It seems that for the very first time, Mastodon are out on a mission to prove themselves. In my opinion, I felt that 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun was a bit of a misstep for the band. It didn’t have the surprise factor that their previous albums had, and as a result it sounded slightly generic, too commercialized and a bit rudderless, so the question now is: where do they go next?
The answer lies right here with Emperor of Sand, an album that combines the conceptual prog-metal sound of Blood Mountain with the structured songwriting of The Hunter. Like most of their albums before, there is a concept throughout the record, telling the story of a man who is condemned to die. Hugely inspired by the personal losses of friends and relatives of the band, it’s quite a thought-provoking listen and it really processes the album’s message clearly. Musically, this album is profoundly heavy, yet there’s also something heartbreaking about it – an invisible anchor that is the fifth member of the band, adding intense, morose beauty, delivered to us by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher’s guitars, both of whom are at the top of their game on this album. There is a Queens of the Stone Age-esque leanness to ‘Show Yourself’ and the behemothic guitars of ‘Roots Remain’ and ‘Sultan’s Curse’ proves that Mastodon are still very much a metal band to the core. ‘Steambreather’ is backed by a cosmic groove, bellowing chorus and labyrinthine instrumentals, all fused together into a prog beast that is guaranteed to become a live staple.
Much of the songs on this album is highlighted by massive soaring choruses, effortlessly provided by drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor (who I feel has really grown as a vocalist), guitarist Brent Hinds and occasionally, bassist Troy Sanders. Dynamically, the vocals on this record are the strongest I’ve heard on a Mastodon album. ‘Clandestiny’ is built on a grinding riff that progresses into a delirious synth fantasia that seems like it may have come from a 1980’s John Carpenter film. ’Andromeda’ is a song that is full to the brim with manic drumming and frantic guitar work that only a band of Mastodon’s prowess would be able to pull off. It wouldn’t be a Mastodon album without the guest appearance of Scott Kelly of Neurosis, who features on the relentless ‘Scorpion Breath’, before the album closes out with the eight-minute ‘Jaguar God’, with a beautiful acoustic introduction accompanied by harmonizing vocals, and dramatic drums. The song builds up from this point and becomes heavier and heavier, and it features the perfect Mastodon blend of timing changes and incredible musicianship.
There isn’t a Mastodon album that I put on just to hear one or two songs. They have always been immersed in the art of creating a full album experience, and Emperor Of Sand is exactly that. It’s 50-plus minutes of music you are going to want to commit to in entirety. It is also the most emotional and life-affirming album the band has made; one that not only sounds vulnerable, powerful and defiant, but also one that ultimately puts life into perspective, something only a band like Mastodon can achieve.
- Sultan’s Curse
- Show Yourself
- Precious Stones
- Roots Remain
- Word To The Wise
- Ancient Kingdom
- Scorpion Breath
- Jaguar God
Brann Dailor – drums, vocals
Brent Hinds – vocals, lead guitar
Bill Kelliher – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Troy Sanders – vocals, bass guitar, keyboards