Wanna start a heavy metal band? OK, then you should probably name it after a prehistoric beast. Most are large, bloodthirsty monsters that trampled about wherever they pleased, running free in a humanless world, feasting and shitting, paying little heed to anything until a few big rocks fell from the sky.
Geeks and jocks alike have always seemed to be fascinated with the dimwitted but frightening creatures known as dinosaurs. Even less ancient creatures have captured the imagination of many a rock musician. Surprisingly, most bands that have chosen a long-extinct animal for their moniker have done the creature's reputation a service, creating a joyful noise in a variety of genres.
For nearly a decade, Atlanta's Mastodon has been at the forefront of American heavy metal, producing an intricate synthesis of doom metal, stoner rock, hardcore punk and thrash. Mastodon's music is often labeled progressive simply because it doesn't fit easily under any category. Complex almost to a fault, the band's high-water mark was definitely 2004's Leviathan, a heaving beast of a record that catapulted the band onto national tours with Slayer, Slipknot and Hatebreed—bands that shared Mastodon's love of volume and stage shenanigans, but little of its more heady aspirations.
Mastodon's fourth full-length album has been in the works for a while now, prompting some to speculate that the band might be having compositional difficulties. But seeing that the new record is rumored to be a concept album about Czarist Russia (Leviathan was loosely based on Moby-Dick), it's little wonder that a band this complex wouldn't issue something not completely thought out.
Interestingly, one of Mastodon's influences is none other than Dinosaur Jr., the recently resuscitated punk/metal trio led by J. Mascis. Mastodon is certainly more practiced and polished, but it's easy to hear Dinosaur Jr.'s punk spirit in such Mastodon bone-crunchers as "Blood and Thunder" and "Seabeast."
Marc Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex (later abbreviated to T. Rex—possibly to aid the spelling-challenged metal head) is also a band that figures prominently in the development of many a metal band.
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Wooly Mammoth, Sabertooth Zombie
The prehistoric influence continues to reverberate throughout the metal/punk scene thanks to several lesser-known bands such as Washington, D.C.'s Wooly Mammoth and Northern California's Sabertooth Zombie.
Of course, metal's not the only genre to value dinosaurs: Experimental singer-songwriter Jesse Rhodes formed Stegosaurus, whose debut appeared on Reprise in 1998, and Chicago's soul/jazz combo Sabertooth was active throughout the Midwest for nearly three decades.