Like classic heavy metal's wizards-and-demons lyrical imagery, but tired of the same old harmony guitar solos and power riffs? Love death metal's technical instrumental pummel, but sick of hearing lines about the downfall of Christianity? Here, have the third Mastodon album.
Epic and demanding, Blood Mountain blends the ADD-afflicted prog-thrash of this Atlanta quartet's untouchable '02 debut, Remission, with the comparatively straightforward and dirge/groove-driven vibe of '04's Leviathan. Early on, all of the band's strengths are on full display in the back-to-back "Sleeping Giant" and "Capillarian Crest" — the former showcases an inherent melodicism without sacrificing heft, while the latter eschews such things completely in favor of dizzying instrumental freakouts. The performances never feel like the band is less than comfortable and capable in whatever sonic territory it stalks.
Lyrically, Blood Mountain admirably sidesteps the problems and clichés of the concept album by ominously hinting at its narratives rather than spelling them out — the song titles ("Crystal Skull," "Colony of Birchmen," "Siberian Divide") are often more explicit than the tunes' words.
But you don't need to own a van with a dragon painted on the side — or be a full-blown guitar-shred geek, for that matter — to be impressed by Blood Mountain. From start to finish, it's an engrossing, cohesive listen, an immensely ambitious project successfully done. 4 stars —Scott Harrell
Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
Volume three in the Pavement catalogue gets the by-now-routine lavish double-disc reissue treatment. The longest LP released by the group, Wowee Zowee, was a divisive album when it first hit stores in April 1995: Gonzo Pavementites revered it for the loose and chaotic dabbles in hardcore and country that mixed with the "classic" Pavement sound, while Rolling Stone dismissed the band as "afraid to succeed" because of the stylistic schizophrenia. A gonzo Pavementite myself, I agree with the former, although the lack of cohesion does mark the album as a slight downgrade from its five-star predecessor Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. As for the extras? Probably for devoted fans only, but pick it up and you may become a devoted fan on first listen. 4.5 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker
TWO TON BOA
Kill Rock Stars
Two Ton Boa releases its first full-length, finally following up on a self-titled EP released all the way back in '99. The band's sound is big, lumbering and raw, with some heavy drum crunch, dive-bombing guitar riffs and creepy strings. Lead singer and bassist Sherry Fraser has some pipes, too, approximating PJ Harvey's squalid moan awfully well. One thing irritates, though. More than one track includes a childhood chant set against ominous sounds. It can't help but remind me of the way horror flick directors always include some creepy kid singing a nursery rhyme, right before he or she is revealed as a hell-spawned demon. Such lapses aside, though, Parasiticide is an exciting listen. 3.5 stars —CLB
The Unsung Colony
NORFOLK & WESTERN
The brainchild of Adam Selzer (Portland, Ore. producer, plus guitarist and bassist for M. Ward), Norfolk & Western now lists 10 members in the liner notes for album number four. Having played dates with the likes of The Decemberists and Sparklehorse, the band's sound is easy to guess: brooding plunks on the piano, sumptuous strings and lovelorn vocals. The sound is wrapped around literate songwriting and understated sad-sack melodies. It's a well-worn suit, but Norfolk's wearin' it well. 3 stars —CLB
Live at the Leaf
PAPA GROWS FUNK
This New Orleans quintet has pumped the funk out of the Big Easy at a relentless pace. The band performs constantly at the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans. When not at home, the band tours to promote its two studio albums. This third album, recorded during a typical Monday night at the Leaf, is a good snapshot of what these guys do onstage. Their funk maintains its traditionalism by not blending in many outside influences. The recipe includes only the most essential ingredients: guitar, slap bass, offbeat kicks and snares, sax and frontman John "Papa" Gros' Hammond B3 organ. Will Live at the Leaf resurrect the old-style funk for a prime-time comeback? Nah, but it will keep it alive for those who can appreciate it. 3 stars —Alejandro Leal