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Songbook: A Guide To Mastodon's Themes And Progressive Impulses, From Metal Sludge To Hard Rock And Psychedelia
Prolific metal group Mastodon are nominated for a Best Metal Performance GRAMMY Award. Ahead of the show, and with their debut studio album 'Remission' turning 20 this May, here's a guide to each eclectic era in the group's prodigious career.
Presented by GRAMMY.com, Songbook is an editorial series and hub for music discovery that dives into a legendary artist's discography and art in whole — from songs to albums to music films and videos and beyond.
Even though it sounds like the product of some urban legend, buried deep in the digital detritus of an obscure Reddit thread, the members of Mastodon really did meet at a High on Fire show in 2000.
Drummer Brann Dailor and rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher were already well acquainted and a fixture of the New York underground scene, having played together in mathcore outfit Lethargy and noisegrind act Today Is The Day. After relocating to Atlanta and stopping by a High on Fire show in a friend's basement, they quickly forged an easy friendship with bassist Troy Sanders and lead guitarist Brett Hinds over their shared love of sludge metal, classic new wave British heavy metal (NWOBHM), and dive-bar hard rock staples.
Contrary to most acts in the genres of metal and rock, Mastodon has never been a revolving door of membership. With the exception of original lead vocalist Eric Saner (who left the group in its infancy prior to any formal releases), the core quartet has remained unchanged for over two decades. It's easy to see how this continuity has been fundamental to their success, impressive body of work and growth as musicians.
With each member of the group bringing their unique talents to bear across their diverse discography — Dailor's impeccable polyrhythms and smooth melodic croon; Hinds' banjo-inspired hybrid picking and wailing growl; Sanders' rumbling low-end tone and gruff yell; Kelliher's steady rhythms and technical versatility — Mastodon's collective unity has created something greater than the sum of its gifted parts.
In the latest edition of Songbook, GRAMMY.com explores the dense themes and progressive impulses that have motivated Mastodon for over two decades — from their molten sludge metal origins to their embrace of heady psychedelia and hard rock songwriting.
(Editor's note: This list focuses on the core Mastodon discography and excludes EPs and live albums.)
Summoning Hail And Flame
To fully appreciate Mastodon's turn-of-the-millennium beginnings, it's necessary to jump forward in time ever so slightly. Released in early 2006 as one of their final projects with long-time label Relapse Records (and before their big-league step up to Reprise Records and Warner Music), Call of the Mastodon provides a scattershot sampling of the band's early years.
Featuring tracks from the Slickleg and Lifesblood EPs — both originally released in 2001 and remastered by original producer Matt Washburn — this compilation LP showcases a proto-Mastodon still in formation. Repackaged out of sequence, the compositions sound less like the towering and imposing beast of their Pleistocene namesake and more like a wild elephant calf finding its feet. However, this sonic adolescence still manages to provide subtle hints toward the band's future potential.
From the thrash-like precision and murky downstrokes of "We Built This Come Death" to the frantic rhythmic pummeling of "Welcoming War," it's clear that Hinds and Kelliher always had the chops as axemen to rival sludge icons like Eyehategod's Jimmy Bower and High On Fire's Matt Pike. Both "Shadows That Move" and "Hail to Fire" bristle with livewire energy that feels almost hardcore-inspired, while "Battle at Sea" and the droning "Deep Sea Creature" point towards the quartet's inclination for distortion, juxtaposition, and thematic lyrical gestures — albeit across a more abrasive vocal range that future albums would wisely temper.
While the compilation may lack the overall narrative cohesion and vision of their later records, Call of the Mastodon should ultimately be viewed as the band's first "true" album — a sentiment Kelliher expressed to Loudwire in 2017.
If Call of the Mastodon represented the Atlanta quartet finding their feet, then their official debut album is the moment that truly stamped their arrival on the American heavy metal scene.
The sonic leap from those early EPs to Remission (2002) is noticeably stark, present in almost every facet of the record: the heavily saturated, down-tuned crunch of quaking album opener "Crusher Destroyer"; the coarse bellows and multi-pronged vocal attack from Hinds and Sanders; the lengthy experimental gallop of "Trainwreck" and "Trilobite"; Dailor's effortlessly intricate drum fills and accents; and engineer Matt Bayles' (Botch, ISIS, These Arms Are Snakes) thick, weighty production.
Although Remission isn't strictly a concept album, Mastodon weaves together thematic elements to complement their towering riffage and serpentine grooves. With fire as a loose motif, tracks like "Burning Man" and lead single "March of the Fire Ants" draw on hellfire imagery to add emotional color to expressions of hopelessness and torment. "Where Strides the Behemoth" and "Ol'e Nessie" channel mythical creatures as metaphors for revelatory visions and desperate soul-searching, while "Trampled Under Hoof" throws back to the "life's blood" of the group's origins.
Yet, perhaps the most grounding inspiration comes from Dailor, who described the record as an outlet for grief following his sister's suicide when he was a teen: "I was never able to put that stuff anywhere. All that pain I was carrying inside. The pain of losing her had always been there… When I started playing in Mastodon and moved to Atlanta, there was a big personal healing. Mastodon had a lot to do with that. That's one of the main reasons that the album is titled Remission. Remission means forgiveness and healing."
Paul Romano's striking album cover — a distressed "Workhorse" caught mid-combustion and near-death, as vibrant purple flames erupt from its torso — brings it all together: fading strength and all-consuming power; bitter cycles of life and death; anger and love; existential heaviness and divine light. Following Remission, Romano illustrated all of Mastodon's artwork throughout their first decade.
Through The Salt, Earth And Sky
Mastodon needed to take things to the next level on their sophomore LP and push the scope of their Southern sludge metal into the realm of the gargantuan and monolithic. Curiously, inspiration for this conceptual leap came in the form of two unlikely sources: the recurrence of elemental leitmotif, and American novelist Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851).
This deep engagement with Melville's "Great American Novel" allowed the group to continue the use of elemental cues as their dominant theme. Where Remission used fire to stand in for themes of redemption and rebirth, Leviathan (2004) turned to the sea as the spiritual catalyst for exploring mortality and the band's desire for greatness.
As Dailor explained in several interviews, there were a number of parallels between the fixated obsessions of Melville's now-iconic Captain Ahab and the band's longing to establish a legacy in the hallowed halls of metal. Discussions among the quartet acknowledged that this pursuit was, in part, a manifestation of their own "white whale," their collective and elusive "sea salt mastodon."
Musically, the record throws the listener overboard into a raging tempest. Opener "Blood and Thunder" sports one of the most iconic and recognizable riffs in the genre, while vigorous cuts like "Aqua Dementia" and "Naked Burn" successfully split the difference between density and playfulness — equal parts Melvins and Slayer, Neurosis and Thin Lizzy. Yet even such lofty ambitions can't sink the record's staggering 13-minute opus "Hearts Alive," a track that effortlessly fuses the lumbering mass of Sabbathian doom with lugubrious melodic undercurrents.
Despite future albums achieving ever higher levels of commercial success, Leviathan spawned four singles ("Iron Tusk," "Blood and Thunder," "I Am Ahab," and "Seabeast"), received multiple Album of the Year accolades, was inducted into the Decibel Hall of Fame in 2016, and is now considered one of the defining metal albums of the 21st century.
With their status as metal titans now solidified, Mastodon used this creative freedom to refine and expand their sonic template. As the band told Dave Grohl in a revealing interview for Revolver, much of the impetus behind Blood Mountain (2006) came from seeking out "melody as a fifth instrument."
For their third LP, the quartet leaned into intricate vocal layering, ambient textures and dizzying instrumental wandering of psychedelia harder than ever before. This progressive flirtation was immediately evident with the double lead single "Crystal Skull/Capillarian Crest." The former moves briskly through gnarled tempo changes and locked-in grooves from Sanders and Dailor, allowing each harmonized riff from Hinds and Kelliher to shine brighter; the latter frequently descends into jazzy prog passages, resting on a lofty chorus and mystic nods to "cosmogenic cycles" and "universal dreams."
Drawing heavily from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), Blood Mountain crafts a fantasy epic worthy of a hefty acid trip, with earth as the primary elemental cue. Supercharged opener "The Wolf Is Loose" is a carnal, riff-centric beast that guides the record's overarching narrative. Utilizing a deceptively catchy hook, "The Wolf" sets up a werewolf protagonist, the quest for a crystal skull to replace a reptilian brain, and the ascension of the album's titular peak.
Bolstered by guest features from Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Isaiah Owens and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (the Mars Volta), Blood Mountain racked up accolades from outlets like Kerrang and Metal Hammer, while also scoring the group their first GRAMMY nomination for the album's third single "Colony of Birchmen" — itself a direct homage to Dailor's love for English rockers Genesis, further shoring up Mastodon's progressive credentials.
Piecing together Mastodon's exploration of elemental leitmotif across their 2000s output, a distinct narrative telos begins to emerge. Beginning with the fiery molten core of Remission, we move outwards from the planet's center to the sprawling watery depths of Leviathan, before stepping foot on earthly terra firma in Blood Mountain. Taking this conceptual thrust to its logical end, Mastodon's fourth LP concludes their early album tetralogy with air or "aether" as its elemental lodestar.
Crack The Skye (2009) is one of the band's most meditative and diffuse efforts, exploring themes of disembodied emancipation. "[Crack The Skye] is a departure from everything we've previously recorded in the sense that we kinda strapped on our aeroshells and departed from Earth for a while," Sanders told Stereogum. "Basically we're exploring the ethereal world. We're dissecting the dark matter that dominates the universe, in a nutshell."
Switching out Matt Bayles for producer Brendan O'Brien (AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots), alongside the works of King Crimson and Frank Zappa as instrumental touchstones, Mastodon's continued search for that long-desired "fifth element" had finally reached its lofty zenith. With the welcome addition of Dailor's melodic croon to the group's already potent lead vocal register, tracks like "Oblivion" and "Divinations" approach anthemic transcendence, pushing their weighty sonic profile into the stratosphere off the back of arresting hooks and sublime vocal harmonies.
Elsewhere on the record, ethereal elements combine to push their storytelling into narrative overdrive, drawing on references to paraplegia, Tzarist historical actors ("The Czar"), occult rituals, astral projection ("Quintessence"), Mephistophelean bargains ("The Last Baron") and sci-fi wormholes. And yet, for all its thematic density, Crack The Skye still retains a sense of playful wonder and emotional majesty, whether it be through the cathartic release of tension on "Ghost of Karelia" or a moving tribute to Dailor's sister Skye on the album's expansive title track.
The Dance Of Death
After a string of critically-acclaimed records and building rich narrative-driven worlds to accentuate them, Mastodon began to feel the need for a creative reset. Following their world tour throughout 2009-2010, which included a European run with Metallica, the band began work on an entirely new creative endeavor: scoring the film adaptation of the DC comic Jonah Hex (2010).
While the band were initially given full creative control on the project, the score and the film itself were met with several production issues and changes in composer, forcing the band to scrap the entire thing and start again. (Hinds even lamented to Vulture that the shelved material was "some of the best s*** I've ever written in my life.") With their creative juices now thoroughly drained and the score's final form — the Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly EP (2010) — is a pale imitation of what might have been. As a result, it's hardly surprising that Mastodon chose to strip things back at the conceptual level for their upcoming fifth studio album.
The Hunter (2011) was a lean and multi-faceted record that pulled liberally from their back catalog while also remixing stylistic influences with a sharp ear for accessibility. GRAMMY-nominated single "Curl of the Burl" plays out like a funked-up QOTSA, with "Octopus Has No Friends" and "Dry Bone Valley" acting as spiritual cousins to the mind-melting psych of their previous LP. Tracks like "Blasteroid" and "Stargasm" embody what Dailor describes as "super-heavy Led Zeppelin," walking a fine line between meaty drop-C chugging and shimmering lead work. The cackling laughter and Moog synth-scapes that open the epic "Creature Lives" feel like sincere Pink Floyd worship.
The Hunter also marked the band's first time working with Californian producer Mike Elizondo (Maroon 5, Avenged Sevenfold, 50 Cent), along with the use of a sculpture titled Sad Demon Oath by woodcarver AJ Fosik for the album's artwork. And much like Remission almost a decade earlier, The Hunter has a fluid thematic focus, shifting from a tribute to Hind's brother on the title track (who died from a heart attack during a hunting trip) to digressions about birds, sex in space, and childhood video games.
Continuing where The Hunter left off, Mastodon's sixth LP once again left the concept album behind in favor of more liberatory forms of expression. With band members namechecking influences as diverse as Alice in Chains, Deftones, Rush and Foo Fighters — all of whom had worked with producer Nick Raskulinecz previously — the band's transition from sludge metal lifers to outright prog- and hard rock advocates feels like a tacit no-brainer.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, Dailor describes the sonic range explored on Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014) with noticeable excitement:
It's gonna be massive and insane, lots of epic greatness. There will be lots of huge riffs and new directions. It's real weird, real math-y, real straightforward. It's up, down and all around. It's a culmination of everything for the band. The snowball keeps rolling and collecting snow.
And yet, much like Oakland-based artist Skinner's evocative album cover — a vivid "psychedelic nightmare painting" of a tessellated cosmic dragon-demon figure — Once More ‘Round the Sun cycles through eerily familiar moods and themes. Opener "Tread Lightly" hits like the Mastodon of old; "High Road" contrasts crunchy, riff-heavy sections with a strong hook and Hind's flashy fret-work; "Feast Your Eyes" and "Chimes at Midnight" offer up the high-octane verses, open choruses and spacey bridges that have become the quartet's signature.
Things also get weird in spots: Dailor's soaring chorus on "The Motherload" is one of the group's most direct attempts at a radio-rock hit — even if the single's twerk-laden video makes for a fun little head-scratcher. Later, Atlanta punks The Coathangers pop up on "Aunt Lisa" for a strange gang vocal section ("Hey-ho/ Let's f****** rock and roll"). But when Mastodon do strive for alt-metal cohesion, as on standouts "Asleep In The Deep" and "Ember City," the results are stunning and richly textured.
At the level of theme, Once More ‘Round the Sun does feel like a bit of an oddity in the band's back catalog. While Kelliher has insisted that the album's guiding motif is death itself — aligning it spiritually with Remission and The Hunter — its compositions feel far too jubilant for this theme to resonate in any meaningful way. Still, this narrative ambiguity is far from a hindrance, as it's still one of Mastodon's best performing records and responsible for the quartet's third GRAMMY nomination.
Exploring The Desert And Darkness
At this point in Mastodon's journey, it might seem difficult to track their intended trajectory. Should the group further dilute their sound and abandon their abrasive edges for further crossover appeal? Or perhaps a pivot back to their sludgy roots is called for? The answer, as it turns out, is to essentially do both: Double down on the dance with death that defined their 2010s output, while also synthesizing all eras of the band into a formidable, cohesive whole.
For example, take the punchy one-two that opens Emperor of Sand (2017). "Sultan's Curse" — which earned the group their first GRAMMY win for Best Metal Performance — pairs Hinds' intricate leads with Kelliher's charged rhythms before bursting open into swelling melodies from Dailor and Sanders. Then, immediately chasing that shot of adrenaline with a mid-tempo alt-rocker, "Show Yourself" takes that Mastodon formula and promptly twists it into grungy, truck-stop radio territory.
Inspired by the brutal reality of cancer — including the passing of Kelliher's mother, and diagnoses for Sanders' wife and Dailor's mother — Mastodon returned to the concept album for their seventh LP, shading increasingly elaborate story elements with real-life tragedies. Unifying themes of survival and temporality, Emperor of Sand focuses on a protagonist facing a death sentence from a cruel desert sovereign, ultimately forced to wander alone in a barren wasteland and confront the grim shadow of their own mortality. As Sanders states:
To that end, the album ties into our entire discography. It's 17 years in the making, but it's also a direct reaction to the last two years. We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives.
Like Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye before it (including the return of producer Brendan O'Brien), this progressive impulse goes on to yield exhilarating results, with zig-zagging riff sections ("Precious Stones," "Word to the Wise"), muscular bursts of aggression and emotional catharsis ("Roots Remain," "Andromeda"), droning atmospherics, colorful synthesizers, and memorable hooks ("Steambreather," "Clandestiny," "Jaguar God").
Ensuring that dedicated fans would not be left out in the cold during the creative stalemate of a global pandemic, 2020 saw the release of yet another Mastodon compilation LP. Cheekily titled Medium Rarities, the release celebrates the band's 20 year milestone by bringing together 70 minutes of previously unreleased live versions, bonus tracks, instrumentals, standalone originals and a slew of eyebrow raising covers — further adding to the quartet's versatility and prolific output.
The unreleased "Fallen Torches" (featuring frequent collaborator Scott Kelly) is a worthy throwback to Leviathan's might, with a devastating build-up and planet-cracking riff as a finisher. Mastodon's cover of Metallica's legendary instrumental "Orion" (from Master of Puppets) is faithfully rendered with just enough sludge metal kick to make it their own.
Originals like "Cut You Up with a Linoleum Knife" from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007) soundtrack and "White Walker" from Game of Thrones are equally amusing: the former acts as a snotty blast of tongue-in-cheek punk-metal; the latter a plaintive and elegiac ballad fit for feuding kingdoms.
While Medium Rarities may lack a "cohesive whole," it nonetheless underscores the band's chameleonic ability to shift between various moods and styles. Notes Steve Beebee in Kerrang, "Rather than adhering to anything so obvious as chronology it becomes a seemingly random, yet highly effective, stampede — but that's Mastodon to the core."
After everything Mastodon have delivered across their prodigious career, it's fitting that their first effort for a new decade is also their most ambitious. Composed of 17 tracks and clocking in at nearly 90 minutes in length, the spellbinding double LP Hushed and Grim (2021) requires a certain level of commitment even for the most dedicated fan.
With Paul Romano returning to provide the record's moody cover — a spindly old tree, knotted with whorls and adorned with spirit animals, awash in muted hues — the band enlisted the help of Canadian producer David Bottrill (Tool, Muse, Placebo) to render each lamenting composition in evocative detail, making Hushed & Grim by far the darkest and most collaborative entry in the quartet's catalog.
As Dailor explains, themes of death and cancer once again dominated their conceptual framework:
[The tree] is an afterlife mythology that when you pass away, your spirit goes into the heart of a tree and then experiences all the pillars of your life in successions of the seasons that the tree experiences. That is the way you're able to say goodbye to the natural world and move on to the next dimension. You can see a green man in the center of the tree — the heart of the tree — and that is our good friend and manager Nick John, who passed away, unfortunately, a couple of years ago. [Nick] has a lot to do with the inspiration of the album.
Opener "Pain With An Anchor" echoes this sentiment with a sorrowful ode to the sting of defeat. Grief then turns to righteous anger on "The Crux," "Savage Lands" and "More Than I Could Chew," while the closing trio of disc one — "Skeleton of Splendor," "Teardrinker" and "Pushing The Tides" (also the band's sixth and latest GRAMMY nomination for Best Metal Performance) — move swiftly from moments of melodic mourning to raging bursts of energy.
Elsewhere on disc two, this recognition of emotional heft results in some of the most striking Mastodon tracks ever recorded. Two Sanders-led cuts, "Dagger" and "Had It All," flirt with the melodramatic, and border on goth-rock balladry with the addition of sarangi and French horns. Epic closer "Gigantium" reaches out for divine inspiration, wrapping Hind's solo work with elegiac strings and violin.
One element common to all Mastodon records is symbology. Forming part of the band's iconic typography and logo, each album features a distinct glyph that denotes the record's overarching theme: sun, fire, water, earth, aether, wood, cycles and time.
As Albert Chessa of The Mastodon Podcast argues, the symbology of Hushed & Grim and its inclusion of the "Zenithal Crescent" glyph helps to conceptualize all of Mastodon's work as a functional meta-narrative:
In symbolic language, the arc-form signifies both beginning (sunrise) and end (sunset), as well as evoking a pair of embracing arms — one that gives, another that takes away… Four figures on each side (past and future), viewed from bird's eye view, gather around a portal (or tomb) — an Octogram, evoking eternal rest and remembrance (∞)… Zenithal means ‘highest point' — thus, this glyph honors someone who always brought out the very best of those he loved.
Of course, at the material level, Mastodon are still just four friends, sharing in their creativity and making heavy music together. Yet, what Hushed & Grim proves is that the Atlanta quartet will likely never be content with creative complacency, continuing to have surprises in store for those willing to venture beyond the music.
Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns/Getty Images
Mastodon's Brent Hinds Post Tour: "I Need To Decompress From All This"
The metal guitarist reveals he is burnt out from the demands of constant touring
Brent Hinds, the guitarist of the GRAMMY-winning metal band Mastodon, recently spoke out about how constant touring is wearing him thin and making him feel like he needs some time off to breathe.
When "Let There Be Talk" podcast host Dean Delray asked Hinds in an interview last month if Mastodon is working on a new album, Hinds explains that he really needs some time off. He tells the host he's really feeling run dry by the constant touring schedule and needs a break before he can make music again.
"All I care about is my peace of mind, which is leaving me," Hinds said. "So I need to stop and recalculate myself. I need to decompress from all this and I need to press the restart button and just kind of reboot myself in a way."
With mental health and self-care becoming more openly addressed in today's music world, other artists have also discussed the demands of working in the music industry, especially the challenges that come with touring. Notably, James Blake has spoken up about dealing with depression while touring. Also, before his tragic suicide, Avicii famously retired from touring, sharing that the demanding schedule of constant shows was directly affecting his health.
“It'll be okay. I can still play music. If people want me to play good music, they need to let me go for a year," Hinds continues in the interview.
As Hinds and other artists point out, it is vital for musicians, just like the rest of us, to be able to take time for self-care. And, as his bandmate Brann Dailor shared, their latest album Emperor of Sand came out of a time when they were all going through challenging times in their lives, showing that making music can indeed be a therapeutic process.
"Some of the closest people to us were in the middle of some battles with cancer and some heavy-duty illness," Dailor said. "If we were open and honest with everyone about what the record was about, then we knew that it could maybe have a positive impact with someone else."
Photos (L-R): Ricrdo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images, Martyn Goddard/Corbis, Pete Cronin/Redferns, Hulton Archive via Getty Images
Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Progressive Rock Giants Jethro Tull, From 'This Was' To 'The Zealot Gene'
Despite being a staple of 1970s rock, Jethro Tull remain bizarrely underrated — they're one of the most cerebral, idiosyncratic and affecting bands of all time. With their comeback LP 'The Zealot Gene' on the way, here's a guide to their 22 albums.
Presented by GRAMMY.com, Songbook is an editorial series and hub for music discovery that dives into a legendary artist's discography and art in whole — from songs to albums to music films and videos and beyond.
Ian Anderson recently released Silent Singing, a full compendium of his lyrics with his band, Jethro Tull, and from his solo career. He doesn't expect most people to seek it out, much less absorb it — and he's perfectly OK with that.
"They are perfectly entitled to — and perhaps best advised to — just listen to the music and sing along, or tap their foot and enjoy it on a relatively basic level," the bandleader tells GRAMMY.com of the book, which spans his life's work since 1968. "They're not all necessarily interested in what lies behind it."
In other words, Anderson's not here to lecture listeners about the wonders of cutting-edge technology, the corruption of organized religion, or the joys of animal life. He makes rock songs, not TED Talks.
But what if you do want to dig deeper than the top-line information about Tull? Anderson put out Silent Singing for the more invested portion of his fan base — those who know his art beyond the famous Anchorman scene.
Flip to even the most obscure entry, like the one for "Wond'ring Again," a sequel to Aqualung's love song "Wond'ring Aloud," buried in the 1972 compilation Living in the Past, and the cerebral, furious and evocative lyrics might blow your hair back.
"The excrement bubbles / The century's slime decays," it goes. "Incestuous ancestry's charabanc ride / Spawning new millions, throws the world on its side." Unfurling its predecessor's purview until it encompasses everything, Anderson condemns an overpopulated, coarsening society plundering its only home. It’ll give you goosebumps if you're in the right mood. It's quintessential Tull.
Wielding a freight-train intellect, a bookworm's vocabulary, and underdiscussed melodic gifts (despite his limited vocal range), Anderson has penned a few dozen tunes that belong in the Tower of Song — from the white-knuckled "Locomotive Breath" to the enchanting "One White Duck / 0¹⁰ = Nothing at All" to the exquisite "Moths." And the more you plumb beneath the surface — the riffs, the flute, the, er, codpiece — the more rewarded you'll be.
On Jan. 28, the English progressive rock titans are back with The Zealot Gene. It may be their first album in almost two decades, but their idiosyncratic vision remains undeterred. Drawn from Biblical accounts and morality lessons, songs like "Shoshana Sleeping," "The Betrayal of Joshua Kynde" and "In Brief Visitation" peer under the hood of the human condition like only Anderson can.
Despite Tull's considerable creative powers — and being a staple of hard-rock radio — they remain bizarrely underrated. Like fellow '70s hitmakers Randy Newman and Steely Dan, the press has pigeonholed them with superficial characterizations. The mordant Newman is most famous for Toy Story, so he must be a cuddly, harmless artist; the black-humored Steely Dan jammed with jazz legends and projected laconic cool, so they must be a yuppie-friendly yacht-rock act.
As for the erudite Tull, perhaps their theatrical goofiness and "Dungeons & Dragons"-style album art backfired in that department. But they've always had bigger fish to fry than being cool. Leave your preconceptions at the door, maybe hop around on one foot a little, and you're in for musical treasures galore — from poetic outpourings to horny musings to sober inquiries into a higher power.
These days, Anderson is the only remaining original member of Jethro Tull. They've had numberless lineups across the decades, and longtime, fan-favorite guitarist Martin Barre left in 2011. But if the patina of The Zealot Gene is any indication, still more captivating work may lie ahead of Anderson and his cohorts — even with their best-known music a half-century behind them.
In the latest edition of Songbook, GRAMMY.com rings in the impending release of The Zealot Gene with a deep dive into every album from the band's still-underdiscussed discography — from their blues-rock beginnings to the folk trilogy to their work in the 21st century.
(Editor's note: This list focuses on the core Jethro Tull discography and excludes compilations and Anderson's solo albums.)
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
Named after an 18th-century agriculturist, Jethro Tull began as a fairly typical blues/rock combo with one important distinction: the flute.
This Was (1968)
Jethro Tull's debut is less the vision of Anderson than of their original lead guitarist, Mick Abrahams, who appeared on a grand total of one record — this one.
A mostly straightforward blues/rock album, This Was features an instrument that immediately distinguished Tull from their peers. (Try and guess which one.)
This was intentional on Anderson's part. In a British rock scene with a preponderance of white-boy guitar shredders, Anderson demurred and took a different tack.
"I wasn't sure when Ian turned up with the flute," Tull's drummer at the time, Clive Bunker, said in their 2019 oral history The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "I said, 'Look, Ian, it's a blues band, not a jazz band.'"
The eccentric Anderson stood out in other ways, too. "Ian was a good performer, but he was a strange man and I was confused," Abrahams recalled in the same book. "I remember seeing him shambling down the street wearing an old shabby overcoat, hair and beard all over the place, carrying a toilet bowl he'd pinched from the Savoy cinema."
As creative partners, the open-minded Anderson and blues-purist Abrahams weren't to be, but the one album they made together is a low-demand pleasure — and an enjoyable product of its time and place.
This especially goes for the rollin'-and-tumblin' "My Sunday Feeling," and "Dharma for One.” The latter features an invented "claghorn" — an amalgam of an ethnic bamboo flute, the mouthpiece of a saxophone and the bell of a child's trumpet.
The most well-known tune here is "A Song for Jeffrey," a harmonica-driven tribute to future Tull bassist Jeffey Hammond that doubles as a roast (before Hammond officially joined the band, he and Anderson were classmates). "Gonna lose my way tomorrow/ Gonna give away my car," Anderson sings. "Can't see, see, see where I'm going."
But Anderson had a pretty good idea of where he was headed — as foreshadowed by that rearview mirror of a title.
Stand Up (1969)
By 1969, Abrahams was out of the band. And in The Ballad of Jethro Tull, Anderson claims the pair were “never close,” noting his diametrically opposite nature: "I wasn't one of the lads. I didn't drink beer or smoke marijuana and hang out."
Barre soon replaced Abrahams; he would stay in the band for decades and perform on their most beloved works. And from the outset, he proved himself to be as eclectic and open-minded as Anderson needed him to be.
"Martin Barre wasn't a blues guitarist like Mick Abrahams," Anderson noted in the book. "I could see the possibilities."
With a simpatico co-pilot on board, Tull recorded their first truly excellent album — one that acts as a Rosetta Stone for their output throughout the following decades.
Barre's scorching lead parts on "A New Day Yesterday" foreshadow the mighty Aqualung, a jazzy rendition of Bach's "Bourée" displays their high-minded purview, and the international flavor of "Fat Man" gestures toward their '90s embrace of global sounds.
"It's progressive in that it reflects more eclectic influences, bringing things together and mixing and matching and being more creative," Anderson told Louder Sound in 2018. "For me, it's a very important album — a pivotal album."
An album borne of exhaustion with the touring lifestyle, Benefit introduced an anxiety and ache to Tull's sound — a vibe that would take flower on Aqualung. The songs also became slippier, more mysterious, more elliptical — partly thanks to a key influence in an English progressive folkie.
"Roy Harper, who I came to know quite well, wrote songs that were so personal and frighteningly intimate," Anderson noted in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "I found it fascinating being drawn into this sexual intimacy, but having no idea who the other person in the song was."
This vibe made it into songs like "Alive and Well and Living In," which obscures its subject: "Nobody sees her here/ Her eyes are slowly closing," "If she should want some peace, she sits there without moving/ And puts a pillow over the phone."
Elsewhere, "Sossity: You're a Woman" is their first knockout acoustic ballad in a career full of them. (Honestly, if you only seek out Tull's quieter selections, you'll still find the essence of the band.)
But most telling of all is "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me." The track was inspired by astronaut Collins, who remained in the command module of Apollo 11 as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked the lunar surface. (Advertently or not, that sums up the loneliness of touring life.)
Despite intriguing moments like these, Benefit mostly functions as the connective tissue between two eras of Tull and the ramp-up to a stone-cold classic.
Photo: Michael Putland via Getty Images
Jethro Tull's sound became increasingly dynamic and diverse, dealing in themes including organized religion. On successive releases, their ambition only grew more outsized.
If you can believe it, Tull's signature song, “Aqualung,” contains no flute. But it contains more than most give it credit for — an ocean of pathos.
Atop Barre's six-note thunderclap of a riff, Anderson snarlingly describes the titular, itinerant character, who wanders the frigid streets in raggy threads, leering at neighborhood girls.
If that was all "Aqualung" was, though, it wouldn't be much — a sudden dynamic shift into a hushed, acoustic ballad goes for the heart. Instead of judging the pathetic vagabond, Anderson notes his loneliness, isolation and marginalization. Most touchingly, he addresses him as "my friend."
"[I was] not trying to imagine much about his life, but more in terms of our reaction to the homeless," Anderson told GRAMMY.com in 2021. "I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel — compassion, fear, embarrassment."
After that momentous introduction, Tull leads listeners through an astonishing song cycle about the rot of organized religion ("My God"), domestic tranquility ("Wond'ring Aloud") and the dangers of overpopulation ("Locomotive Breath").
"'Locomotive Breath' was incredibly difficult to do," Anderson recalled in the oral history. "You have to keep the lid on the thing, like a boiler building up pressure."
Aqualung crescendos with perhaps the most powerful song ever written about the difference between God and church: "Wind Up," where the Highest addresses Anderson directly. He's a personage with thoughts and feelings, He informs Anderson — not just on Sunday morning, but 365 days per year.
In the bridge of "Wind Up," Anderson's incredulity and rage say it all. While he says his spiritual beliefs haven't changed since 1971, his rejection of dogma only seems to stoke his fires as a seeker of truth.
Thick as a Brick (1972)
Is there any more tired rock-critic construction than the "concept album"? Back in 1972, Anderson didn't seem to think so.
"I figured … that I'd give people the mother of all concept albums," he said in The Ballad of Jethro Tull, "by taking the mickey out of some of our peer group who were now doing concept albums that were overblown and silly." (Genesis and Yes, he was looking at you.)
Thus was the impetus for Thick as a Brick, which Tull originally released as one 43-minute song across two sides. After the umpteenth shifted meter and goofy breakdown, the gag wears somewhat thin across its runtime — even with lovely moments sprinkled throughout, like the "Poet and the Painter" section.
But its flaws takes nothing away from the album's sublime first movement, titled "Really Don't Mind” in a 2015 remix and remaster. Seemingly taking shots at intellectual elitism and a drain-circling culture, it’s one of the clearest available windows into Anderson's worldview.
"The sandcastle virtues are all swept away," he warns, "in the tidal destruction/ The moral melee." And if only for the radiant and pointed three minutes that open the record, Thick as a Brick belongs in any rock fan’s collection.
A Passion Play (1973)
By far, the most priceless take on A Passion Play comes from a Melody Maker clip about a Wembley concert, where Tull played this baffling, colossal suite front to back. Think Thick as a Brick but even more scattered, with Anderson skronking on the saxophone throughout.
"The lyrics or story of A Passion Play did not communicate one whit," journalist Chris Welch wrote, horrified, in a piece headlined "Crime of Passion." Even more dramatically, "After the show, I felt uncomfortable and filled with inner torment."
An ambitious program about an afterlife-dweller accompanied by a bonkers stage show upon its release, A Passion Play is a head-scratcher — and its creator admits it.
"I didn't practice enough, I wasn't trained, and it hurt my lip," Anderson admitted in the oral history of his questionable sax chops, calling A Passion Play "in the bottom third of Jethro Tull albums." (Elsewhere, he called it "the step-too-far album.")
Are there decent moments? Sure, like the relieving appearance of acoustic guitar in "The Silver Cord" and "Overseer Overture," and the percolating ending of "Memory Bank."
But at the end of the day, if you're looking for Extravagant Tull, there are more effective places to start.
War Child (1974)
Written for a film that would never be made, War Child is a scaled-back, middle-of-the-road entry before five superb albums in a row. While Anderson himself called it "the last multiple outing of the dreaded saxophone" and "kind of OK," it offers three all-timers on Side 2.
First, cue up the gorgeous "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of a New Day)," a xylophone-buoyed ode to the fragility of life. "Bungle in the Jungle" — which views citydwellers through a zoonotic lens — remains one of the band's biggest radio hits.
Another for your ongoing Acoustic Tull playlist is "Only Solitaire," which marries a gently winding melody with a lyrical purview that's acrid even for Anderson: "Brain-storming, habit-forming, battle-warning, weary winsome actor/ Spewing spineless, chilling lines."
Minstrel in the Gallery (1975)
Finally: a worthy follow-up to Aqualung.
Recorded with a mobile studio in Monaco, Minstrel in a Gallery elegantly splits the difference between multifarious heavy rock (the title track) and string-swept balladry (almost everything else), with an unwavering eye for dynamics and atmosphere.
Its creator called it "an angrier record" and its sessions as "a little divisive"; Barre didn't see it that way. "Ian was at his writing peak on Minstrel," he said in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "I don't recall any friction at all. It's just that Ian took it very, very seriously."
Anderson's single-minded vision paid off in some of his loveliest songs to date. "Cold Wind to Valhalla" is a Norse daydream where "breakfast with the gods/ Night-angels serve with ice-bound majesty." "Baker St. Muse," for its part, is a gorgeous suite about quotidian London scenes.
But then, oh: the time-capsule track. "One White Duck / 0¹⁰ = Nothing at All," a heartstopping acoustic serenade suggestive of packing and leaving, remains one of Anderson's grand slams and potentially the most bewitching tune in the Tull songbook.
A puzzle as much as a song, this darkly seductive masterwork is less listened to than communed with — preferably in solitude, deep into the night.
Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976)
Initially conceived as a stage musical, Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! follows a washed-up character who learns lessons about youth and rebirth and nostalgia… or something. But the real hero of this story is the mixing and mastering engineer Steven Wilson.
Here’s why Wilson, who has remixed and remastered many Tull albums by now, is a magical being. What everyone thought was a just-OK Tull album, he revealed to be nearly perfect. As it turns out, the original mix was just murky enough to dull the album’s impact.
In Wilson's hands, Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll isn't just saved; it's potentially the most accessible gateway to this band. Shone until they gleam, "Salamander," "Bad-Eyed and Loveless" and "Pied Piper" contain sneaky hooks that might burrow into your consciousness.
While the cornerstones of the album might be the triumphant title track and closer, "The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)," the finest of them all is a very deep cut: “From A Dead Beat to an Old Greaser.”
Climbing a stair-step melody with an exquisite string arrangement, this affecting hipster tableau name-drops Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac and René Magritte as it builds to a lithe sax solo.
Photo: Stan Frgacic/Corbis via Getty Images
Using pastoral instrumentation as a canvas, Ian Anderson explored themes of agriculture, woodland mythology and the environment under siege.
Songs From the Wood (1977)
Spurred by the book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain and a relocation to the Buckinghamshire countryside, Songs From The Wood is a jolly, earthy affair preoccupied with the pre-Christian old gods and all things verdant and growing.
Still, a faint thread of anxiety runs throughout, as if Anderson is clinging to the old country as it fades.
"Does the green still run deep in your heart/ Or will these changing times, motorways, powerlines keep us apart?" Anderson asks of the titular, woodland character in "Jack-in-the-Green." (Think Radagast, the wizard of nature from Tolkien's works — but small enough to drink from an “empty acorn cup.”)
Songs from the Wood isn't perfect — Side 2’s seemingly endless, guitar-squealing “Pibroch (Cap in Hand)” is seemingly included here to run the clock. Still, the litany of folky gems throughout makes it a top-shelf Tull offering.
From the springy "Cup of Wonder" to the wintry delight "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" to the randy "Velvet Green," Songs from the Wood exudes giddy, punch-drunk joy at the gift of the green country.
Heavy Horses (1978)
Sure, songs about broken guns and hunting clothes and making love in the woods are all well and good. But on Heavy Horses, Tull took the theme further by zeroing in on animals — several songs roughly correspond to a critter found in the English countryside.
It all kicks off with "...And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps," the most deliciously bloody toast to the housecat this side of T.S. Eliot. To wit: "Savage bed foot warmer/ Of purest feline ancestry… With claws that rake a furrow red/ License to mutilate." If that doesn't sum them up, what does?
Powered by the kinetic rhythm section of bassist John Glascock and drummer Barriemore Barlow, Heavy Horses only gains steam as it hits gem after gem. "Moths" is an oblique love story imbued with magical realism; the majestic, nine-minute title track laments the obsolescence of workhorses amid the encroaching industrial age.
The crown jewel, though, is "One Brown Mouse," a rapturous ode to the banalest of household pests with a dizzying, key-toggling bridge. Drop every one of your defenses, and the song a rush of unadulterated feeling; it will pry open your heart if you let it. Smile your little smile.
With country air behind Tull, something wicked this way came. Stormwatch flips the script on its (mostly) carefree predecessors, zeroing in on weather and the environment. Appropriately, the music sounds salty and eroded, like a schooner battered by a tempest.
After the opener "North Sea Oil” needles the petroleum business, the fraught vibe only unspools from there. In "Orion," Anderson addresses the titular constellation as it indifferently observes the world’s dramas; in "Something's On The Move," he tackles climate change decades before Greta Thunberg.
Sure, it’s all a touch dreary and monochromatic, but that’s part of its charm: Stormwatch is a rock-solid Tull album with a vividly rendered moral compass.
The power ballad "Home," with guitar-monies beamed overhead like the Aurora Borealis, stands out in particular. So does the weatherbeaten ballad "Dun Ringill" — which, with its disembodied, spectral whispers, sounds like a dispatch from Davy Jones' Locker.
Photo: Pete Cronin/Redferns
At the top of the 1980s, Tull sensed the winds of change and interwove synthesizers into their sound.
Is it jarring to see Jethro Tull playing synth-inflected music in jumpsuits? That’s fair: A was never meant to be a Tull album, but — hence the initial in the title — an Anderson solo album. hence the title. But thire record label, Chrysalis, didn't think it would sell under his name.
"Barrie, [keyboardist] John Evan and I all received the same, cheap carbon copy of a letter explaining that the record company had decided to release Ian's latest recordings as a Jethro Tull album," synthesist and arranger Dee Palmer said in the oral history. "Our services were no longer required."
This, along with other factors, led to upheaval within the camp and the departure of multiple members. Taken together, these factors make A an odd duck in the catalog, but listening today, it's by no means an embarrassment.
Thanks in no small part to its remaster — thanks again, Steven Wilson — songs like "Crossfire," "Fylingdale Flyer" and "Protect and Survive" show that Anderson's pop instincts remained undimmed, no matter the aesthetic or context.
Plus, it ends with two great, underdiscussed tunes — the giddy instrumental workout "The Pine Marten's Jig" and capacious closer "And Further On."
The Broadsword and the Beast (1982)
While synths occasionally trapped A in amber; they're woven in far more seamlessly on its follow-up. "We took the new technology and married it with folk-rock," Anderson explained in The Ballad of Jethro Tull, calling it "a good album and full of light and shade."
Indeed, The Broadsword and the Beast is a welcome return to form, with synth textures adding vividness and color to the songs. Despite tanking in America — probably due to the very non-single title track being the single — the record fits snugly with their '70s masterworks.
From the feisty "Beastie" to the irresistible "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow," excellent tunes abound here. But the inarguable centerpiece is "Jack-A-Lynn": a downcast acoustic ballad studded by a melancholic synth motif and, eventually, detonating into stadium rock.
Under Wraps (1984)
Speaking of the 1980s, "I don't think Ian should have ever attempted to keep up with the modern trends," then-bassist Dave Pegg said in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. ("But he wasn't alone — everybody else was doing it too,” he qualifies.)
This seems to sum up the problem with the leaden, electronics-heavy Under Wraps. While the majority of tracks, like "Lap of Luxury," "European Legacy" and "Saboteur," are probably best left uninvestigated, there's one decent tune here — and one gorgeous one — to add to circulation.
Respectively, those are "Paparazzi" — which actually does something angular and intriguing with the dated palette — and "Under Wraps #2," which strips down the instrumentation for a sweet, simmering love song with charming call-and-response verses.
Crest of a Knave (1987)
Crest of a Knave may be one of Tull’s most surprising and thrilling returns to form, but its reputation precedes it in a different way.
Sadly, it's forever tethered to the upset at the 1989 GRAMMY Awards, where it beat Metallica's …And Justice For All in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category. (Afterward, Anderson took out a full-page Billboard ad, which simply read "The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.")
At this point, however, it's time to consider Crest of a Knave apart from this well-worn anecdote. Fact is, it may be Tull's final truly great album until The Zealot Gene more than 30 years later.
The album begins thrillingly with the vertiginous "Steel Monkey," where a knuckleheaded skyscraper worker tries to get fresh with a woman. The obviously sequenced synths and programmed drums don't stifle the tune one iota — true to the industrial theme, they make it pump and slam like hydraulics. As Anderson's character gloats about his high-flying lifestyle, a skyward key change puts you right there — 300 feet above the ground.
Elsewhere, "Farm on the Freeway" addresses infrastructure's threat to American farmers, and "She Said She Was a Dancer" sardonically casts Anderson as an out-of-his-depth Western rocker trying to pick up an Eastern European.
Despite its very 1987 production, Crest of a Knave is a triumph purely on its own terms.
Photo: Martyn Goddard/Corbis via Getty Images
While grunge reigned in the '90s, Tull returned to their heavy-blues roots and branched into global sounds.
Rock Island (1989)
Like A Passion Play and Under Wraps before it, Rock Island could probably vanish from the catalog without altering the narrative. Which doesn't make it bad, exactly — save for the wince-worthy sexual innuendo of "Kissing Willie."
Anderson has publicly expressed fondness for at least three tunes. In the oral history, he praised "The Whaler's Dues," which he praised as "representing something that had happened historically but still had some relevance today"; and closer "Strange Avenues," which he called a "very spooky, moody piece of music."
In Silent Singing, he cited "Another Christmas Song" as "probably my long-term favorite, oozing nostalgia, reflection, and dislocated family relationships.”
But after you throw those tunes on your Tull playlist, seek out Rock Island's follow-up, Catfish Rising, for a far more engaging example of what the band could do at the close of the '80s.
Catfish Rising (1991)
That's more like it: Catfish Rising was Tull's richest, loamiest album since Crest of a Knave.
A return to ballsy hard rock in the ballpark of Stand Up, Catfish remains strangely overlooked in the oeuvre. It's the moment they emerged from the miasma of the '80s, happily remembering what made them special in the first place.
This doesn't just mean 12-bar shuffling — although "Still Loving You Tonight" is a decent throwback in that regard — but outfitting that palette with acoustic instruments like mandolin and mandola, which has always been Tull’s specialty.
Despite not containing their deepest material, Tull listeners should know a few selections on Catfish Rising: "Sparrow on the Schoolyard Wall," "White Innocence" and "Gold Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie," to name a few.
Even while miles away from the heights of Aqualung and Minstrel in the Gallery, returning to the blues’ gravitational center kept Tull healthy and robust into the '90s.
Roots to Branches (1995)
Could Tull have successfully drifted into the remainder of the '90s as a new-age band with a Middle Eastern tint, like latter-day Popol Vuh? Roots and Branches makes a compelling case for that direction.
For once, the songs are secondary to the feeling: Roots to Branches captures the specific moment where classic rockers made "exotic" works during the CD reign. With each synth sweep and reverberated sidestick, the humid-rainforest vibe deepens.
While the album contains more ambiance than anything, a few gems reveal themselves with time — such as the Arabic-influenced ode to jewelry, "Rare and Precious Chain" and the atmospheric, after-hours piano ballad, "Stuck in the August Rain."
Altogether, though, Roots to Branches is one for deep heads, not neophytes. (Unless "dreamily dated" is your jam — in that case, fire it up.)
J-Tull Dot Com (1999)
From the title to the typography to the too-anatomically-correct album art of the Egyptian god Amun, J-Tull Dot Com can be a tough one to defend at first. But if you can get past the packaging, there's very little actually wrong with the album — well, other than "Hot Mango Flush."
The skulking "Hunt By Numbers" is another one of Anderson's (always welcome) songs about cats. Following that is the beguiling "Wicked Windows," which may be the only song ever written about eyeglasses — and despite the stilted drum production, it’s an imaginative beauty.
Named after the band's first registered website, "We did it in my studio and we rehearsed it and played it live in the same way as we did Thick as a Brick,” Anderson explained in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "J-Tull Dot Com had a high-tech title but was relatively low-tech music."
With that clarification in mind, feel free to find a used copy and party with Amun. Still, there are so many worthy alternatives — especially for first-time listeners.
The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)
What would be Jethro Tull's final album for 18 years —Anderson released solo albums Homo Erraticus and Thick as a Brick 2 in the interim — wasn't really a collection of new material. Rather, it contains re-recordings of old songs and variations on Christmas classics, like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman."
If you're a committed fan who needs a little yuletide Tull, it'll do in a pinch. For everybody else, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is mostly worth hearing for the lovely, updated versions of oldies "A Christmas Song" and "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow."
Photo: Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images
After time off from the name and the departure of longstanding guitarist Martin Barre, Anderson and his latest cohorts have made a triumphant Tull album.
The Zealot Gene (2022)
Even though Anderson's never stopped recording and touring, it's bracing to hear the first music under the Jethro Tull name in ages.
Questions abounded upon its announcement: would it be a bunt, like J-Tull Dot Com, or a grand slam, like Crest of a Knave? Would the absence of Martin Barre diminish the music?
Fortunately, this lineup, which includes longtime bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O'Hara, is as valid and robust as any before it. And the album they made together, The Zealot Gene, hits all the marks that make the band stupendous and singular.
For starters, Anderson is as literate and layered a lyricist as he ever was. Still, he's never out to merely flaunt his vocabulary (despite employing verbiage like "sacrum," "perfidious" and "rostrom"). There's a refreshing, human element to the songs, which pull from accounts as old as time to explain how our species got in such a mess.
In "Mine is the Mountain," the wrath of the God of the Pentateuch radiates — you feel His judgment. True to its roots in the erotic Song of Solomon, "Shoshana Sleeping" has an anticipatory, heart-racing quality. And "In Brief Visitation" flips the account of Christ's death into a meditation on the concept of "fall guys."
Just as happily, The Zealot Gene isn't an aural monolith, but something of a tour through Tull's various styles over the years. The harmonica in "Jacob's Tales" recalls This Was; the synths in "Mrs. Tibbets" recall Crest of a Knave; the acoustic suite near the end recalls Minstrel in the Gallery.
Seemingly galvanized by the finished product, Anderson is already writing another Tull album: "On the first of January, I will open my mind and heart to the visiting muse," he recently told GRAMMY.com. "That's partly wishful thinking, partly me putting myself on the spot."
Even after half a century, the minstrel has reams left to sing — and say.
Photo: Randy Holmes/Getty Images
Mastodon reach new levels of heavy on 'Emperor Of Sand'
Mastodon's Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor discuss their latest album, 'Emperor Of Sand,' how bands like ABBA and Neurosis brought them together, and life on the road
For a band with such dark thematic imagery, serious metal pedigree and crushing sonic heft, Mastodon sure can ham it up. One look at the music video for "Show Yourself," the lead single from their new album, Emperor Of Sand, will make their knack for comedy abundantly clear. However, one listen to the album will remind you that, musically at least, they're not messing around.
Mastodon's conceptually heavy Emperor of Sand follows 2014's Once More 'Round The Sun, which spawned a Best Metal Performance GRAMMY nomination for the song "High Road." Despite the band's jovial nature, the spirit and gravity of their new album was shaped largely by tragedy that touched their lives.
"Some of the closest people to us were in the middle of some battles with cancer and some heavy-duty illness," said drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor. "If we were open and honest with everyone about what the record was about, then we knew that it could maybe have a positive impact with someone else."
In this exclusive interview, Dailor and bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders talk about channeling personal pain and loss into artistic expression on Emperor Of Sand, how their common affinity and respect for Bay Area legends Neurosis brought them together, and what they enjoy most about the whirlwind of a new album-tour cycle.