Slowly and quietly, well actually not that quietly, Mastodon have established themselves as a premier, go-to heavy rock band. Yeah, I know there's a whole load of progressive, sludge and metal stuff in the mix too but on The Hunter and Once More 'Round The Sun, they've displayed a deft touch at crafting radio-worthy tunes which is certainly something considering their roots. Those roots, the eleven songs on Remission, resemble something of a snarling beast attacking straight from the get go and not really letting go until the 50 minutes are up. Remission isn't full of unrestrained aggression though, there's measure in that anger and more than just a hint of melodic sensibilities, while Mastodon's progressive leanings are already on show and not just aimless meanderings, but fully fleshed out, complex arrangements. In short, it's a pretty remarkable debut album.

I've often heard or read that Remission is a blueprint and I have trouble with that thought. A blueprint is, essentially, just a sketch. It's the bare bones of something, an empty thing devoid of any colour or character with the exciting dimensions taken away. Remission is not just a blueprint, a collection of rough ideas or experiments of potential riffs, time signatures or musical and lyrical themes that Mastodon were running through to test the water for a potential future release. It doesn't sound that way anyway. This is not an EP, this is a fully-formed, colourful and dynamic record that stands on its own. Sure, Mastodon became more progressive and more ambitious on future records, most great bands usually do try and further themselves and find something new to add to the palate, but to judge Remission's ambitious musical passages based on what came after is utterly wrong because they don't necessarily compare, bands with concepts in mind always go for something different. However, take them on their own merits and imagine for 50+ minutes you haven't heard Crack The Skye, those progressive wanderings are bloody good. If this album was all we had from Mastodon I'd be pretty happy.

Even now, and maybe this is due to the re-mastering job done to the album, I still marvel at how brutal and intense Remission is. This intensity isn't from fast, spiky passages, far from it. There's an overarching sense of heavyiness to the whole album. Brooding, dark, doomy, however you want to describe it, it's that feeling that hits you straight away and really comes to the fore on those opening few seconds of 'March of the Fire Ants'. Even when Mastodon step on the accelerator pedal the notes aren't lost in a blur or a flurry of guitar excitement, they still breathe through everything including Brann Dailor's remarkable drumming and so that mood and tone is prevalent throughout.

There are two factors that allow Remission to be as good as it is; pacing and musical complexity. I mentioned brutality earlier and that comes in the form of album pacing and track placement. The opening salvo of 'Crusher Destroyer'/'March of the Fire Ants'/'Where Strides the Behemoth'/'Workhorse' is completely relentless and bruising, there's hardly any moment of respite in any of those four songs and that absolutely works. The musical attack is breath-taking rather than completely unlistenable and in a strange way makes you want to hear more. 'Ol'e Nessie' sounds like a reprieve but that feeling doesn't really last long as the song picks up again, in fact, 'Trilobite' is the first time the listener gets something slower, with its dreamier passages punctuated by stabs of anger.

This pacing and placement moves Remission along at such a fast rate and this is where the musical complexity and ambition comes in to play. If the music wasn't intriguing Remission would be over in a flash and yet it still never feels that way, Mastodon ensure it is genuinely interesting and captivating and that still applies 12 years later. The band never overly rely on archetypal musical traditions in each song, and that relates to every genre they incorporate onto Remission. Listen to 'Ol'e Nessie' and you won't hear endless barred power chords but musical ideas further up the fretboard to push the song along, but it's still within a familiar framework. The progressive moments on 'Elephant Man' aren't exercises in technical virtuosity, there's structure and more importantly restraint. Shredding never, ever comes above melody on any part of the album and in terms of guitar work, rhythm guitar is always key (It's something they do to devastating effect on 'The Czar' three albums later). More often than not you'll hear all four members of the band playing together and complementing each other rather than three supporting one person. It's all of these factors coupled with the breakneck pacing that make Remission such a compelling listen.

Like I said before, Remission is not a blueprint. It isn't a band setting themselves up for the future and hinting at what will follow. Remission is a band announcing themselves in a spectacular way and when listening to it with the context of future releases its clear the Mastodon of 2002 were already a few steps up the path they wanted to tread, not at the start of it. In comparison with say Blood Mountain or Crack The Skye it more than holds its own and stands proudly alongside them rather than looking up to them. Taken in a void without those other albums to influence your thinking it's a truly spectacular piece of work and certainly one of the best metal albums of the past two decades. Now it's back in print, if it hasn't graced you ears yet now might be the time to change that.