For Fans Of is a column that takes one very well-known and popular band that our writers and readers are fans of, and then our staff write about a small group of lesser-known bands that do similar things and who we think you all might like as well and give a listen to. Check out past entries here.
When thinking of bands to focus on for this column, not only do we have to come up with ones who happen to be “big” in the sense of popular or critical acclaim, but we need to select bands whose reach and influence can be felt across a wide field. Certainly if you’re looking at metal post-2000, few names can reasonably trump the qualifications of Mastodon. Having emerged from the vibrant Savannah, GA scene and helping turn it into a veritable boiling cauldron of fantastic talent, Mastodon became the face of progressive metal to much of the world, garnering plenty of crossover coverage and appeal. Over the course of 6 studio albums, they’ve touched upon a wide array of sonic territory from sludge to thrash to stoner to progressive and, more recently, alternative and pop-inspired heavy rock (which, to be fair, they managed to do quite well). And while fans can and will argue for days on end about which era of Mastodon is the best (for this editor, it’s all about dat “Blood and Thunder”), it would be difficult to argue that the band haven’t had a major impact on metal and heavy music as a whole and have inspired many individuals in the process.
Here’s just a small sampling of bands we feel fans of Mastodon will enjoy, though it should be qualified that most of these are very much focused on Remission-era Mastodon. With that in mind, here are our hand-picked recommendations for fans of Mastodon! If there are any bands you’d add to the list, sound off in the comments!
Do you long for the deep, rolling expenses of the earlier Mastodon releases? Those riffs whose fuzz goes on for miles while still maintaining their speed and aggressiveness? I’m here to tell you that the spirit of that sound lives on in the form of Earthship. The trio include a husband and wife on the guitar and bass and an ex-The Ocean drummer on the kit. What they produce bellows, screams and kicks through blistering riffs and exquisitely managed vocals in the style of Blood Mountain or Leviathan. Their 2014 album, Withered, might be short but it covers a whole lot of ground. Earthship are no one trick pony: beyond the straight forward aggression of their composition, they also offer impressive dynamics which give the album a much fuller and more fulfilled feeling that albums twice its length. At the end of the day though, this is for fans of Mastodons that miss the roiling waves, churning depths and high winds of their earlier releases. You spin these guys for the exhilaration of a crushing riff well done rather than progressive tendencies or complex instrumental interactions.
Recommended Album: Withered (2014)
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Personally, one of the things I’ve always absolutely loved about Mastodon, especially early Mastodon (I’m really talking their first three here), is their creative use of melodic lines that cut through the dense sludge. Take, for instance, the track “Where Strides The Behemoth”: the relatively-clean leads that introduce the track and reappear constantly help shape the band’s formation and provide a sense of cohesion to the rolling, fast-paced song. Abrams has found the key to providing this in spades: they take the early-Mastodon formula of quick, sharp sludge and bring it to a new level of awesome by making it more melodic and adding a strong blues-rock sensibility. This cross of the two ideas: Mastodonian melodies atop bluesy sludge can only be described as a damn good time. Straddling doomy and sludgy perfectly, Abrams will give anyone a swift kick in the ass with their fresh, updated take on the sound Mastodon broke through with in 2002.
Recommended Album: February EP (2014), but their new album, Lust. Love. Loss. comes out on June 16th, so keep an eye out!
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This group of Los Angeles musicians play a brand of music that will appeal to Mastodon fans of all ages. Their sound is rooted in the sludge and mire that early Mastodon reeks of but Colombian Necktie love to throw in a big, fuzzy classic rock riff too. Their debut LP Twilight Upon Us was an absolute must have last year but went by fairly unnoticed. The record is brash and beautiful in equal hand fulls. While the ‘don have delved deep into prog rock in recent years, they have always retained that urgency and pathos which keeps us all coming back. Colombian Necktie match this with aplomb. In all of it’s glory, “Kevin’s Song” is the band’s masterpiece, one written in honor of a lost friend and band mate. Horns and mariachi guitars are embellishments on a sombre track, elegant in execution and anthemic at it’s core. Not necessarily the first choice for fans of Mastodon, this band deserve far more attention than they have been given. Sludge is very rarely this gorgeous.
Recommended Album: Twilight Upon Us (2014)
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An eclectic range of influences creep into Kownloon Walled City’s brand of noisy yet melodic sludge, all of which parallels with Mastodon’s expansive and detail-oriented take on the genre. On the surface, KWC’s riffs and vocals are reminiscent of Diamond Eyes era Deftones, and their careful accents of guitar noise and accenting holds a very post-hardcore edge, specifically in the tradition of Drive Like Jehu and Fugazi. But at their core, KWC’s sound draws from somewhere else entirely; a place where genre tags are recognized as arbitrary. Through ever tortured vocal and and pleading guitar riff, a deep-seeded emotional core springs forth which pleads for the listener’s recognition and empathy. In a way, KWC capture the essence of the actual Kowloon Walled City: an enormous testament to self-deprecating vice and pain now rendered into a ghost town of somber remembrance of what havoc can be reaped if our desires are allowed to fester unchallenged.
Recommended Album: Container Ships (2012)
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Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Keelhaul were perhaps one of the most underrated bands on Hydra Head’s esteemed roster. They’ve been in limbo for the past six years and have remained relatively quiet, playing a show here and there, but they have four equally awesome albums under their belt that feature some of the best math-y sludge metal you’ll ever hear.
It’s hard to classify exactly the kind of music Keelhaul play, but it sounds something like Remission-era Mastodon fused with free-form jazz. It’s been six years since Keelhaul’s most recent album, Keelhaul’s Triumphant Return to Obscurity, was released, and this album arguably showcases Keelhaul at their finest. Guitarists Dana Embrose and Chris Smith steamroll their way through insane, unpredictable, yet ridiculously catchy riffs, while the rhythm section comprised of bassist Aaron Dallison and drummer Will Scharf effortlessly lock into complex rhythms and accentuate the music with jazz-like flourishes, not unlike the way Elvin Jones and John Coltrane used to do. However, despite their highly technical nature, Keelhaul never sacrifice any of their uncanny ability to rock out in a balls-to-the-wall sort of way, and they do so with sludgy finesse. Highly recommended.
Recommended Album: Keelhaul’s Triumphant Return to Obscurity (2009)
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It always seems like Sweden is always a few years ahead of the curve when it comes to all things metal. While the members of Mastodon were still in previous bands or just beginning to put out their first demos, Kristinehamn’s Burst were already developing their own style of progressive and sludgy metal and infusing it with a strong appreciation of hardcore (something that was definitely present on Remission). Though the band decided to call it a day in 2009, they left us with five excellent albums that perfectly meld angular and crushing guitars with unpredictable songwriting and an ample amount of rhythmic chops. Caught somewhere between their labelmates Mastodon and High on Fire and infused with a healthy dose of 70s psychedelia, their sound is still almost instantly recognizable due to the incredibly unique vocals of Linus Jägerskog and Robert Reinholdz. They’re as dynamic as the instrumentals themselves and really help the band push their already-impressive knack for shifts in style at the drop of a hat. Never too flashy, never too slow and never too self-indulgent, Burst are one of the most underrated groups in the post-metal movement that’s become so beloved over the past two decades. The fact that the group is almost impossible to definitively classify is perhaps their greatest asset.
Recommended Album: Lazarus Bird (2008)
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Though a lot of bands are keen to emulate Mastodon’s early days, not many can say they were performing Mastodon-brand progressive metal before even Mastodon themselves were doing it. Enter Zebulon Pike, an instrumental quartet from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Five albums deep as of last year, the band have remained in relative obscurity, doing small tours here and there, and even still managing to list a MySpace page on their official website. Don’t let the lack of visual flair fool you, however. The Minnesota natives bring the riffs song after song. The band draw clear recollections of acts like Baroness, Red Fang, Kylesa, and, of course, Mastodon themselves. Their 2006 full-length, II: The Deafening Twilight, sonically falls somewhere right in between Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye, even recalling the thick riffing of Leviathan and Call of the Mastodon in several spots. A band often overlooked to the world, but not to be overlooked today!
Recommended Album: II: The Defeaning Twilight (2006)