Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand

After having spent the last few years stretching stylistically in a few different directions (The “White Walker” single found a home as the lead track for a season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun saw the band get leaner and almost blurring the lines between metal and punk rock a bit), there’s something refreshing and exciting about the fact that Mastodon has made a glorious return to the sort of melodic metal with which the band found fame on The Hunter.

That is not to say the band has reached the point at which they’ve simply begun to repeat themselves, just that there is an obvious (and welcome) similarity between the band’s fifth and seventh albums. The dynamics are slick and the guitar tones are gargantuan, the songwriting is tight, focused and consistent the whole album through, and the production makes the most of Brandon O’Brien’s hard rock-identified style to take the vibes back to Crack The Skye.

everything fans have loved about the band tied down into one package

Simply put, on Emperor Of Sand, Mastodon prove that they know where they’ve been before and where their greatest successes have been, and they’ve put all the strongest elements together into an album which could be characterized as their greatest to date because it features everything fans have loved about the band tied down into one package.

As soon as “Sultan’s Curse” strides out to open the album, listeners will recognize that Mastodon’s back, and returned just as they hoped the band would. The thick, beastly guitar tone perfectly recalls the interplay between Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher and that feels instantly satisfying but, not content to let the song be just that, Mastodon add some flecks of classic metal caprice in a sound similar to that of Randy Rhoads. There’s some mathy articulation in the guitar tone here which is definitely delicate, driven by Troy Sanders’ bass and Brann Dailor’s drums.

Following the incredible start made by “Sultan’s Curse,” listeners may already be perched precariously on the edge of their collective seats, but the cool thing is that Mastodon goes out of its way to keep them there for the duration of Emperor Of Sand‘s running by regularly just hammering out one golden brick after another. “Show Yourself” routes a great path between metal and alt-rock which doesn’t actually lighten up just to make the combination easier to palette. In a way similar to how Jerry Cantrell used to balance both strains in Alice In Chains back in the nineties, the grunt and roar of the guitar performance in “Show Yourself” is tempered by the song’s production and arrangement as well as the vocal.

Conversely, “Steambreather” is all stampeding menace and bombast guaranteed to get listeners throwing their fists in the air with horns up, and “Roots Remain” and “Word To The Wise” follow a similar formula which will keep them there.

For those reasons listeners will be held hypnotized in the early through mid-playing of the album but, as the album progresses, the music does get a little more diffuse and a little less compelling, thanks to a couple of guest spots which just really didn’t need to get made (Kevin Sharp of Brutal Truth shows up and doesn’t really add anything to “Andromeda,” while Neurosis’ Scott Kelly actually softens “Scorpion Breath,” somehow, with a performance which could only be called uninspired). But, happily, Mastodon does make one last dramatic pass in the form of “Jaguar God” which partially reprises the band’s softer side à la “White Walker” before just burning the whole thing down to close it.

Some fans and critics may complain that the last fifteen minutes of the album really threaten to diffuse the power presented by first two thirds of its runtime but, really, as denouements to any dramatic arc go, Emperor Of Sand‘s isn’t bad. True, it could be argued that the album would have been much stronger without any outside help or “guest assistance,” but it’s easy to ignore those slight foibles when the rest of an album’s running is so good – and that’s definitely the case here.

So will every fan be thrilled by Emperor Of Sand as the new Mastodon album? Maybe not – there are always critics and the fewer there are, the louder they seem to shriek – but it’s impossible to believe that the majority of fans won’t be ecstatic with this presentation. No matter which portion of the band’s development a listener liked best, this album features a nod to it integrated seamlessly into music which is undeniably still brand new and fresh. In that way, listeners get all they could possibly want from Mastodon here.

(Reprise/Warner)

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Mastodon 2017 North American Tour with Eagles of Death Metal + Russian Circles:

04/14 – Missoula, Mon. @ Wilma Theater
04/15 – Seattle, Wash. @ Paramount Theater
04/16 – Portland, Ore. @ Roseland Theater
04/18 – San Francisco, Calif. @ The Warfield
04/20 – Los Angeles, Calif. @ The Palladium
04/21 – Phoenix, Ariz. @ Comerica Theatre
04/23 – Salt Lake City, Utah @ Complex
04/24 – Denver, Colo. @ Fillmore
04/26 – Kansas City, Kansas @ Uptown Theater
04/27 – St. Louis, Mo. @ Pageant
04/28 – Birmingham, Ala. @ Iron City
04/29 – Jacksonville, Fla. @ Welcome to Rockville Festival
04/30 – Ft. Myers, Fla. @ Fort Rock Festival
05/02 – Washington, D.C. @ Fillmore
05/03 – Toronto, Ontario @ Rebel
05/04 – Cleveland, Ohio @ Agora Theater
05/05 – Concord, N.C. @ Caroline Rebellion Festival
05/06 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ Electric Factory
05/08 – Boston, Mass. @ House of Blues
05/09 – Portland, Maine @ State Theater
05/11 – New York, N.Y. @ Hammerstein Ballroom
05/12 – Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Stage AE
05/13 – Chicago, Ill. @ Aragon Ballroom
05/14 – Cincinnati, Ohio @ Taft Theatre
05/16 – Detroit, Mich. @ Royal Oak Theater
05/17 – Nashville, Tenn. @ Ryman Auditorium
05/18 – Memphis, Tenn. @ Minglewood Hall
05/19 – Dallas, Texas @ Gas Monkey Live
05/20 – Austin, Texas @ ACL Live

Bill Adams

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.