
She will let it know
Time is coming to feed and knaw”
6. Aqua Dementia
This song is about the character Pip, a young boy who, after leaping from the ship, is left on his own in the sea to suffer of Aqua Dementia. He is left there all day and all night as he becomes delusional and has an out of body experience from which he never recovers. The song starts off fast paced, as if there is some sort of panic. This could be when he first falls overboard. The song soon gets slower and slower, as Pip becomes hopeless and delusional until it finally ends in 20 seconds of ocean sounds.
“An invitation to clairvoyance
It’s hard to stand around and watch while they ignore us..”
“The sun had fallen
Boiling the water where the hydra’s crawling”
“Within the wrath we wait
To be dirt again
There is a flame I lit
I upon high”
7. Hearts Alive
This is the last Moby Dick related song and it concludes the story. The song is almost 14 minutes long and changes styles many times throughout, similar to a rock opera. It a perfect finale to an album which is really more like epic poetry. This song describes the final fight with Moby Dick, the Holy Grail as referred to in the first song.
“Lurking dark underground
Descend to the bottom
Swim below eternally
Into the deep blue sea”
There it goes
I can’t stand
I can’t breathe
Mastodon is proof metal lyrics aren’t only about the Devil or entrails, but can also provide insightful commentary on your school’s required reading.