Mastodon's 'Medium Rarities' Contains Gems but Is Mostly Inessential
Published Sep 10, 2020Medium Rarities — a jumble of Mastodon's rare tracks, covers, live recordings and instrumentals — is itself a mixed bag, where some things shine and others don't. Ironically, it's the newest material that deserves the most attention, as the only unreleased song on the album, "Fallen Torches," shows that Mastodon's best days could still be ahead of them. They've risen to become one of modern metal's biggest bands without surrendering any of their bizzare technical, swamp-heavy sound, as the last 45 seconds of this song can attest. Medium Rarities takes a second look at that career of this truly unique band.
Not to be missed is a cover/collaboration of Feist's "A Commotion" from 2012's one-off Feistadon. It morphs Feist's signature indie jazz into probably the most unnerving song Mastodon have ever written, an eerie droning chant with lyrics that will disturb some listeners for days. The five live tracks from a 2006 recording seem like an unnecessary addition, especially when the band's truly great cover of "Stairway to Heaven" is left off, but at least we get to hear Brann Dailor sing his heart out to the Flaming Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton." The instrumentals don't add much either, especially as they are deep tracks themselves.
"White Walker" spawned a thousand pieces of merch, and the song delves into the ever-present influence of '70s prog in Mastodon's work. It's that influence that has transformed Mastodon from their early abrasive selves into the heavy prog-rock kings of today. Some may call it selling out, but those people can always listen obscure cuts like to "Atlanta," featuring Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes, or "Cut You Up with a Linoleum Knife" from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie soundtrack. This is truly a band with something for everyone.
Medium Rarities isn't essential. A few tracks stand out, but the real excitement lies ahead. Mastodon's last few albums have crept up the top 10. If "Fallen Torches" is where we're standing, Mastodon could finally be ready to top the charts. (Reprise)