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Published: Friday, 11/18/2011

Mastodon makes it clear: Heavy metal isn't extinct

BY BRIAN McCOLLUM
DETROIT FREE PRESS
Musicians Brann Dailor, Brent Hinds, Bill Kelliher and Troy Sanders of Mastodon arrive at the premiere of Warner Bros. "Jonah Hex"  held at ArcLight Cinema's Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California. Musicians Brann Dailor, Brent Hinds, Bill Kelliher and Troy Sanders of Mastodon arrive at the premiere of Warner Bros. "Jonah Hex" held at ArcLight Cinema's Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California.
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DETROIT -- It's not the sort of band you find floating around the Top 10 much anymore.

But Mastodon, the Atlanta rock quartet with the searing metal riffs and creatively ambitious aim, has managed to carve out the sort of career in 2011 that would have been right at home in 1981.

The band is still riding high on its fifth album, "The Hunter," which debuted at No. 10 in Billboard alongside such acts as Lady Antebellum and Adele.

It's the latest quirky triumph for a group that has enjoyed plenty of them in recent years. Having made its name in the trenches of the early 2000s metal scene thanks to killer chops and extravagant concept albums, Mastodon began drawing raves from cliques not traditionally enamored of cerebral prog-metal: skinny-jeaned hipsters, stylish indie rockers, and even the mainstream pop press.

By the time 2006 rolled along, the four-piece had a major-label deal, a regular spot on critics' best-of lists and a full-fledged career as it carried the metal torch.

For drummer Brann Dailor -- whose frenetic Keith Moon-meets-Billy Cobham style is a Mastodon signature -- the ride from underground to mainstream has been a wild one.

As a metal musician, "I figured there was an opportunity to have sort of a career. Like, you could tour bars for a little while and sustain a living from it somewhat -- an extremely modest living," he says. "But there's no way I ever really thought that any music I play would be commercially viable in any way, shape, or form. I never even gave it a second thought."

The amiable Dailor, who's also one of the band's lyricists and vocalists, spoke with the Detroit Free Press.

Q: You know, this isn't a normal spot for an unabashed metal band these days -- coverage in Entertainment Weekly, artists like Feist wanting to collaborate with you, fans of all stripes checking in.

A: I'm happy that we can be mixed into the pie and still be true to the artistic side of it, and not have to make any sort of compromises to be in there. Because let's face it, the money is in hip-hop, country, and pop music. We're happy to be able to be in that mix doing what we do.

But I couldn't tell you anything as to the why. I'm too close to it to see what that is.

Although we're based in hard rock and heavy metal, all the different influences from the different members rear their heads, especially with our new stuff. It's catchy.

Q: That seems to be everyone's go-to tag for the new album: that it's "accessible."

A: That's just what was turning us on at the moment, musically. It's hard for us to go mentally beyond the four of us falling in love with those songs. We worked really hard to make sure to make everything perfect, and that takes a lot of effort.

Playing something and knowing it's wrong -- because you're making something accessible or hope to get on the radio or make money or be famous -- that doesn't exist for us. The only thing that matters is that we're making music we really love -- the satisfaction of creating something from nothing and wanting to listen to it over and over again.

Q: So what was the mind-set going in?

A: We wanted to have fun in the rehearsal space. The previous record ("Crack the Skye") had been stressful to make and stressful to play live. You're going out to play it, like, "Oh, God." So we wanted to shed the lofty concepts, flip everything upside down, and be satisfied with simple riffs. We wanted a stripped-down version of ourselves. We wanted to be satisfied with the simplicity of the songs, not go around in circles.

It was a necessity that we make the practice space a lighter place to go ... and I think that comes out. A song like "Octopus Has No Friends" -- it's a very triumphant sound.



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