By Natalie Phillips

How to put this in a subtle and artful manner… One look at the cover of progressive metal band Mastodon’s newest album Blood Mountain and you know you’re in for a fucking trip.

Symbols that manage to be familiar and alien at the same time encircle a brilliant yellow and tangerine sun in the background. A three-headed blue beast with antlers snarls in the foreground and cups the blood spilling from its gut, human hands lined up with as much poise and precision as a ballerina. Framed over the antlers, "Mastodon" blazes in gold.

It’s unfortunate that album art is so often lost in these days of mass music downloading. For their third studio album, the UK-based band Mastodon has created a concept album astoundingly rich with visuals, both in the hallucinatory gold-laced artwork and in their meandering, swelling riffs.

If you can tell just from listening to Blood Mountain that the concept is of a future-seeing "cysquatch" and his blizzard-ridden search for a crystal skull, then congratulations, you have a career in utter insanity and/or psychedelic space pioneering. While the specific details of the quest may not come through the music, Mastodon does an extraordinary job of creating a world that is hauntingly, frighteningly epic and altogether awesome.

Take "Bladecatcher." Starting out with rising guitar pangs that are almost whimsical, it then explodes into vocals that sound like the ramblings of a depraved hermit, one who also happens to be a rodent drowning in seawater. "Colony of Birchmen," which features the instantly recognizable vocals of Queens of the Stone Age front man Joshua Hommes, and "Hunters of the Sky" pound with the burden and exhaustion of the trek. You can almost feel the burn in your calves.

Towards the end of the album, in comes "This Mortal Soil," almost heavenly amidst the intensity of the previous tracks. The song chimes in seamlessly after "Hand of Stone," one of the harshest songs on the album. Echoing, yearning vocals brim with hope and purpose in "This Mortal Soil" before giving way to the desperation of "Siberian Divide."

"Pendulous Skin," the last song on the album, has 17 minutes of silence before a bizarre hidden track by Joshua Homme. Less than a minute long, the track is an amusing spoken word reminder that despite the band’s epic ambitions, they’re not taking themselves too seriously.

Mastodon’s previous album, Leviathan (also a concept album), was awarded "album of the year" three times in 2004. That’s a hard act to follow, but their two years of work has resulted in an album that’s no less mesmerizing. And before you run to download Blood Mountain, consider shelling out a few bucks to check out the album art.

The cysquatch will thank you.