Many people would say that progressive metal and pop music are mutually exclusive. They certainly have a strong case: pop music is typically based on established structures and familiar sounds, while progressive metal expressly eschews these conventions. Yet the song “Black Tongue,” the first single from Mastodon’s upcoming LP The Hunter, conflates this distinction in an interesting way.
Throughout their career, Mastodon have cemented their reputation among the most respected and successful practitioners of progressive metal. Some might say that Mastodon have brought extreme metal to the mainstream. Early works show them cementing a style firmly based in sludge and doom metal, complete with noise and harsh vocals. As the band grew as musicians, however, their flirtations with progressive music became even more clear. Their most recent full-length, Crack The Skye, contains few, if any, harsh vocals, as well as a 13 minute metal suite as a conclusion.
Have Mastodon officially gone ‘mainstream’? “Black Tongue” might suggest so, at least to some. The track begins with a lumbering yet insanely catchy sludge metal riff; this is straight-up Leviathan awesomeness. The drums are especially of note here, as they are throughout the record – drummer Brann Dailor pounds out an energetic shuffle pattern that’s very driving yet never dominates the music. Sonically, the song is typical Mastodon fare, complete with a sludgy shred-fest of a bridge (played expertly by guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher) around 2/3 of the way through. Indeed, many longtime fans will see this (the bridge especially) as a return to form to the style they perfected on Blood Mountain. For “Black Tongue,” Mastodon have blatantly distanced themselves from the progressive, long-form song structures of their previous full-length and instead work with an A-A-B-A pop structure, complete with a repeated chorus.
I must confess that I really enjoyed “Black Tongue.” It certainly accomplishes its mission: to interest the band’s fans in the upcoming full-length. Most Mastodon fans will not be disappointed; the song does not seem to be a complete rejection of their most recent progressive work on Crack The Skye, but is more like a different way of stating the same text. The listener will note that there is not a single harsh vocal on “Black Tongue.” The production style itself is highly reminiscent of Crack The Skye – clean and nicely mixed (the vocals are also low in the mix – another progressive rock trope?). Yet the song’s structure and riffing style harken back to their earlier work on Leviathan and Blood Mountain. Thus, it would appear that Mastodon strike a subtle, delicate balance between their heavy metal roots, progressive rock leanings, and a unique pop sensibility, making this a solid single that could be of interest to fans of many different kinds of music. Will the single be representative of the rest of the album? Only the release of The Hunter on September 26th can answer that question.
The Hunter will be released on September 27th on Reprise Records; it will be Mastodon’s fifth full-length. If you want to hear “Black Tongue” for yourself, you can check out the official viceo on their YouTube channel. If you like the song, you can like them on Facebook or check out their official website. Peace.