Mastodon rocks. I have, and always will, love them. Every album they’ve made has ripped, and they are one of the more fun live acts out there. But most every artist feels the call to branch out during their life, and the boys in Mastodon are no different. Here’s a breakdown of the active side projects Mastodon are involved in right now, from my least favorite (although still quite badass) to most favorite (definitely quite badass).
GIRAFFE TONGUE ORCHESTRA
Featuring an all-star lineup of Brett Hinds (Mastodon) and Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan) on guitar, Pete (not Peter) Griffin on bass (Dethklok), Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta) on drums, and William Duvall on the mic (Alice in Chains), GTO has an overabundance of talent at their disposal. With a sound that probably falls closest in line with that of The Mars Volta, GTO frequently dips their toes into metal, hard rock, and prog without every really settling into one genre. With so many great songwriters in tow, it’s no surprise that the band’s songs tend to skew on the complex side, often at the expense of groove and flow. While their 2016 debut album Broken Lines is a fun listen, it’s not as easy to get into as some of Mastodon’s other side projects are. Even more concerning is that Duvall’s vocals often struggle to keep up with the frantic pace on the proggier songs, perhaps showing some of his limitations that aren’t readily apparent during his day job with Alice in Chains.
With that being said, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra has an extremely bright future if the band keeps working together (I will never doubt the ability of any band featuring Ben Weinman, adding in Hinds is just icing on the cake), and with an eclectic mixture of styles and abilities in the group they have an infinite numbers of directions they can go.
Somewhere out there between space and time there’s an alternate reality where Mastodon came to be during the height of prog rock back in the 70’s. This is exactly what that band would sound like. Featuring Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor on drums & vocals, Arcadea takes the prog sound that Mastodon showed on Crack the Skye to the nth degree, complete with retro synth parts and spacey vocals. With Zruda guitarist/keyboardist Core Atoms and synth player Raheem Amlani joining in on the psychedelic fun, Arcadea explores a side of Mastodon’s sound that is only hinted at, but never truly explored (for good reason, as your casual metal fan stands a near-0% chance of enjoying the jazz-prog fusion sound of Arcadea).
Surprisingly enough, the band’s weakest element is probably Dailor’s vocals (which is even more surprising given his expanded role as Mastodon’s secondary vocalist). Dailor showed he is no slouch at the mic on Mastodon’s most recent release, Emperor of Sand, taking over most of the “clean” vocals on the record and performing admirably. On Arcadea, however, he leans a little too far into the 70’s sound, with the heavy layering of his vocals detracting from his natural ability as a singer.
Arcadea’s 2017 self-titled release received a fair amount of critical acclaim (mostly from the more progressive reviewers), and with the experimental and exploratory nature of their sound it wouldn’t be surprising to see a follow up record from this outfit soon.
LEGEND OF THE SEAGULLMEN
While their debut album has yet to be released (out February 9th), there’s a lot of buzz about this band based off the two singles they’ve released so far. Featuring Mastodon guitarist Brett Hinds, Tool drummer Danny Carey, and…a bunch of other guys I’ve never heard of (including, bizarrely enough, the guy who directed famed Hollywood flop Jonah Hex), the band has already built up enough of a reputation that they played with Primus on New Year’s Eve last year despite only two official songs to their name.
While a couple of tracks are hardly enough to base an opinion off, I’m digging what I’ve heard from the band, with a sound that, while very hard to pin down (slightly proggy, a little folksy, a healthy dose of pirate-ness?) is very approachable. We can give the band an Incomplete grade for right now, but I’m certainly excited for their debut album.
KILLER BE KILLED
Most of Mastodon’s side projects involve the members showcasing their softer sides (mostly prog and alternative rock), which falls in line with the band’s more recent approach to their music (clean vocals, concept albums, etc.). And then there is Killer Be Killed. With vocal duties being shared by three metal legends, Killer Be Killed’s self-titled debut was a smashing success due in large part to the name recognition of the members. With Troy Sanders (Mastodon – Bass), Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan – Guitar), and Max Cavalera (Sepultura/Soulfly – Guitar) all taking turns on vocals, the band’s sound is more aggressive than anything in Mastodon’s recent library (and if I’m being honest, it’s heavier than anything that Mastodon’s ever done).
Killer Be Killed eschews all of the prog, melody, and experimentation of the other Mastodon side projects, instead embracing a balls-to-the-wall, foot on the gas approach to metal, writing crushing tracks that fall somewhere in between the sounds of the three vocalist’s day-bands (and lest I forget former The Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch behind the kit). “Wings of Feather and Wax” is still one of my favorite tracks in recent years, and it’s one of many spectacularly heavy, brutal, and somehow catchy tracks that the band produced.
While finding time to work together will not be an easy task with the success of the main acts for each member (although Greg’s schedule just cleared up quite a bit), there’s too much name recognition and too high of a ceiling for this group for there to not be a follow up to their debut. Stay tuned for more destruction.
GONE IS GONE
Gone is Gone released a self-titled EP back in 2016 that left quite a lot to be desired. Featuring Troy Sanders (Mastodon) on bass and vocals, Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age) on guitar, Tony Hajjar (At the Drive-In) on drums, and Mike Zarin as a “multi-instrumentalist/composer” (their words, not mine), Gone is Gone had unlimited potential that wasn’t reached in the slightest with their debut EP. So imagine my surprise when their full length debut, Echolocation, flipped the script completely and shattered every expectation I had for the band.
My #7 album for 2017, Echolocation achieves the one thing that no other album from a Mastodon side project has been able to do. It’s sound lives completely independently of every band member’s primary gig. Echolocation doesn’t sound like Mastodon, or Queens of the Stone Age, or At the Drive-In. Despite it’s fuzzy, distorted, undeniably familiar sound, Gone is Gone crafted a sound that is wholly its own. Sanders’ vocal work is some of the finest of his career, and his always-impressive bass work drives some of the best tracks on the record (“Ornament”, “Sentient”). Because of the January release date, Echolocation didn’t receive much praise (or attention at all, for that matter), and because of it’s under-the-radar release I’m more than a little concerned that it may be the only record we every see from this group. Which would be an absolute shame.