by Dave Fonseca
The kind of critical acclaim and near mainstream exposure Mastodon have accumulated in the last six years is something of rarity in current world of extreme music. Convention usually dictates that a band receive one or the other, either captivating critics and alienating wider audiences or selling out stadiums while baffling the taste makers. Mastodon seem pretty close to having it all. With their Warner Bros. debut, Blood Mountain, looming on the horizon as the litmus test of the band's critical and popular viability, Call of the Mastodon is the band's parting gift to Relapse records and a look back at what got it all started. As something of a casual Mastodon fan I (I've both the full-lengths, but not the EP), I was a little surprised to find that Call of the Mastodon featured absolutely no previously unreleased material. But, being the somewhat casual fan that I am, all this material was new to me. Basically, Call of the Mastodon is their 2000 demo, remastered, rearranged, and repackaged. And, for die hard fans who have somehow found a way to avoid hearing these songs, it's essential listening. While lacking the kind of conceptual scope that bound both Remission and Leviathan together, this collection still features individual songs as potent as anything found on either of those albums. "Shadows that Move" would fit nicely on Remission and opens up sounding similar to "Mother Puncher" with is dense, circular riffing before snapping into a more mid-paced chord progression. Really, it's a fucking magnificent transition that needs to be heard to believed. "Welcoming War" is another Remission-esque track, but I think it would sound even more comfortable on Burnt By the Sun's The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. Brann Dailor comes off sounding like a hybrid of Moon and Witte on this track, as he lays a foundation for the rhythm section's soggy and fuzzed out tremolo riffing. "Hail to Fire," a song I've heard a few times in a live setting, sounds fantastic with revamped studio production. Supported by another meth-driven drum performance by Dailor and featuring some of the most dexterous riff work the band has ever been responsible for, this song is Call of the Mastodon's centerpiece. Save for the stomach wrenching intro to the thoroughly seasick "Battle At Sea," the rest of the collection can be filed under solid but unspectacular. The band's talent provides for some excellent moments in each of the songs, but there's still a certain X factor missing at times to pull the remainder of the tracks together. The production here, again, is more in line with Remission era Mastodon. Troy Sanders' bass is a real presence in the mix, allowing him to act as the true stalwart of the rhythm section while Dailor goes off on his manic percussive excursions. The dueling guitars are sopping wet in overdrive on the bottom end and bleatingly bright on the highs, exactly the kind of sound suited to the band's transitions. Bottom Line: As a Mastodon fan who's never had the chance to hear these songs before, I'm glad I had the opportunity to spin Call of the Mastodon. It probably is a little too early in the band's career for them to be cashing in on their "burgeoning legacy," and I'd probably complain a little more if this songs weren't good enough to deserve a proper release. But, they are that good. So Mastodon fans go ahead and pick this up, it's a fine hold over until Blood Mountain arrives.