In Praise of “Hushed and Grim” by Mastodon (#8 in 2021’s Top Ten)

The last time Mastodon released an album, I was hopelessly single; last week, my wife and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. It has felt as though a lifetime has passed between Mastodon albums, but to Mastodon’s credit, they’ve more than made up for lost time with the release of not one, but two albums in the form of “Hushed and Grim”. For such a long gap, all is forgiven.

“Hushed and Grim” is both a return to form and a departure from the norm, a culmination of a lifetime of work and the beginning of a new era. Although not a concept album in the vein of their classic works, the album dose share a core theme: processing the death and loss of the band’s longtime manager, Nick John. Although not exactly a slate of standalone cuts in the vein of “The Hunter” or “Once More ‘Round the Sun”, each of the songs on “Hushed and Grim” are powerhouses by themselves with nary a moment of filler or B-side material, which is a remarkable feat given the albums 15 tracks and nearly 90 minute run time. Not only is this the biggest release Mastodon has ever put out, it is their densest and most diverse release to date as well, balancing both the prog and radio-ready forms of their signature psych-sludge stoner metal and even introducing some new surprises to their sound.

Mastodon is a rare band whose lineup has consisted of the same four individuals since the band’s inception more than 20 years ago, and whose chemistry and synergy cannot be replicated through any shortcut. This chemistry and synergy is all the more noticeable when one of the members seems to take a backseat. In this case, guitarist Brent Hinds is noticeably absent from “Hushed and Grim”, making the two songs where his signature grit and psychedelic bluegrass twang appear stand out all the more. One can wonder what the album would’ve been like had his presence been more prominent, but as it stands, “Hushed and Grim” is the best of all of Mastodon’s phases and iterations, and a worthy standard to kick off their third decade of music.

“Hushed and Grim” by Mastodon is available wherever you get your music. #7 tomorrow.

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