Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Chickenfoot and Mastodon Albums

On this past Thursday, Chickenfoot and Mastodon unleashed new music on the world.

Being a Van Halen fan through many years and many lineups (I even can find cool things in the Cherone era), of course I'm interested in a band that includes what's increasingly looking like the most rational (former) members of that band. I enjoyed the first Chickenfoot album, it was fun, it sounded like a bunch of friends getting together to jam. However, if this band is now a going concern, they needed to go beyond that.

Mastodon came onto my radar with Crack the Skye, which I thought was an amazing album. I can't say I was engrossed by their previous records, which seemed to embrace the "cookie monster hacks up a lung" vocal style that just bores me. Skye, however indicated a move toward more melodic vocals, and truly inspiring, progressive musicianship. I became a big fan of that record.

So, with that history, you understand that I was excited about both these releases, and downloaded them first thing on Tuesday. (That they were pretty cheap on Amazon helped a lot).

Chickenfoot - Chickenfoot III
The first thing to understand is that the sound of this band has not changed dramatically. It's still the same four guys, Satriani shredding, Hagar singing, and Chad Smith bringing the same incredibly powerful drumming he brought the first time around (I'm actually very sad he'll be missing at least the first leg of any tour for the record, due to Red Hot Chili Peppers commitments). Michael Anthony is a revelation on bass here, totally unleashed from the Van Halen 8th/16th notes shackles, even beyond the freedom he enjoyed on the first album. It still sounds like Chickenfoot, but the band, apparently more comfortable with each other, finds places to jump around the map style-wise. Sure, you have the foot-stomping rockers (Big Foot), but you also have a bluesy acoustic number (Something Gone Wrong) and a couple of tracks that inject some real funk (Up Next). It's still radio-friendly rock, but these guys are masters of the form, finding ways to inject surprising elements.

It was also nice hearing Sammy Hagar embrace some lyrical content that feels truly personal, instead of the Cabo Wabo-centered "lifestyle rock" that seems to have dominated the last decade of solo work. Not that I don't enjoy having my feet in the sand with a margarita, but I did reach a "come on Sam" point with that material. Satriani also truly cuts loose on the solos here, which are much wilder and inventive than on the first record, where he seemed a little too concerned with being a team player.

I don't know that Chickenfoot will ever be considered a "great" band, I think they'll always be connected and compared to Van Halen, and there's just not enough time left, for any of these guys, to take a run at that kind of legacy. However, that said, my guess is that these Chickenfoot records will end up being far better than whatever Van Halen manages to get released in the next few years (and I am very skeptical that will ever happen, honestly).

Favorite Tracks: Last Temptation, Up Next, Different Devil

Mastodon - The Hunter
God damn what an album.

What Mastodon have done here is take that more melodic style from Crack the Skye, ejected the concept album trappings, streamlined the songs, and embraced basically whatever the hell they wanted to do. There's tracks of hard-core progressive riffing (The Hunter, Black Tongue), almost 70's-style arena stop (Curl of the Burl), and staggering, unexpected beauty (Creature Lives). The record is just a slap in the face for the metal community, it's pure rock, no nu-metal MC bullshit, with impeccable musicianship. It's so good to hear a "new" act with a serious hunger to play the crap out of their instruments, while still embracing the idea that the song is the point.

The shorter, punchier songs are also a strength. While I was enamored with Crack the Skye, I've had a few people tell me they "got lost " in the album, where several tracks neared, or passed ten minutes. Here, it's get in, rock, and get out. Take no prisoners. Nothing over six minutes, and nothing that overstays it's welcome.

While I hate to come off as someone jumping on the bandwagon of "the metal band even hipsters like," talent and execution are so high with this album, I can't help but fall in love with it. Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds up their game on vocals, while Hinds and Bill Kelliher (how can I not dig a guy covered in Star Wars tattoos?) just crush the guitars. Sanders also really fills out the sound on bass, something that too many metal bands just don't get. Brann Dailor's drumming is tight, and improvisational enough to avoid the "bam, bam, bam" metal monotony.

This is a great band, and I get the impression they're just getting warmed up. I mean, this is, essentially, a "leftovers" album, and I think it might be better than the record it was leftover from. Which is also a strength, they knew what needed to be on Crack the Skye, to fulfill the concept, and what could be filed for later. That we got a second monster album out of it is gravy.

Favorite Tracks: Curl of the Burl, Blasteroid, Dry Bone Valley, Creature Lives

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