Mastodon’s trajectory towards modern day metal leaders has been somewhat natural. 2011’s ‘The Hunter’ and 2014’s ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ saw the quartet tread along the mainstream borderline. However, they’re not your typical run of the mill metal band. There’s always a complex element to what they produce, and ‘Emperor of Sand’ is no different. First of all, it sees them returning to the concept album format, something that the band’s early work was dominated by.
This time around, the concept is based on a desert wanderer carrying a death sentence. Over the course of 52 minutes, the Georgia four-piece take you on a journey as the wanderer faces his own mortality. It’s something that the band have faced personally in recent years, as close friends and family have been diagnosed with cancer. It ultimately leads to the band questioning the element of time. ‘Precious Stones’, ‘Roots Remain’ and ‘Andromeda’ capture this perfectly as they battle against the inevitable end.
Musically, Mastodon are always reliable yet ‘EoS’ blends their prog-esque and straightforward rock sides together. Throughout, Brent Hinds and Bill Kehllier exchange monstrous, razor-sharp riffs, while Brann Dailor’s drum work is enthralling (see ‘Word To The Wise’) with bassist Troy Sanders being the final piece of the tightly-knit puzzle. Vocally, Hinds, Sanders and Dailor, produce an emotionally-charged performance throughout.
Lead single, ‘Show Yourself’ serves its purpose with its driving hard rock hook à la Queens of the Stone Age. ‘Steambreather’ rumbles through with droning, sludgy guitars. ‘Clandestiny’ powers through before hitting a prog-filled wall with alien-like voices.
‘Emperor of Sand closes with ‘Jaguar God’, a dynamic eight-minute journey that sees the wanderer become reflective before facing his demise. Its steady build gives way to a frenetic solo, with the final ringing notes being accompanied by death’s evil laugh. It’s a poignant finale.
The downfall of a band like Mastodon being so consistent is that ‘EoS’, at times, comes off as too familiar. There are nods to past work throughout; ‘Sultan’s Curse’ wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Crack The Skye’. Nevertheless, ‘Emperor of Sand’ is a cohesive record that takes you on an intriguing narrative, and is delivered with passion.
‘Emperor of Sand’ by Mastodon is released on 31st March on Reprise.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)