Formed in 2000 and composed of bassist Troy Sanders, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, and drummer Brann Dailor, Mastodon return with Emperor of Sand, their seventh studio album which finds the band meditating on themes of death, survival and isolation.
‘Sultan’s Curse’ is the album opener and, as you would expect, it grooves and moves heavily, driven by drums and guitar. As it is the case with the majority of Mastodon’s work the vocals are shared between all four members. For those unfamiliar with the group’s oeuvre this may seem odd but it works perfectly for their songs as it adds light and shade to their progressive-metal stylings.
‘Show Yourself’ is a hook-laden tune highlighting a band confident in their songwriting ability. Guitars weave themselves around Brann’s vocal. Mastodon are masters of the middle-eight and are still able to add blistering solos without falling into heavy-metal cliche. ‘Precious Stones’ riffs skip across the beat keeping the uptempo vibe to the fore.
‘Steambreather’ has a low down dirty guitar opening that segways into a killer chorus. The lyrics tie into the loose concept of the record – namely isolation and finding the self. It is a standout track that reminds the listener that Mastodon are the pre-eminent metal band of their time and at their best there are few acts that can top them. This track will, no doubt, be added to the live set. ‘Roots Remain’ starts dark and moody but pushes forward toward technical ecstasy before mellowing out in the middle and ending on a high. ‘Word to the wise’ highlights their mastery of moving between different moods going from a breakneck pace to a more progressive driven chorus that opens the song up allowing it the space to breath.
‘Ancient Kingdom’, ‘Clandestiny’ and ‘Andromeda’ keep things moving along with ‘Clandestiny’ being a standout. At a point it has a 1970s prog-rock moment which is no bad thing and it is good to see the band acknowledge their musical roots and influences. ‘Scorpion Breath’, featuring Scott Kelly and Kevin Sharp, is classic Mastodon; hard, catchy, progressive, musical and driven.
‘Jaguar God’ is a seven minute plus closer and begins with some beautiful acoustic guitar and sweet vocals (yes, you read that right) and foregrounds that this is a band that can operate in different forms and are not constrained by the dictates of the metal genre. Having said that the song and the album ends with soaring guitars leaving the listener wanting more.