Grammy-winning titans Mastodon are one of the most popular and influential bands in contemporary metal. The monolithic heavyweights have been consistently striking audiences in awe and terror for more than two decades now. What some fans might not know is that Mastodon’s roots extend back to another incredibly important project in extreme music history, Today Is The Day.
Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kelliher originally played music together in Rochester, New York technical death metal band Lethargy. Through the mid 1990s, the band built a solid reputation and modest following in the northeast underground. Although well regarded, Lethargy’s reach didn’t manage to extend much further than their homebase. In an interview with Ultimate Guitar, Brann Dailor explains:
“There was very, like, Lethargy was like up and down. We just weren’t sure, we didn’t know what to do. We were kind of green and naive.
“We mailed a cassette tape to Relapse Records, and they denied us, got our letter, so I don’t know – there was a disconnect there.
“You have to get a van and you have to like book a tour, we just didn’t understand that. We thought we would go down and play with our friend’s band Human Remains down in New Jersey.
“And we would stay at the Homedale Motor Lodge for a week, and then play two shows, and go back to Rochester and say, ‘We were on tour.’”
Brann and Bill’s early days in Lethargy not only provided valuable learning experiences about being on the road, but it helped them build important connections in the extreme metal underground. Though not evident at the time, these relationships would have a profound impact on their lives. Brann says:
“We were fortunate to, basically my buddy Dave Witte, who plays in Municipal Waste now, who’s been in a million bands, who I have been friends with since the early ’90s – Lethargy played their first show with Human Remains in Buffalo, New York.
“So he called me in ’97 and he said, ‘Hey, this dude Steve Austin, you know that band Today Is the Day?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ‘They are looking for a drummer. They had asked Dave to do it, but Dave was like, ‘I have five bands going right now, I can’t do it…’ It would be perfect for you, and I know that Lethargy is going, but what are you doing?’
“I worked a string of shitty jobs, I worked at a Mini Mart on the night shift and got robbed a few times, and I was painting houses, I worked at a porn store in the middle of the night in a bad neighborhood, so I didn’t have anything else going for me except for drums.
“So I really needed to make something happen, but I didn’t know what that was, and luckily, my buddy Dave recommended me for Steve with Today Is the Day, and they were already an established group and were going to write an album and record it, and then go on tour.”
For the uninitiated, Today Is the Day is an essential component to the landscape of extreme music as we know it. While the band might have never reached the same level of commercial success as Mastodon, their sonic and cultural impact on the underground are undeniable. Fronted by legendary producer Steve Austin (who is also the only constant member), Today Is The Day helped pioneer a particularly disgusting, innovative brand of noise rock in 1992. Their sound has morphed over the years to touch on and perfect all things hideous. The album In The Eyes Of God features Steve Austin on guitars and vocals, Brann Dailor on drums, and Bill Kelliher on bass. It is one of the most critically acclaimed records in Today Is The Day’s catalog.
In the same Ultimate Guitar interview, Brann continues:
“That was happening, so I jumped at the opportunity, I moved to Clinton, Massachusetts. I wrote the album with Steve, and then got Bill in the band, and then we toured, so it started, and I had never done it before, so that was my first time, was going on tour with Napalm Death.
“It was super fun, I loved it, and we were playing some good shows, it was a very fortunate experience for me, and then we started playing shows with Neurosis, and then we ended up in Europe with Neurosis and Voivod, two legendary bands.
“We all lived in the same bus, it was 19 people on a bus, a little tight, but it was my first time going to Europe, so I was just soaking it all up, I was very excited to be there.
“I couldn’t believe music was taking me to Europe, it was awesome. That tour was sort of cut short for us, Steve had some stuff going on and ended up leaving and going back to the States, and then after that, we stopped being Today Is the Day.
“Steve had this already established thing, and we wanted to do something on our own and try starting something for ourselves, so Bill’s girlfriend, now his wife, lived in Atlanta.
“And so he said, ‘I want to go to Atlanta, we should go down there and start something new.’ I said, ‘Sure, let’s do that.’ I had never been to Atlanta, but he said it was cool, so I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’”
While In The Eyes Of God might pack a different kind of punch than some Mastodon fans expect, it is nonetheless an amazing record and an important part of metal history.