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Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly EP

[Reprise; 2010]

By ; July 30, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

On paper it looks great. You take one part monolithic metal band, arguably at the apex of an incredibly fruitful career, and add their formidably brutal sound to score a hyper-violent, big screen adaptation of the classic DC Comics character Jonah Hex. All of the original signs point to a soundtrack full of the fire and fury we’ve come to love from Mastodon — including punishing guitar riffs and some of the best metal drumming on the planet — acting as the backdrop for a leather clad Megan Fox, and a machine gun wielding Josh Brolin. This was Mastodon’s chance to hone in on their increasingly orchestral and conceptualized sound (see 2009’s Crack the Skye), under the direction of composer John Powell, and to showcase the sheer monstrosity and ingenuity of their songwriting all within the hype-filled world of a projected summer blockbuster.

Unfortunately, none of this latent potential will ever be heard by the public.

After initially teaming up with Powell, Mastodon was reportedly able to flourish creatively, leading guitarist Brent Hinds to audaciously state to New York magazine that the material “was some of the best shit I’ve ever written in my life”, causing Mastodon lovers to cringe after Hollywood entered the equation. Due to an expanded schedule of reshot scenes, and bringing in a new composer, Marco Beltrami — only once Powell was forced to leave the movie because of prior obligations — a group of sapped musicians were forced to re-imagine an entire score, and dictate the sound to a much subtler set of scenes. Bureaucracy, and the ruthless big business bullshit aside, a subordinate Mastodon was left to recreate, which is why it makes total sense that this ‘second draft’ isn’t anywhere close to what it could be. Under the new found supervision of Beltrami, Mastodon remains forever bridled — contrary to every horse in this twisted blood bath.

One redeeming quality is the fact that we are still able to hear Mastodon write music under a different set of constraints, which is a perfect diving board for a band that already loves to constantly tweak its sound. “Death March,” the opening track of this six song EP is an interesting highlight, as it chugs along with a booming floor tom and repetitive, yet expressive dueling guitar attack, making for an eerie nine minutes of drone rock build-up, reminiscent of genre godfathers Earth.

While “Death March” lacks the complex instrumentation and raw power of a prototypical offering from Mastodon, the last minute of “Clayton Boys” gets a spur in the side from a rolling Brann Dailor drum fill that leads into a cascade of heavy riffs from the band’s punishing guitar attack. Though the rest of the album is filled with a semi-diverse sound palate, including shakers on “Indian Theme,” and ethereal guitar wails on “Train Assault”, the band is never able to become fully captivating. With two near identical “alternate” versions tacked on to the end of the album, this EP fails to reach any semblance of true quality simply because the band wasn’t given the means to fill out their original vision.

Obviously Revenge Gets Ugly was never meant to be made up of legitimate Mastodon songs — or for that matter, vocals— but it’s nevertheless a shame that the first batch of songs will never see the light of day. In the end, this an unlucky, and unnecessary blip on Mastodon’s impressive track record, and though some may argue that the band is currently in a retroactive state, it’d be better not to have them in the studio with a depleted mindset that Hinds went on to describe as “just trying to finish with as much patience as possible.” Not exactly the ideal attitude to have going into such a unique opportunity.


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