Classic Album Review: Leviathan, By: Jeremy Johnson
Updated: Aug 11, 2019
A look back on the genius that is this Modal, Moby Dick inspired, Metal Masterpiece. Leviathan remains a fan favorite and classic for fans of all forms of metal. Check out our review here.
“Goddammit, Dad, turn down your fucking Jimmy Buffett! I can’t focus on my poetry!” I was a junior in high school when I calloused my throat with this exclamation at the helm of our family’s Hewlett Packard. It was 2004. Dad couldn’t hear me. He’d told me countless times in the past to turn down the Foo Fighters CD I kept checking out from the library. “I can’t stand that he’s yelling at me,” he said. “It’s just yelling!” The Colour and the Shape was the heaviest album I had ever heard at this point. I mean, the track “Space” still rips pretty hard even to today’s standards, but this isn’t review isn’t about that.
Dad couldn’t hear me and Jimmy kept yowling about beaches and shit, so I popped open the CD tray. A co-nonconformist (Aiden or something) had handed me a burned copy of Mastodon’s first full-length album earlier in the hallway. “You heard of them?” he asked knowing I hadn’t. “They’ll blow your dick off.” I didn’t care to have my dick blown off particularly, but I really couldn’t stand anymore of Buffett’s whitewashed Caribbean Country, so I slipped Leviathan from the jewel case, dropped it in the tray, and snuggled on my Sennheisers.
What was the rest of the metal world up to? Well, they were cry-moshing to Lamb of God’s tear-pruned collection of angst anthems, Ashes of the Wake. Or they were ‘pushing their fingers into themselves and wriggling their malnourished bodies to radio’s favorite early millennium metal act, Slipknot. Their Vol. 3 Subliminal Verses release was making those bashful goofballs rich as fuck.
But I wasn’t quite there.
Cue the the sticky, quirky guitar intro followed by the skull-stomp of a pedal into, “I THINK SOMEONE IS TRYING TO KILL ME!” Mastodon’s sound is resonant on a primal level. Troy Sanders’ voice roars like a torrent or a forest fire or a hurricane. It’s elemental in its fury, sincere in its pain. In their introductory concept album Sanders uses the torrential facets of his voice to captain a nautical, metal hell-jaunt the likes of which I have not heard before or since. The madness Brent Hinds’ and Kelliher’s guitar stylings are definitely akin to a thrashing ocean beast, gnashing as fiercely as it is playfully with Brann Dailor’s omnipotent drumming.
In essence Leviathan is a concept album surrounding the themes and specific events of Melville’s novel, Moby Dick; man’s futile battle against nature; man’s futile battle against himself; man’s eventual reverence toward the earth; man’s acceptance of death. It’s a lot. It’s Viking in brutal principle, hypnotically melodic, and lyrically timeless. Hinds draws from a diverse set of ax wizardry to unleash his riffs relentlessly throughout. And the painful, static scrape of Sander’s vocals is viscerally effective.
Things get speedy around the track 4, Island. The storm does not calm down. The timing remains manic throughout the album, playfully maddening, always seamless.
The next track, Iron Tusk, is a relentless headbanger. Super anthemic, rhythmic as hell. Iron Tusk feels like riding an exploding train into the ocean.
The intensity finds apex in the next track, Megalodon. It starts out swimmy, cymbals, dreamy guitar. Then kicks it up into a signature Mastodon riff, sweet mimicking the voice of delirium. There are some fist pumping lyric bursts, then, oh my god. THEN. There’s this bizarre southern country twangy tang ditty, almost out of nowhere. It’s like we’re slashing around in the water, then come up for like this breezy breath of air. A perfect setup for the plunge that follows. This is Leviathan at its peak velocity and intensity. Fucking CHILLS.
My personal fave though is track 9, Hearts Alive. In Melville’s novel, this is the point where the pale whale beast destroys the ship and Ahab’s crew drowns alive. True to form, it’s one of those songs that just goes all over the place while still remaining anchored at its core. It soars, it smolders, it breaks and rebuilds. Something about the pitch or timing or all-out mania of this song makes me go from blissfully catatonic to human hurricane every listen. It’s also upwards of 13 minutes long, so it’s a goddamned journey of a tune.
Dad came in and asked me if I was okay. The Word doc in front of me, still blank. I was laying on the cracked, plastic tile that allowed our shitty office chair to roll from one side of the desk to the other. My eyes were closed. And I was not okay. I was drowning in a sea I needed to see the bottom of. I’m still drowning. And loving every fucking second.