Mastodon - Emperor of Sand
There isn't quite the freeform experimentation in the vein of the ten-minute-plus masterpiece Hearts Alive or Crack the Skye's lengthier prog exercises, but Emperor of Sand is full to bursting with delicious, addictive Mastodon goodness.
Replay Value9
Overall Impact9
We Liked...
  • Brann Dailor's Supersonic Vocals
  • It's a step-up from Once More 'Round The Sun
We Didn't Like...
  • Lack of Experimentation
8.3Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

Atlanta sludge-prog-pop-rock outfit Mastodon’s upward trajectory plateaued somewhat with 2014’s so-so Once More ‘Round The Sun, that still admirably fused stronger melody with hard rock riffing and even heralded a slight return of sludge (in the case of lead single High Road). Despite the band’s undeniable talents very much being on show – the trio of different voices on offer, tasty riffing, gorgeous guitar leads and harmonies, a profound shortage of given fucks – its predecessors’ shadows were slightly too great for it to escape.

In absolute chin-stroking fairness, 2009’s monumental Crack the Skye was a simply unmissable, sprawling Mastodon-does-prog opus that would in turn set the logical stylistic direction for its successor, the no-bullshit hard rock bullseye hit of 2011’s The Hunter. Having explored polar opposite styles – indulgent conceptual prog storytelling then faceripping 4-minute blasts – it was anyone’s guess where Once More ‘Round the Sun would go, and its inviting polish drew almost equal acclaim and derision.

Three years later, Emperor of Sand looms as another potential slab of lovably kooky Mastodon hard rock. All signs point to any really heavy parts still having to sit among well-placed infuses of melody, clean singing, and so on – which still showcases inspired songwriting and skillful, seamless blending of different elements into a short space of time, but also heralds a further shift from the grit of old. This is merely a nitpick, however, and has long been accepted as the way of all heavy bands with an eye towards larger audiences, something Mastodon have undeniably been deserving of for some time.

That’s not to say it’s completely absent, however, with lead single and album opener Sultan’s Curse kicking things off nicely with some mid-paced stomping and latter cut Clandestiny sporting an excellently crunchy riff, showcasing the band’s tendency to look both forward and backward in time – an eye to the future, but reaching into their own past and retrieving some sense of ‘proper’ heaviness to deftly counterbalance the accessibility.

Show Yourself  follows, almost this disc’s incarnation of past single The Motherload – unashamedly catchy, sheeny production (and now, a genuinely laff-worthy video), and several longtime fans riled at the inevitable march towards radio-friendliness. Nevertheless, it’s still a tasty piece and slots wonderfully into the rest of the album, super-drummer Brann Dailor’s laser-cutter voice serving excellent lead vocals – see also Steambreather, another superb mixture of badass downtuned riffing and a city-levelling massive chorus.

Frontman Troy Sanders can’t be kept too far from the mic, and returns for Roots Remain – his menacing gutturalisms trading off (again) against Dailor’s clear-as-glass high notes. Guitarist Brent Hind’s distinctive, tar-thick yurling adds to the variety as usual.

Third single Andromeda shows up near the end of the album, a dizzying trauma-inducing riff and Sanders’ dissonant barking giving way to more Brann Dailor vocals, with a mid-song delicious Blood Mountain-esque riffing interlude that competes for space, and provides a just reminder of how much Mastodon have to offer, even in the space of just one (four-minute!) song. Neurosis’ vocalist Scott Kelly appears for the traditional time-honoured guest spot.

Altogether, Emperor of Sand punches much harder than its predecessor, yet loses almost none of the newbie-wooing catchiness, melodic prowess, intriguing lyrical themes (a band-member family tragedy, here turned into a typically sci-fi concept), lightspeed drumming, tasty guitar work and almost everything you’d want from a modern rock band.

There isn’t quite the freeform experimentation in the vein of the ten-minute-plus masterpiece Hearts Alive or Crack the Skye‘s lengthier prog exercises, but Emperor of Sand is full to bursting with delicious, addictive Mastodon goodness. Where they go from here is still anyone’s guess, but Mastodon have (yet) another winner that deserves to bring them up another step in acclaim.

Only one question remains: where’s that bloody UK tour?!

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