Leviathan remains one of the most important rock records of the 21st century. It’s influence and impact cannot be overstated. It’s one of those albums in the pantheon like Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Tool’s Ænima, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power that people will be listening to, and referencing as a classic for a long time to come.
A concept album about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick that captures the fire and tenacity of a band evolving, Leviathan blew open the doors for not only Mastodon but an era of rock music.
More than a decade since its release, the boys hit the road with Clutch for a spring tour, and Leviathan‘s ghost looms over the tour—as it marked their collaboration with Clutch frontman Neil Fallon on opener “Blood and Thunder.” It’s time to look back and celebrate this epic.
Given its gravity, ARTISTdirect spoke to Mastodon’s Brann Dailor about Leviathan and so much more in this exclusive interview.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Leviathan?
It changed everything for us. That’s the one right there. It really is the pillar where everything changed. It wasn’t crazy huge, but it was the tool that got us another fifteen-twenty years of career to be able to do what we wanted to do. Whereas we were sort of the bar band, it put us on the OZZfest. It got us management. It got us on Warner Bros. It led us. It bloomed the band. It really made the band happen and let us stake our claim as a serious force to be reckoned with in that community. It really made everyone sit up and notice who we were. We were able to really start exploring the music we wanted to make because so many more people became interested.
What were those sessions like?
They were fun and nerve-racking. They were just about the same except we all had jobs so we’d have to practice at night. We’d roll over there at night. I don’t know some people would be drunk or disorderly [Laughs]. There were more arguments during those sessions of writing. It never threatened the fabric of the band though. It was just stupid shit. We were young, and it was fun. I don’t remember a lot from it.
What sticks out?
I remember we got the songs to where we could just barely play them all the way through. Then, we went on tour with Clutch. We were gone for like two months. We did the whole United States, and we played songs from Leviathan, getting it ready to go in the studio because we toured all the way up to Seattle. I remember we played the night before, and the next day, we started to set up for recording. We had the record mapped out like a set except for “I Am Ahab”, if I’m remembering correctly. I had put “I Am Ahab” together, and everybody felt like we had enough material to work on. I was like, “Okay, whatever. Maybe we’ll use it next time”. We got in the studio, and we ended up putting it together and recording it anyways because I had already taught Bill. We knew how it went so we just did it.
When did “Blood and Thunder” come together?
I remember Neil Fallon from Clutch came in and recorded his part for “Blood and Thunder”. We were like, “Yes! That’s exactly it! It’s perfect”. It’s the exact voice I was looking for. The lyrics were killer. I really needed it be to Neil. I remember writing it in the van when we were on tour with Clutch. I thought his voice would be so perfect because this is actually Ahab on the boat with the men in the back and they’re going to kill Moby Dick in this scene. This other voice had to happen. It had to be the voice of Ahab. It was Fallon all the way. I heard it back for the first time like, “Oh, that’s amazing”.
How did Scott Kelly get involved?
We reached out to him! That was Scott Kelly’s first time singing something for us. I remember getting that and driving over to the parking lot of the grocery store that was next store to the extended stay hotel we were staying at. We just sat in the parking lot and cranked “Aqua Dementia”. We got to the end part and thought, “Damn!” I almost started to well up and get teary-eyed because of how awesome it is. I remember sitting with Jimmy Hubbard the photographer and guy who was doing video for the whole thing in a car. Before we left, we all sat in a van together and listened to Leviathan like four times all the way through as loud as it would go. We were just partying in the band and listening to Leviathan. Every song, we said, “Oh man, this is awesome”.
What’s your favorite song from the album right now?
I think “Hearts Alive” really said, “Oh, these guys are different. They have this other side to them”. I love “Blood and Thunder”. It’s one of the songs I wrote, and I think it definitely held up. That was the ivory leg the album stood on. As far as the majestic ere of the album, it’s “Hearts Alive”. It just has everything in it. It’s got that beauty and the beast spirit. Both sides of the coin are represented. It’s this epic song to climax on. We just started re-learning it a couple of days ago.