It's the last frontier. I can find many things to love about punk, rockabilly, psychobilly, indie rock, emo, screamo, hardcore, shoegazer, blues-based boogie, lo-fi, power pop, and just plain rock 'n roll. Electric guitars and I are old buddies, and we go way back. But I've never been a fan of metal. I would rather undergo a root canal than listen to Metallica. I think Ozzie Osbourne is a totally engaging reality TV star, but that's about it.
So, for reasons unknown, two new metal albums have shown up in my mailbox recently -- the eponymous big-label debut from Californians Saosin, and something called Blood Mountain from the atrociously named Athens, Georgia-based Mastodon.
I know what you're thinking. I was thinking it, too. Good God, Mastodon. Blood Mountain. The image wasn't helped when I saw song titles like "Crystal Skull" and "Circle of Cysquatch." I conjured visions of the Stonehenge scene from Spinal Tap, gap-toothed guys whipping their greasy hair around in some sort of heavy metal ecstasy, paeans of praise to drinking goblets of fresh Type O Negative.
But you know what? Blood Mountain is really great. It's loud, it's angry, it thrashes like crazy. No big surprise there. But it's also articulate and witty and wise. That's a bit of a surprise. And every couple of minutes it evolves into something that can only be described as prog rock thrash. And that's a big surprise. The Mars Volta aims for this territory, too, but I'm always derailed about six minutes into their fifteen-minute opuses, put off by the seemingly endless wankery and nonsensical lyrics. Not this time. These songs are tight and concise, but endlessly surprising. Just when you expect them to descend into the usual metal cliches, they veer off into completely unexpected and delightful directions. And these guys are seriously great musicians. I'm very impressed.
Saosin take the same hardcore elements and weld them to populist early Def Leppard anthems. They're far more of a serious metal band than Def Leppard ever was, but the same multi-tracked harmonies and soaring, anthemic choruses should win them a big and devoted fanbase. This band will probably be huge if they get the right promotion from EMI, and I suspect they will. And for once they will improve the neighborhood.
I'm still not a big fan of metal as a genre. But these two albums are going a long way to change my mind.