Up and down live, and audibly unsure of what they’re supposed to be: the next QOTSA metallers for the masses, or rightful explorers of metal’s outer reaches?
For successive albums, Mastodon have been having their cake and eating it.
They’ve tried appealing to the mainstream with juicy, big video tracks like ‘Curl Of The Burl’, and the succulence of choruses like ‘Motherload’.
It hasn’t quite come through for them, at least not in the way it might have earlier in the millennium.
Reaching back into the last four or five albums though is a pretty incredible reminder of just how quality their songs have been across that time. No matter how long it’s been, as soon as the tracks come on you know them immediately.
I suspect it’s going to be the same with ‘Emperor Of Sand’. Except better.
Because with this one, while you’ve got all that big chorus accessibility, they have really, really delved into themselves to produce a record of real creative weight and daring – something you mightn’t have been able to say for all of their last offerings.
Rather than go through the tracks straight away, let’s just address ‘Show Yourself’ for a second.
Clearly this is The Big Track. And yet it bears strikingly little relationship to the rest of the songs on here. It doesn’t fit. Anywhere.
Yet it’s so obviously too good to leave off, or treat as a just a big single.
So what do you do with it?
At second up, it’s jarring, conflicting brutally on the ear with the prior and more traditionally Mastodon ‘Sultans Curse’. After that one it sounds clean, and with Dailor taking over on vocals, almost like a different band. It’s smooth, easy on the ear, and utterly irresistible.
It’s easily one of their best ever tracks, by any measure.
Yes, the solo is an absolute mess, sounding like its being played over a different tune – what were they thinking? – but aside from that it will be played in clubs from here to eternity, and rightly so.
Two tracks in, then, and that’s that out of the way. We can now enjoy the much deeper dive that Mastodon have in mind with the album.
Blood And Thunder
And as such, ‘Precious Stones’ opens with the kind of blood and thunder rolls that Dailor used to excel at so tumultuously. It’s fast, it’s energetic, heavy and replete with the sort of yearning lyrics that when you scratch the surface, you find lots of in Mastodon’s work (‘Crack The Skye’ in particular).
It’s a thumping, groovy, hammering track that just captures a refreshed spirit that courses through the album.
‘Steambreather’ is a fantastic title, isn’t it. It reminds me of the cover of Priests ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ right off the bat. Again, Dailor excels here on vocals over that thick and meaty detuned riff.
It’s really atmospheric, dark and swelly.
Words Of Wisdom
The other cracker, not long after it is ‘Word To The Wise’ – opening once again with those crackling Dailor rolls, complimenting some detailed and writhing guitar riffs that move snake-like through the beats. It seems to me to hint at the main verse riff of ‘Oblivion’ from some years ago – referencing it anew, and continuing its thought.
Have a listen, you’ll see what I mean. It’s another hi-octane track that shows just what energy they’ve summoned back into their sound. And that chorus: it is massive. Absolutely massive. The lyrics too are there to get lost in.
That drumming! Those vocals! It truly is Dailor’s album, as yet again we’re treated to both his talents opening ‘Ancient Kingdom’. The duality between he and Hinds works brilliantly here, while the solo breakdown is pure Thin Lizzy.
One of the main recommendations for what they’ve done on this one is that the quality never flags. Not once. There are no duds here.
So as we approach the back half of the album, you’re still right in there. Meaning that by the time ‘Andromeda’ fires up its discordant chords sloping up and down, you’re ready for them rather than tiring of them.
It’s the proggiest effort on this album, their spaciest. Again, there’s another fantastic solo, followed by a gnarly dark breakdown. It actually reminds of King Crimson from the ‘Red’ era as much as anything. It’s a rhythmic thumper.
I think what’s so good about this in total is that they haven’t compromised on their craft and their art. At any moment Mastodon could churn out ‘Show Yourself’s and ‘Curl Of The Burl’s for whole albums worth, and descend into a sort of culchie pleasing, festival amusing fodder for student discos.
They’ve resolutely decided not to, and the result is a throbbing album of genuine heaviness like this – I mean the pure weight of ‘Scorpion Breath’ is undeniable, with that detuned bulldoze.
It’s so cool to be able to say with comeplete confidence that Mastodon have had a creative renaissance with this – you can feel the shot in the arm that their sound has undertaken, powered forward by Dailor’s muscular, cerebral and tricksy drumming that, frankly, leaves his peers eating his dust – just as he did right from Today Is The Day.
He is one of the premier drummers of the era, period, and the fact that he can still be bothered putting in a performance like this so far into Mastodon’s career – the kind of performance you’d expect from a hungry debutant – is remarkable. He is furious on the sticks.
And what kind of a band other than one fired up to the absolute max would be still arsed with the kind of runaway shanty riff like at the end of ‘Jaguar God’?
This is an introspective, thought-out and moreish album that just happens to be being played with the pedal to the metal. It is altogether excellent for a big name metal band to be putting out a record of such power and depth.
They’ve been on and off. And they still mightn’t have quite figured out their place in the musical landscape. But my goodness, what a venting of steam this album is – creative, metallic and emotional.
4.6 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 29/03/17
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