The prospect of leftover material can be an ominous thing – either purposefully left-out gems fill the gap between albums, or the ideas have finally ran out. In trying to determine which of these is the case, the timing of the release is usually a factor: Atlantan hard-prog-rockers Mastodon only released their latest full-length album, Emperor of Sand, a few months ago, the promotional touring in support of having only just gotten properly underway.

Whatever the origins of what eventually became Cold Dark Place, no fan can deny the pleasing prospect of between-album material. But is it any good? Recalling that there was supposedly an album’s worth of material penned by Hinds, the presentation of a mere four-song effort is surprising. But these niggles must be cast aside, especially with latest full-length Emperor of Sand having fought its way into the CD player/playlist – and remained ever since, fighting off almost anything else brave enough to approach.

Opener North Side Star recalls the bleakness of The Czar‘s verses, narrated by several Brent Hinds weirdly layered and slightly unintelligible. But those finding solace in Mastodon’s warmer, more uplifting material will be starkly reminded of how depressing they can also be, with North Side Star being a difficult slog until halfway through the song, a pace-change and hyper-talented overachiever drummer Brann Dailor serving a chorus and a buggy-eyed guitar solo carrying the momentum.

Blue Walsh appears to continue almost in the same vein (it’s almost as if the title of the EP has some bearing on its contents), full of cursory tumbles down intricate, bleak guitar soundscapes, Dailor’s laser-cutter vocals cooly slicing through jumbled clusters of music. What the rest of the EP seems to lack in hard hooks (Toe to Toes excepted), it makes up for in proggy goodness.

Toe to Toes was the first track to be made available, with a typically weird/intriguing Mastodon song title, and a typically Mastodon mishmash of flurried guitar, Troy Sander’s paint-stripping vocals, polished but satisfyingly heavy guitars and – believe it or not – an uplifting, sentimental atmosphere. It’s a thing of beauty, managing to be accessible enough to lure the uninitiated in but odd enough to satisfy a standard fan.

 

The EP’s title-track closes with a long-spun Hinds-led ballad, and a perfectly enjoyable – if inessential (let’s be fair, how many EPs are unmissable?) – addition to an already rich catalogue nestles in amongst them.

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