The Lowdown: The four-year wait for Mastodon’s eighth studio album, Hushed and Grim, felt like an eternity. As one of the definitive modern metal bands, the group has displayed a level of craftsmanship that’s elevated its discography to the top of the heap. There’s a reason Mastodon garnered so many Metallica comparisons early in their career; not that they sounded alike, but rather, people could sense that the Atlanta quartet were going places. After releasing four now-considered-classic LPs, the band took a similarly mainstream turn, and for good reason. Mastodon had amassed a global audience that yearned for their cracking brand of prog-tinged sludge metal.
If the wait for Hushed and Grim felt long, it’s because Mastodon were prepping a double-album opus spanning 15 tracks — a huge undertaking — not to mention working around a global pandemic. Moreover, the album’s themes are centered around the loss of the band’s longtime manager and mentor, Nick John, who passed away in 2018 from pancreatic cancer. With producer David Bottrill of Tool fame in tow, the band sought to create a work that truly explores every facet of their musical language, from prog to stoner metal to melodic heavy rock. It’s a daunting 90-minute undertaking, but Hushed and Grim’s many twists and turns entertain more often than not.
The Good: Opener “Pain with an Anchor” sets the tone in the form of an absolute instant classic. Melodic vocal hooks sink in like the title implies, with a Brent Hinds-sung chorus leading into a flourish of what the band does best. A fluid prog breakdown and solo gives way to effective minor chord passage that’s complimented by drummer Brann Dailor’s flavorful jazz-inflected rhythms and frenzied fills.
One of the best aspects of Mastodon is the collaboration between the various members, each with a very distinct musical approach and singing voice that are generally dispersed democratically across the record. The band has mastered the ability to arrange each member’s creative strengths to maximize each song. Dailor’s higher register elevates melodic passages; Hinds provides a gruffer, smokey vocal; and bassist Troy Sanders falls somewhere in between and often provides excellent harmonies and emotional passion (“Teardrinker”). Not to mention the kinetic instrumental connectivity between those three and guitarist Bill Kelliher.
There’s simply so much to unpack with Hushed and Grim, it’s almost better to not consume the whole package in one go. There’s jazzy doom metal (“Sickle and Peace”), twangy atmospheric numbers (“The Beast”), and an eight-plus-minute prog workout for good measure (“Gobbler of Dregs”). That said, it’s getting harder to label Mastodon’s music with the genre tags of old (sludge, prog, etc.), as they now implement so much of those various styles into the same songs.