For two decades, Atlanta's Mastodon have stubbornly followed their own path, whether it led to chart success or derision by closed-minded purists spewing across social media. Over seven studio albums, a handful of singles, splits, and EPs, this quartet hasn't released a "proper" compilation until now. Medium Rarities assembles instrumentals, live tracks, soundtrack cuts, and covers, without separating them categorically. The outlier is the hooky, face-melting first track, "Fallen Torches," with Neurosis' Scott Kelly on lead vocals (he's guested on every Mastodon album to this point since Leviathan). It was cut in 2019 but left unissued when the band focused on a charitable project.
The set contains four covers, including their 2012 read of Feist's "A Commotion" that was featured on the split single Feistodon, wherein the two acts covered each other's tunes (she cut "Black Tongue"). It's obviously heavier, with churning guitars, chanted choruses, and a filthy bassline, though Mastodon respects its melody by staying close; they offer an ingenious chart on the dreamy bridge. Another relatively faithful cover is their reading of Metallica's instrumental "Orion." Just a shade shorter than the original, it trades in the fractured, prog-tinged thrash for bone-crunching heaviness, while leaving the melody intact. The weirdest cover here is of the Flaming Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton." Only three-and-a-half minutes long, its first half is essentially a replica, then the band spazzes out with massive guitar and bass vamps that duel for dominance amid splashing crash cymbals. While "Atlanta" is listed as a Butthole Surfers cover (and features Gibby Haynes), it was actually a co-write for the Adult Swim Singles (Volume 2014). It's three minutes and change, and it rocks! The other Adult Swim-related venture is "Cut You Up with a Linoleum Knife" from Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. It works as a crazy entry in Mastodon's catalogue but pales when compared to its animated video. "White Walker" was used in Game of Thrones. It's a striking aural portrait of sword and sorcery psychedelia. It doesn’t really sound like Mastodon but showcases their creative potential outside metal's genre limitations. The instrumental version of "Jaguar God" is a highlight, too. Its processional, gothic waltz intro almost breathes. It builds along prog-inflected keyboard and guitar lines before exploding halfway into molten, dissonant riffing and blast beats. "Halloween," with its spiky guitar vamp, is set ablaze when the band enters; they follow a wiry riff progression (that recalls moments on Husker Du's Zen Arcade) into the netherworld. While the live tracks -- "Blood and Thunder," "Capillarian Crest," "Circle of Cysquatch," "Crystal Skull," and "Iron Tusk" -- are all raw and frenzied as hell, they don't really differ from their studio versions. But included here, they work to offer yet another unruly, unpredictable dimension in Mastodon's complex musical persona. Simply put, Medium Rarities is a must for fans.