Spin Control


October 1, 2006



Mastodon, "Blood Mountain" (Reprise) Critic's rating: 3 and a half stars

Over the course of its first two albums, "Remission" (2003) and the aptly named, Herman Melville-inspired "Leviathan" (2004), the Atlanta, Ga., quartet Mastodon has won accolades as one of the most vibrant and creative forces on the current metal scene, incorporating elements of new-fangled underground hybrids such as grindcore, hardcore and screamo (metal loves its evocatively named subgenres) with the old-school primacy of absolutely unforgettable, larger-than-life, catchier-than-hell riffs. And the band is heavier -- and better -- than ever on its much-anticipated major-label debut.

Silly, fantasy-steeped titles such as "Capillarian Crest," "Circle Cysquatch" and "Colony of Birchmen" may cause hipsters to scoff, but the fact is the lyrics have never much mattered in even the best heavy metal -- we don't turn to vintage Black Sabbath for divine revelations -- and the textures of bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds' vocals, which range from Ronnie James Dio operatic to ferocious death metal growling, are far more important than whatever they're singing about. Besides, the intertwining guitars and the pounding rhythm section are what ultimately carry the day, and with arrangements that recall the complexity of progressive-rock heroes such as Rush or King Crimson, a pummeling intensity that can match Slayer at its best and melodies to compare with any of metal's golden gods (Sabbath to Iron Maiden), "Blood Mountain" is a must-hear for headbangers of any age.



DJ Shadow, "The Outsider" (Island) Critic's rating: 1 star

Though he's hardly been prolific -- with just two albums to his credit until now, the startlingly creative "Endtroducing" (1996) and its only slightly less intense and trippy follow-up "The Private Press" (2002) -- DJ Shadow, a k a Northern California turntable and sampling artist Josh Davis, has been revered in the hip-hop and electronic-music undergrounds as one of the most creative forces that either has produced. But cult status wasn't quite enough for him. Davis recently complained to the British press: "I got really bored with people saying, 'You're the sample guy! We have you in our little box.' " Hence the dramatic departure on his third full-length album from the otherworldly, instrumental grooves that earned his reputation.

The 18 tracks here, many of them more structured songs than anything DJ Shadow has done in the past, comprise a veritable mix tape of diverse sounds, ranging from the amped-up Bay Area hip-hop subgenre called hyphy to down-and-dirty Southern crunk, and from old school funk to guitar-driven power ballads. Unfortunately, hardly any of these experiments were successful, and none of these sounds really seem to be the artist's forte. We can certainly respect his rejection of any easy pigeonholing and admire his desire to flaunt any limits on his creativity. But at the end of the day, the old sounds in his "little box" were simply much, much stronger.