Where to begin really? Mastodon has had it tough lately, coping with loss, daunting illnesses, tour date cancellations, and personal struggles which would crush other bands into nothingness. Out of that pressure though what you get is the small shining diamond ‘Emperor of Sand’.
No one is going to argue Mastodon’s unique spin on heavy metal / classic rock-psychedelia hasn’t already set them far apart from the competition. Their diverse influences and playing styles make them prominent figureheads of whatever genre you respectfully want to pigeonhole them into. What avid Mastodon fans may fight about is the direction in which their seventh studio album takes the band.
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It’s definitely a lot groovier; they seem to be shifting further away from the heavy crunches and blistering anger felt in ‘Remission’ and ‘Leviathon’, moving towards that smoother psychedelic feel which has gained more presence on tracks since ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Once More Round the Sun’. Guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds has openly said in interviews that he isn’t heavy metal’s biggest fan and the vibe you get from this album is Mastodon are leaning further towards the classic rock side of things.
This isn’t to say it’s the awkward your-Dad-is-listening-to-a-Rush-CD-and-airguitaring cringeyness of Classic Rock, but rather that Mastodon has taken a more refined approach and it really suits them. That said the opening track Sultan’s Curse hits off with full force. After a few cymbal bell chimes you get the well-known thunderous guitar riffs, followed by Mastodon’s signature melodic breaks played by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher.
Accompanying this you’ve got hard hitting lyrics exploring ideas of death and degradation. ‘Memories of loved ones are passing me by’, Mastodon have said that the character the Emperor of Sand is cancer personified. Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders has commented how his wife fighting cancer has influenced song writing. On the surface the album’s lyrics depict a fictional journey, a cursed individual suffering towards death in the desert, however with knowledge of the bands recent struggles a lot of the lyrics cut deep when you look for further meaning.
Emperor of Sand also features powerful and catchy lyrics. Tracks ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Word to the wise’ showcase the best examples and there’s no doubt that fans will be belting these tracks right back at the band come June 9th at Download Festival. The album flows very well, blending each track to the next with no clunkyness. Furthermore, Brent and Bill never cease to write face-melting solos, making this album one that you can return to again and again.
So what’s the overall verdict? If you aren’t a metal head then some of the long guitar riffs in say ‘Precious Stones’, ‘Scorpion Breath’ and ‘Andromeda’ are going to fly over your head. Likewise, some headbangers may struggle to get behind the lengthy psychedelic FX-laden breakdown in ‘Clandestiny.’ But as usual, with many different styles interwoven in this album, any fan can cherry pick what they like and be left content with a fantastic new offering from Mastodon.
‘Emperor of Sand’ is now out via Reprise Records