Mastodon is back and doing exactly what Mastodon does best.
Mastodon, the veteran American progressive sludge metal outfit, has assembled a discography of some of the best-reviewed metal albums of the 21st century, gaining a loyal fanbase and multiple admirers in the process, so anticipation is especially high for any new material. Their seventh album is a slightly different beast to what has come before – this time a concept album steeped in emotion and tragedy, chronicling the journey of a desert wanderer who has been handed a death sentence – but, despite the fictional story, Emperor Of Sand is as much tied to reality as it is its own grandiose fantasy, having been inspired by the band’s experiences of several of their friends and family members being diagnosed with cancer.
Opener ‘Sultan’s Curse’ firmly entrenches the album in classic Mastodon territory with thick riff work accompanying the guttural howls of vocalists Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders. Other tracks like ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Precious Stones’ follow suit, proving in emphatic style that Emperor Of Sand is undoubtedly Mastodon doing what Mastodon does best. It’s a swirling symphony of battling guitars, complex drumming, and stellar musicianship – they have always been amongst the most technically proficient bands on the planet and, nearly 20 years down the line, their talents have not waned. The mighty ‘Steambreather’ churns on in slightly different fashion and ‘Roots Remain’ concludes with a searing Kirk Hammett-esque guitar solo, rounding out Emperor Of Sand‘s strong opening half.
‘Ancient Kingdom’ stands out as an echoic and near larger-than-life track with a huge chorus and interesting breakdown midway through, and it’s clear that Mastodon’s intention is for songs like these to be played in the biggest venues to the biggest crowds. The same applies to the vicious and aggressive ‘Scorpion Breath’ and album closer ‘Jaguar God.’ With the latter clocking in at just under eight minutes, it’s longer and more progressive than anything on the album but this is to no detriment: it’s a phenomenal finale. But whilst the band is always at their technical best, Emperor Of Sand does suffer from the age-old metal problem of a little too much padding around the goodness as an album with soaring highs that tries to soar one too many times. Much like Metallica‘s recent Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, there’s both some of the band’s best and most average work to be found here.
Overall Emperor Of Sand is a true Mastodon record with few missteps, serving everything we’ve come to expect from the band over the years. Whilst their development of a solid, reliable formula could ensure an album that simply goes through the motions, when you can work together this successfully who’s to say that’s a bad thing? They can pull off a great metal song in their sleep by now – seven albums in and Mastodon still sounds as great as ever.
Emperor Of Sand is out now via Reprise