Thrash Hits

November 7th, 2008

Interview: Mastodon on The Unholy Alliance and Crack The Skye

Mastodon are the prog metallers that it’s ok for everyone to like. Selling two million copies of their last album proves this. They have a new one – Crack The Skye – coming out in 2009. Hugh Platt stopped by to chat to them about it.

mastodon studio brann dailor troy sanders bill kelliher brent hinds thrash hits

“I didn’t drink any blood this year. Did you?” Mastodon drummer, Brann Dailor, turns to his bandmate, bassist Troy Sanders. Underneath a chunky beanie, sporting a beard so pointy he could pop balloons with it, Sanders looks like a mischievous garden gnome. Albeit a 6ft tall gnome. “And no goat-slaying, either,” he shrugs.

Their protests of a subdued 2008 don’t entirely ring true, with guitarist Bill Kelliher currently nursing a damaged finger following a mysterious tour bus accident, and guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds having just retreated to his bunk to sleep off the after-effects of an all-night hotel-room rampage. On or off stage, there’s nothing ‘quiet’ about Mastodon.

As Thrash Hits .com talks to the pair backstage before the first of two London shows for Slayer’s Unholy Alliance III tour, the reasons for their excitability become clear. This the first tour the band has embarked upon since completing Crack The Skye, the feverishly-awaited follow up to 2006’s Blood Mountain.

Watch the video to ‘Blood and Thunder’ by Mastodon

“It’s the best record ever made by human beings,” Dailor laughs, “On this planet at least”. Recruiting producer Brendan O’Brien following a recommendation from Bruce Springsteen’s drummer – O’Brien’s work with Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam clinching the deal – the band holed up in their native Atlanta to create their third concept album.

“There’s a bit of Tsarist Russia in it, but it’s bigger than that,” stresses Dailor. “It’s multi-dimensional; it’s not just a ‘period piece’. Rasputin’s in the mix – we’re not going to deny that he’s one of the characters in the story – but I think it’s better to keep the story itself under wraps until the record actually comes out.”

“The lyrics are going to speak to people in different ways. An ambiguous grey area is better in the long run for fans, because they can come up with their own interpretation of what’s going on.”

Watch the video to Colony of Birchmen by Mastodon

What they will confirm is Scott Kelly, of uber-influential Neurosis, is returning on guest vocal duties – his third Mastodon album in a row. “He’s one of our best friends, one of our heroes, and always willing to chip in if we ask him,” says Sanders. “To have someone like that at our side…all of us agreed that for a certain song – actually the title track – it just sounded like he should have his voice on there, no question about it.”

Mastodon are set to return to the UK in December, having been hand-picked by The Melvins (who Mastodon semi-regularly cover in their live set) to play the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas festival in Minehead.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Sanders enthuses, before reeling off the acts he’s looking forward to. “We’re friends with Torche, we’re friends with Isis, Butthole Surfers are kickass. It was one of those offers that ever if we weren’t over in Europe, we’d have come over just for that”.

With 2009 looking set to be Mastodon’s year – the band are main support for the second half of Metallica’s European tour (“It was a very pleasant phone call,” Sanders recalls of the moment he got the news) – this is one Mastodon for whom extinction isn’t on the agenda.