MASTODON albums ranked: from worst to best | Revolver

MASTODON albums ranked: from worst to best

A critical look back at the Atlanta band's imposing catalog
mastodon HUBBARD 2006 blood mountain, Jimmy Hubbard
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

Few bands in the heavy-music world can match the ambition and vision of Mastodon.

Since 2000, the Atlanta-born quartet have amassed a discography that fuses slow-churning sludge with interstellar prog, adding a good touch of blues boogie and hard-rock swagger into the mix for good measure. The sound that they've developed and honed over the course of eight full-lengths (and a raft of EPs) has given them ample room to explore lyrical topics both fantastical and devastatingly personal. Along the way, Mastodon's fan base has only continued to grow, drawing in headbangers and chin-scratchers alike.

Ranking the group's discography of studio albums was never going to be an easy task, and if you ask us again next week, this list might look completely different. That says everything about the consistency and strength of Mastodon's recorded work. There are no "lows," but the highs are glorious.

8. Once More 'Round the Sun

The artwork for Mastodon's sixth studio album represents the music well, promising their signature brawny prog-metal sound but rendered in brighter, more accessible colors. A fine idea on paper, and one that resulted in some strong material like the mosh-ready "Chimes at Midnight" and the muscular groove-metal of "The Motherload."

But on a whole, this opus lacks the definitive vision of the rest of their catalog; it's not their catchiest, their heaviest, their weirdest or their most conceptually dense. It's just another Mastodon record. Good, but not great. 

7. The Hunter

Leaving the existential concepts and cosmic themes out of their songwriting is always a dicey proposition for Mastodon.

Case in point is album No. 5 from the band, which scaled back the grandiose song structures and fantastical lyrics in favor of straightforward riff-rock and at least one song based on an episode of Intervention ("Curl of the Burl"). Portions of this record are a total hoot (especially "Blasteroid" and the moving title track, an ode to Brent Hinds' brother who died during the sessions).

But it would take Mastodon a couple more records to really nail the lighter, less metal side of their sonic spectrum.

6. Hushed and Grim

How much Mastodon is too much Mastodon?

Every fan of the band likely has their own answer to that question, but their most recent full-length is certainly a contender. The band's first double album, 2021's Hushed and Grim, clocks in at nearly 90 minutes and sees the group sprawling their capable hands over a vast array of sonic ground — shoegazy metal, solemn thrash, misty psych-rock and keyboard-heavy balladry akin to Yes.

It's an impressive body of work, but its shaggy runtime and high supply of twisted time signatures can be hard to get through in one sitting.

5. Remission

The brilliance of Mastodon was evident right from the start of the band's recording career, which kicked off in 2001, first with the Lifesblood EP then with the Remission full-length. Building an album around the theme of fire and that element's ability to both destroy and foster new growth, the quartet flexed their musical muscles through knotted epics like "Ol'e Nessie" and the shimmering textures in closing instrumental "Elephant Man."

It's by far the heaviest, rawest and sludgiest album in Mastodon's repertoire, and for that reason it's probably too gnarly for many of their latter-day fans. For the moshers in Mastodon's fan base, "March of the Fire Ants" never gets old.

4. Blood Mountain

Signing with a major label (Reprise) seemed to give Mastodon the vote of confidence that they needed to follow up the ambitious and brilliant Leviathan. Hence, 2006's Blood Mountain is another ambitious effort that tracks a journey up the titular peak involving terrifying creatures — like the one-eyed Cysquatch — and the dangers of being exposed to the elements.

Along with the high-concept songwriting, the group employed more clean singing (including some by Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme) than on their previous work, which served as a stellar contrast to the growling assault of their thrash-prog playstyle.

3. Emperor of Sand

Around the time Mastodon set about writing 2017's Emperor of Sand, several of their friends and family members were fighting cancer. It inspired the group to explore mortality the only way they knew how: writing a suite of songs about a person forced to wander through the desert after receiving a death sentence.

That image, and the band's more lucid, grunge-inflected music, were springboards for drummer-lyricist Brann Dailor to ask vital questions about how humans use and often abuse their short time on this planet.

Fans really connected with this one, and it finally won Mastodon their first Grammy (for "Sultan's Curse").

2. Crack the Skye

After writing albums centered on the other core elements of fire, water and earth, Mastodon completed the cycle with 2009's Crack The Skye, building these seven songs around the theme of "air."

The record's title and title track have an especially poignant origin, as Skye was the name of Dailor's younger sister, who died by suicide when they were teens. If that song is the beating heart of this album, it's connected to a network of wonderfully complex material that explores astral projection, a murder plot involving Rasputin, and cosmic wormholes — all to the tune of Mastodon's most brilliantly beautiful prog-metal compositions to date.

1. Leviathan

Fans who came in during Remission couldn't have been prepared for what Mastodon chose to do as their second act: a sprawling concept album based loosely on Herman Melville's groundbreaking novel Moby Dick.

Leviathan cemented the band as four of the most imposing musicians in metal, as they built songs as massive as the white whale on the cover and as sharp as the harpoons being stuck feebly into the great beast's sides.

Nearly 20 years after its release, Leviathan has retained every bit of its bludgeoning power while its mathematical musical structure continues to feel like an unsolvable equation. It's the best Mastodon album — so far.