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Like electric-era Miles or glam-era Bowie, Mastodon is great not because it got there first but because it does it so much better than most. And what it does—as if you couldn’t tell from the name—is make ridiculously heavy music. The Atlanta quartet’s first full-length, Remission, is a fusion of elements from just about every corner of the metal underground. There’s no allegiance here to narrow subgenres: The appropriately titled “Where Strides the Behemoth” and “March of the Fire Ants,” for example, both split time between bowel-disturbing doom-rock rhythm riffs and high ‘n’ tumbling NWOBHM leads. The effect is metal writ large and beautiful, perfectly balanced between power and delicacy, dark and light. Even the lyrics rise above. On “Behemoth,” vocalist-bassist Tony Sanders lays down some serious gospel: “Religion is mine…” he sings, “This life close to end of days/Kill and I will be damned/Forgive and I will be free.” And on the chorus of “March,” he gets positively poetic: “Bone grave/Bone engraved/Stone grave/Stone engraved.” Unlike most metallic frontmen, the 30-grit Sanders never sounds the least bit affected. He neither shrieks nor grunts nor gargles; he just gets the job done and moves on to the next slammin’ time change. Of course, Remission isn’t always an aural face-punch: Easing in with chiming arpeggios, the first half of “Ol’e Nessie” is downright pretty. Even when the power chords start exploding, the sentiment is more tender than brutal: “Be mine always/Here for duration,” Sanders sings. “Miss my sweet love.” And “Trilobite” unspools a minor-key melody with clean electric and acoustic guitars before delivering the disc’s most poignant verbiage: “Wind beneath us/I can’t take it/If you can’t take it/Fly.” This is kind of like a mission statement for Sanders & Co.: Rather than putting themselves into one of metal’s myriad pigeonholes, these guys soar above the masses, surveying them all. As a result, Remission is barely categorizable and completely kickass. —Brent Burton