Mastodon has climbed from a band I hardly cared about up to a band I keep an eye on, and now with Emperor of Sand I think they climb even higher in my attention-tree. Mastodon keeps growing further and further away from the sludge of their earlier album and incorporating more progressive elements and adding melodies.
This might not sit right with fans of their classic sound, all the whining about ‘selling out that’ surfaced on the net when Once More ‘round the Sun was released will, probably, bubble back up. I don’t care; this is the Mastodon I enjoy the most. The band that keeps things groovy, heavy, technical and also incorporates some melody, nice hooks and energy, this is the band I like.
The sludge is by no means gone from the bands sound. The latter part of the record is especially sludge heavy, songs like Andromeda and Scorpion Breath are the best examples of the classic Mastodon style. Mid paced, but high frequency songs, with a lot of drums.
The closer, Jaguar God, is the longest track of the record, just short of 8 minutes. It starts of slow with a long melodic part and some weird vocals, complete with harmonies. After about 2 minutes the mood changes, the sound harshens and tempo increases ever so slightly. After about another minute or so, they start building up and bringing back down the intensity and the song keeps shifting from side to side. Then the tempo kicks up another nudge with some nice guitar work. Suddenly the song takes on an Opeth type of chromatic riffing, but with the intensity on high. Then the song relaxes into a melodic outro, playing on the mood and chords of the intro. What a great song, epic! I love it, just amazing … this is the kind tune that makes me feel … something… it’s journey …
The lead tracks were Sultans Curse, Show Yourself and Andromeda. Show Yourself is the most accessible song on the album, the least complicated so to speak and has hooky chorus that easily sticks and can be hummed immediately. It’s a good song, and catchy. Sultans Curse has more of classic Mastodon sound, more of sludge edge to it. I wasn’t too impressed by this song when it was released as a teaser, however it works great as an opener. It sets the mood perfectly; this is going to be a blend of heaviness, grooves, sludgy, muddy sound and intricate melodies and song structures. Everything one would expect from this band. The song itself might not be their strongest track, but opens up the record in a great way. Andromeda is heavier than the other two singles, both lyrically and musically. It reminds of Trampled Under Hoof from the debut, without having any major similarities other than the sound.
Steambreather has a few opening notes, before the riff kicks inn, that it’s so similar to Phantom Lord that I had to check if Metallica had snuck into my playlist. The rest of the song is a midtempo, muddy riff, almost a stoner riff on the verse. The chorus is actually to popy sounding to me. Precious Stones is catchy as all hell and seems to made for the grand old men of rock radio, I would imagine Eddie Trunk will go bananas over this track.
The record kind of falls a bit in the middle as Roots Remain, Word to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom is structured in similar manner and also has communalities in tone and riffs. There is nothing wrong with these songs as single tracks, when they are piled on top of each other like this, it gets a bit pale and boring. Scorpion Breath and Andromeda brings the focus back, the sludge is thick on both of these and they should speak to old fans, as mentioned above.
Mastodon is kind of heading into dangerous waters now, if they take this popy direction any further they risk a Megadeth fall, think Risk and Supercollider, when the urge to get airplay outweighs the integrity of the musician and the result is awful music, that falls flat for the pop lovers and the rockers. If Mastodon slows down even further they might end up in this exact spot.
But for now, the music sounds inspired and heavy and groovy. The lyrics have lost a little edge. Brann is still a wicked drummer, the three vocalists combo still works.
Recommended tracks: Jaguar God, Show Yourself, Steambreather.