Mastodon, Geek Metal, and Geek Rock

I’m currently working on a paper for the annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference on Mastodon’s video for “The Motherload.” The working title of this paper, by the way, is “The Dialectic of T/werk: Hegel, Marx, and Womanist Agency in Mastodon’s “The Motherload” Video.” (I’m very pleased with my title.) But the upshot of all this writing and planning for my paper  is that I’ve been thinking a lot about Mastodon recently. Their most recent album, Once More ‘Round the Sun (which features “The Motherload”), is excellent. One of the things I particularly enjoy is the exuberance running throughout this album. While Mastodon is always good, there’s an energy here, almost a frenetic, desperate joy, providing an undercurrent that lifts their artistry to another level. Always different, and always fresh, I appreciate the ways that Mastodon continually subverts their genre.

Which brings me to the question, are Mastodon geeky? Could they be considered geek metal? Geek metal falls into the same genre bending as geek rock and nerdcore, with the same result. Much like geek rock has fallen by the wayside of rock, geek metal remains mostly subsumed within metal. Even Urban Dictionary’s definition is poor, although if there was any doubt about the marginalization of homosexuals, the existence of hate speech, or the instability of hyper-masculinity, these definitions clear that up. Geek metal is metal by virtue of it’s subject matter, typically fantasy, and is somehow, as Urban Dictionary seems to imply, “lesser” than “normal” metal. This implication, I think, is because metal tends to be associated with a performance of hyper-masculinity, and any deviation from that is discouraged.

Which brings me back to Mastodon. These guys are not your (stereo)typical metal band. They innovate in unexpected ways. They keep it fresh. They have videos with clowns (or, in the case of “The Motherload,” a great deal of twerking). They subvert the genre of metal which is a subversive genre to begin with. But are they geeky? I say yes. Their acclaimed album Leviathan is about Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby-Dick. Crack the Skye is another example, addressing astral travel and Stephen Hawking’s theories of wormholes. They wrote the score for the movie Jonah Hex, based on the DC comic, and released on an EP titled Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly. From great literature, to great physics, to great comics, Mastodon knows their way around geekdom.

But is that all it takes to make geek metal geeky? User Zipzop 5565 lists lists the Top 5 Geek Metal bands on Sputnik Music, and Mastodon is not on the list. However, neither is DragonForce, who are perhaps the quintessential geek metal band. The list includes Dethklok, Anthrax, Swashbuckle, HORSE the band, and Wormed. I’m only familiar with Anthrax and Dethklok, and neither would have come to mind immediately as geek metal. However, this user provides justification for his choices, which not only make sense, but which would also include Mastodon in the category of geek metal. However, much like geek rock, the geekiness is the ear of the beholder as much as it’s in the music itself. Whether Mastodon consider themselves geeky is another question entirely. But this geek is happy to call them geek metal, as an accolade and tribute to their brainy metal sensibilities.