Formation, early years and Remission (2000–2003)
Mastodon was formed on January 13, 2000, after drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kelliher moved to Atlanta from Victor, New York, and met bassist/singer Troy Sanders and guitarist/singer Brent Hinds at a High on Fire show. They discovered they had a mutual appreciation of sludge metal bands Melvins and Neurosis, heavy metal legends Iron Maiden, and 1970s hard-rockers Thin Lizzy, and shortly thereafter formed Mastodon. In an interview in 2009, Kelliher revealed that the first time Hinds attended a practice with the band, he "showed up so wasted he couldn't play".
The band recorded a demo in 2000, which featured Eric Saner on vocals. Saner left the band for personal reasons after just a couple of months. After recording a four-song demo and a 7-inch picture disc through Reptilian Records, Mastodon landed a record deal with Relapse Records in 2001. Mastodon released the EP Lifesblood in 2001, and its first full-length album, Remission, in 2002, with the singles "March of the Fire Ants" and "Crusher/Destroyer" (which was also featured on Tony Hawk's Underground). On each of Mastodon's first three full-length albums, the last track was an instrumental composition with a title that related to the Elephant Man.
Leviathan and Call of the Mastodon (2004–2005)
Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor in 2004
The band's second full-length album, Leviathan, was released in 2004. It is a concept album loosely based on Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick. The band received critical acclaim for Leviathan and the record was named album of the year by Kerrang! and Terrorizer. "Blood and Thunder," which featured Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon, was chosen as one of the most important recordings of the decade by National Public Radio in November 2009, and that the entire album epitomizes " a phenomenal decade for metal". Leviathan also ranked second in a list by Metal Hammer of the best albums of 2004.
The band went on tour in support of the album, playing throughout North America and Europe in The Unholy Alliance tour along with Slayer and Lamb of God and later on with Slipknot.
"Iron Tusk", the fifth track on the album, can be found on the soundtrack of the skateboarding video game Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and in 2K Sports video game NHL 2K9. "Blood and Thunder" is featured in the video games Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Saints Row. "Blood and Thunder" was added as a playable track on all instruments in Guitar Hero: Metallica and was featured in Japanese music games Drummania V2 and Guitarfreaks V2. It has also been released as downloadable content for Rock Band 3, with Pro Guitar support also available at extra cost.
Leviathan was followed by the 2006 release of Call of the Mastodon, a remastered collection of the band's first nine songs, and a DVD of interviews and concert footage called The Workhorse Chronicles that includes material from the band's early days as a five-piece. The band has stated that they consider "Call of the Mastodon" to be their first studio album even though it was the third to be released. These two releases were the band's last for Relapse Records, as they would later go on to sign with Warner Bros. Mastodon also recorded a cover version of Metallica's "Orion" for a 2006 Kerrang! tribute album marking the twentieth anniversary of the release of Master of Puppets.
Blood Mountain (2006–2008)
Their third studio album, Blood Mountain, was released on September 12, 2006, followed by a tour to support the album along with Tool in Europe and Slayer in Australia and New Zealand. The Mars Volta frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala lent his vocals to the track "Siberian Divide". Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme contributed vocals for the song "Colony of Birchmen".
The band performed the song "Colony of Birchmen" on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien on November 1, their first appearance on network television, to a viewing audience of around 2.4 million people. This song was also featured in the video games Saints Row 2 and Rock Band 2.
The band's first single off Blood Mountain, "Capillarian Crest," was ranked number 27 in Rolling Stone Magazine's Top 100 Songs of 2006. The album itself was ranked 9th in the magazine's best albums of the year chart. The UK's Metal Hammer voted it the best album of 2006 in its end of year critic's poll. The album was voted in at No. 5 by Kerrang! in their end of year list, No. 6 on PopMatters' Best Albums of 2006, and No. 1 on The Best Metal Albums of 2006. About.com rated it the top metal album of 2006. Blood Mountain was also named best album of 2006 in the 10th anniversary birthday edition (issue 119) of Bizarre. It also came in at No. 2 on Revolver magazine's list of the top albums of 2006. The band was named Artist Of The Month for March 2007 at Gametap.com.
The band had been touring and playing numerous shows during this time. Mastodon joined Against Me!, and Cursive for a North American tour, with Planes Mistaken for Stars opening for one leg and These Arms Are Snakes the other. A performance in Milwaukee had to be canceled due to illness on the part of Brent Hinds. Mastodon would play the Hove Festival in Norway as well as on the Main Stage of the Download Festival and then the Pitchfork Music Festival. During this time the band opened for Metallica on the Sick of the Studio tour. The band also played at the 2007 Dubai Desert Rock, the 2008 Bonnaroo Music festivals, and the inaugural Mayhem Festival. Mastodon then toured with Slayer, Trivium, Lamb of God and several other metal bands in 2008 for The Unholy Alliance tour 2008.
The band performed "Colony of Birchmen" at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards live with Josh Homme. After the televised performance, Brent Hinds was reported to have sustained a severe head injury. Blabbermouth.net initially reported that it was the result of a brutal assault, but the police report later suggested that an inebriated Hinds had started a fight with System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian and vocalist William Hudson, also known as Reverend William Burke of Achozen.
"Sleeping Giant" was made available as a downloadable song for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, "Colony of Birchmen" was included on Harmonix's Rock Band 2 and also volition's Saints row 2, and "Divinations" was featured in Madden NFL 10 and Saints Row: The Third. Mastodon contributed a cover version of Harry Nilsson's "One" to the video game Army of Two's advertisement campaign. The band members are fans of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and in 2007, Mastodon performed the opening song of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, "Cut You Up with a Linoleum Knife".
Crack the Skye and Live at the Aragon (2009–2010)
Brent Hinds performing in 2009.
Crack the Skye was released on March 24, 2009, as a normal version and a deluxe version (which includes all songs in instrumental versions as well as their normal versions) and entered the Billboard 200 at number 11 a week later. The album is produced by Brendan O'Brien and Scott Kelly of Neurosis returns as a guest musician on the title-track.
In a MusicRadar interview, guitarist Bill Kelliher confirmed the album is about an "out-of-body experience", and looks at the concepts of astral travel, wormholes, Stephen Hawking's theories and the spiritual realm.
The album follows a quadriplegic who learns astral projection. On his journey he flies too close to the sun, burning his umbilical cord which connects him to his body, and flies into oblivion. At the same time in Czarist Russia, Rasputin and his cult were channeling spirits and brought the quadriplegic to their time. He explains his situation and foretells the assassination of Rasputin. Inevitably Rasputin is assassinated and Rasputin guides him back to his body. The band had debuted three new tracks at the Bonnaroo Music Festival, but did not play any more live shows before the album's release, due to fears of internet distribution and wanting to play the songs to the right audience. Drummer Brann Dailor sings lead vocals for the verses of the song "Oblivion". Mastodon was a headliner at the Scion Rock Fest on February 28, 2009, performing a set containing three tracks from Crack the Skye, the first time these songs were played since being finalized and recorded. On May 15, 2009, Mastodon performed a shortened version of "Oblivion" on the Late Show with David Letterman.
In order to support their new album, Mastodon toured with Metallica on the latter part of the 2009 European leg of their World Magnetic Tour. In Fall of 2009, they embarked with Dethklok on the "Adult Swim Presents" tour along with Converge and High on Fire. On October 17, 2009, they recorded a DVD documenting the tour at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Mastodon played the alternative music festival Big Day Out, touring across Australia and New Zealand in January and February 2010.
On October 29, 2009, they performed "Divinations" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
On November 4, 2009, Mastodon released their second EP, entitled Oblivion.
Teaming up with bands Deftones and Alice in Chains, Mastodon went on tour in September 2010 in the United States and Canada. The tour was called Blackdiamondskye, a portmanteau of the three bands' latest albums (Black Gives Way to Blue, Diamond Eyes, and Crack the Skye).
Film director Jimmy Hayward contacted the band during their 2009 tour of Europe and expressed how much listening to Blood Mountain had helped his creative process while finishing a screenplay, and he offered Mastodon a chance to score the film he had been working on - Jonah Hex. In an interview with Paste magazine, bassist Troy Sanders said that Hayward "called us out of the blue as a fan. It was the most beautiful, authentic way to collaborate." Mastodon used scenes from the film as inspiration during the writing and recording process, and the instrumental soundtrack, Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly EP, was released on June 29, 2010, through Reprise Records.
In 2010, the band was confirmed as being part of the soundtrack for Namco Bandai Games' 2010 remake of Splatterhouse. The game's protagonist can also be seen wearing a Mastodon T-shirt in certain flashback cutscenes.
On March 15, 2011, Mastodon released their first live DVD/CD entitled Live at the Aragon through Reprise. The recording features the entire performance of their fourth studio album, Crack the Skye, along with songs from their previous records.
The Hunter (2011–2012)
Troy Sanders with Mastodon at Sonisphere, Stockholm in 2011
The Hunter, Mastodon's fifth studio album, was recorded at Doppler Studios in Atlanta with producer Mike Elizondo. The first hints of the new album were given by the band via Facebook in January 2011. Drummer Brann Dailor revealed during interviews the title of the band's new album and described the new material as not so much proggy as riff-oriented and "a little more stripped down".
Meanwhile, the band performed in many major summer festivals. On June 28, 2011, Mastodon released through Adultswim.com a leftover track from the Crack the Skye sessions called "Deathbound".
The first taste of The Hunter came in July 2011 where Mastodon released via YouTube the song "Black Tongue", set to a video of AJ Fosik creating the sculpture used for the album cover. By August 12, the band had revealed the track listing from The Hunter and debuted "Curl Of The Burl", the first official single from the new album. Mike Elizondo was chosen to produce the album which marks his first time working with the band. It was also announced that a deluxe edition would be released. It featured the two bonus tracks "The Ruiner" and "Deathbound" and a different cover.
On September 6, Mastodon released a third song from The Hunter, "Spectrelight", featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis.
On September 16, the band released a 53-minute custom visualizer with all of the album tracks, 11 days prior to the release of The Hunter. In support of the album a North American headline tour was announced. The album was very well received by fans and the media. It also performed strongly on the official charts, rising to number ten on the Billboard 200. On October 5, 2011, they performed "Curl of the Burl" on the Late Show with David Letterman.
On October 12, a UK tour was announced that will run through February 2012 with fellow bands The Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang as support acts. They were at Later... with Jools Holland, where they performed "Black Tongue" and "Curl of the Burl". A seventeen-date European tour was announced that featured dates in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Latvia.
On December 1, "Curl of the Burl" was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best Metal/Hard Rock performance. It is the band's second nomination with the first being for "Colony of Birchmen" in 2007.
The record was named "Album of the Year" by Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Rock Sound.
In January 2012 it was announced that Mastodon and Swedish prog metal band Opeth will tour together in a joint tour across North America. It was named the "Heritage Hunter Tour" after both bands latest releases, The Hunter and Heritage. The bands took turns in the headlining spot. Support came from the Swedish heavy metal band Ghost. On February 11, 2012, the band performed a sold-out show at the Brixton Academy in London, it was the band's biggest headline show ever. Dry Bone Valley" was released on February 13 as the third single of the album. A music video for the song was also released.
On April 21, 2012, to commemorate Record Store Day, Mastodon released two separate vinyls. The first was a split 7" with Feist titled Feistodon. Mastodon covered Feist's "A Commotion" and Feist covered Mastodon's "Black Tongue". The pair also released a one of a kind interactive, crossfading music video for the song 'A Commotion'. The second release was a cover of The Flaming Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton".
The band spent the summer performing at festivals across Europe and South America. It was the last tour in support of The Hunter.
Once More 'Round the Sun (2014–2015)
Mastodon began recording again in early 2013. Guitarist Brent Hinds described the new music as "really eerie" and "very spooky-sounding", and stated that he has written three new songs. On December 3, 2012, the band announced via their Twitter page that they were writing a song for the film Monsters University. However, the song used in the film was the previously released "Island".
They were also part of the 2013 Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. On May 6, 2013, the band stated that they are "...Very busy writing and putting songs together for the next studio Mastodon album..." In an interview on July 26, Brann Dailor was reported as saying that the band would "probably [go into the studio] end of September". The band also played at the 2014 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Brent Hinds (left) and Troy Sanders (right) in May 2014
On February 27, Brann Dailor told in the interview that their sixth album would be released in summer of 2014, and he also stated that the band would release an EP in winter of 2014. Some of the confirmed tracks were: "Tread Lightly", "Buzzard's Guts", "Scent of Bitter Almonds", "High Road" and "Aunt Lisa".
In an interview with Troy Sanders in Paste magazine released on April 3, he revealed the album was called Once More 'Round the Sun and had 15 tracks. He also confirmed that Mastodon recorded 90 minutes of material, but only 60 minutes of it will be present on the album; the unreleased material possibly might be released on an EP later in 2014. A few more tracks that have been confirmed are: "Diamonds in the Witch House" (which has Scott Kelly from Neurosis on a guest vocal appearance), and "Ember City".
In an interview on April 11, Dailor revealed the album will be released in June.
On April 17, the first single "High Road" was made available for streaming.
On 26 April, Bill Kelliher revealed the title of the second single "Chimes at Midnight".
As of June 16, 2014, the entire album is streaming on iTunes.
The album was released on June 24, 2014 through Reprise Records. The album sold around 34,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release to land at position No. 6 on The Billboard 200 chart making it the band's first consecutive top 10 debut, with their previous album, The Hunter, peaking at No.10 after opening with 39,000 copies in 2011.
Emperor of Sand and Cold Dark Place (2017–present)
On January 18, 2015, it was reported that Brent Hinds was working on a new Mastodon album, showing a picture with him playing the 13 string pedal steel. The same report was later confirmed by Troy Sanders, who stated: "Every record that we do is gonna sound different, because we always want to evolve and create our own musical path. And every record will be different. We do not wanna write the same record twice."
On March 12, 2015, Mastodon released a new track called "White Walker", which appears on the Game of Thrones: Catch the Throne Vol. 2 mixtape to promote the fifth season of the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Dailor, Hinds, and Kelliher also appeared in episode 8 of the season as wildlings. This mixtape will also feature songs by various other acts, ranging from Killswitch Engage to Snoop Dogg. Hinds and Kelliher once again returned to Game of Thrones as wights among the White Walker army for the season 7 finale episode, "The Dragon and the Wolf".
The band's seventh studio album Emperor of Sand was released on March 31, 2017. The theme for the album was cancer, inspired by Troy's wife who was diagnosed with cancer, and Bill's mother who lost her life to cancer. It details the story of a traveller banished to the desert by an emperor, in effect giving him a death sentence. The story is a metaphor for someone diagnosed with terminal cancer. The first single, "Show Yourself", was released in February, and had peaked at number 4 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart in June, making it the band's highest charting song to date. The second single, "Steambreather", peaked at number 18 on the same chart in October.
Mastodon also released an EP titled Cold Dark Place on September 22 of the same year. It was a four-song EP, featuring three songs recorded during the Once More 'Round the Sun sessions, and one track recorded during the Emperor of Sand sessions. The first single for the EP, "Toe to Toes" was released on September 1, 2017. Brent Hinds stated that the inspiration behind some of the songs recorded for Cold Dark Place, which he wrote, were inspired by a nasty breakup that he had endured. Describing the sound of the record, Hinds stated that "I wrote some pretty dark, beautiful, spooky, funky, ethereal, melancholy music, which also sounds like the Bee Gees a little bit." On December 1, the band released a revised version of the 12 part "The Making of Emperor of Sand" documentary via their official YouTube channel. Mastodon were announced to be on a co-headlining Summer 2018 Tour with Primus spanning across North America lasting from May to July.