Live At the Aragon is Mastodon’s first official live release. It was released on 15 March, 2011 via Reprise. It was filmed on 17 October, 2009 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago during their word tour in support of their fourth record, Crack The Skye. It features Crack The Skye in its entirety, as well playing select songs from their previous records also. During its promotion, the band released live versions of “Crack The Skye”, “Oblivion” and “Ghost of Karelia” on YouTube. The DVD also features the Crack The Skye film, which is used as the visual backdrop during the band’s performance.
Mastodon have always been a prolific studio band, releasing consistent and world-beating records, but have always seemed to lack that finesse when performing live. Admittedly, I cannot watch the DVD performance of this album based on how bad it is edited and I can only listen to the CD, so in this review I will be talking about the CD version. Crack The Skye, their 2009 progressive titan, was performed in its entirety and really this can be a testament to just how fantastic that record is, which is why I said before that they are ‘world-beaters’.
Not only that, but the band manage to pull out a few select numbers from their previous records: performing two tracks from their 2002 debut record Remission, “Where Strides The Behemoth” and “Mother Puncher”, the band also do: “Circle of Cysquatch” comes from Blood Mountain and “Aqua Dementia” from Leviathan, also with a cover of The Melvin’s “The Bit” (which, on both versions, sounds incredibly bad – vocals incredibly hard to make out). I’m not actually faulting the CD edition as (to me) it all sounds great.
Now, usually when a band release a live album today it’s usually a stop-gap between records (2009’s Crack The Skye and 2011’s The Hunter, in this case) but when I think of this release in particular it comes seventh months before their fifth record The Hunter, which was released on 27 September, 2011. When the album came out I was still enjoying this release, so again I had to reach into my money to buy the new Mastodon album.
Crack The Skye [Live]
I was pretty much still enjoying this live release when The Hunter came along, so I’ve always felt that the band or their label rushed that album a bit. I like the album but it’s definitely not one I would like to recommend to any budding music fan who wants to get into Mastodon – this is what the older albums are for. To be truthful, this is the band’s first ever (official) live release so I would feel bad criticising them too much. Yes, there are obvious faults on the DVD but on the CD it actually sounds great. What I mean about the DVD and the editing is that, most of the time, the music and video goes out of synch, but again you can’t look at this too heavily and judge the band just on one thing.
It’s almost like a Mastodon retrospective – a new album mixed with a few classic numbers. But really I’m still thinking about the DVD, even when you have Live at the Royal Albert Hall by Opeth and Coming Alive by Chimaira (both 2010) then Mastodon’s live release looks under par. But, honestly, when you have an album like Crack The Skye performed in its entirety it definitely displays what a great band Mastodon are. There are some serious chops on this album – bass, drums, guitar and vocals (especially “Crack The Skye” when Sanders growls out Scott Kelly’s parts) – and even the CD sounds great. A stellar mixing/mastering job.
I have always preferred a live CD release to a DVD release, as with a DVD I feel like I have to watch and listen to it, because with just the CD I can listen to it and, sometimes, listen to the album and read a book (or something). That’s actually one of the ways I best listen to an album/record is by reading a book, as I don’t want to be sitting there twiddling my thumbs listen to the album or whatever. Anyway, what I’m trying to say that this live release sounds great and it’s well worth picking up.
Overall: Seeing as it’s their first official live release, you can’t be too harsh on the band for at least releasing something half-decent. Any band always has that first live release which seems a little off in some places, so naturally Mastodon are following in that tradition. Actually, in 2013 they released Live At Brixton (a short run of physical releases, with a digital only release now available) so I hope that will be better in the sense of sounding better. In short: a pretty release for such an acclaimed band. 7 / 10