Occasionally, when a band’s career is prolific and varied, it helps to start off the discussion of any material by claiming a “favorite” album. It gives a base that you can build a conversation on. For instance, when talking about Metallica, your thoughts on their newest album will be very colored by which ever of their previous works you hold most dear, because of just how different they are. Mastodon falls into this category as well, but more due to stylistic differences than number of releases (but this being their 7th album is nothing to dismiss either). I might do this from time to time, just to help give further context on my reviews, and not just have readers reject my thoughts outright. In the case of Mastodon, my favorite album is “Crack the Skye” with “Once More ‘Round the Sun” in a close second (seriously can’t wait for the vinyl review just so I can write 2000 words on how much I love those albums). And now, knowing this, let’s listen to “Emperor of Sand”, and see just what Mastodon can sonically assault us with this time.
Sands Shift, Mastodon Stands Firm
This album has a very similar tone to OMRtS and CtS, which is fine, because it’s a great sound. Stick with what works. It’s a very solid mix that suits their style. The guitars are heavy, but allow the bass to fill in the lower register. The drums are very present, but never overpowering. And the vocals (all four members sing) are very clear, whether they be growls or singing. The guitar leads can sometimes get lost, but it’s more of a specific instance of the music, rather than mixing. Some may find the similar sounds tiring, but considering they sound like my favorite albums, I’m completely fine with it. There is enough playing with guitar effects on the solos to keep you on your toes, and the other more orchestral or programming elements always help to shift your ear away from monotony.
Mastodon might just be among the best “riff-er”s in metal. There isn’t a single song that doesn’t have a great riff for the verse. They’ve perfected whatever formula they have. If their next album was rap, I’d expect it to have some sick riff-age. “Andromeda” has the absolutely most slammin’ riff on the album and kicks right into it. Solos, on the surface, don’t seem completely mind-bending, but are still excellently written. There’s no way I could ever play them either, so I know they’re good. The end of “Roots Remain” is a great solo, and shows of both the lyrical and technical prowess that Mastodon can construct their songs with. The choruses are carried by the singing vocals (of Dailor), while the verses are mix of singing, growling, and screaming, just depending on the flavor of the song. I have a personal preference for Hinds vocals, but all the guys are great. They’ve shown real maturity in knowing just what style of vocals they need for each section of music.
Lyrics are no joke with the guys in Mastodon. They have a beautiful way of combining real life experiences, into an allegorical story, and making it sound like a brutal metal song. The concept of “Emperor of Sand” revolves around time and how it affects us (see also “sands of time”). Every band member seems to have gone through some type of hardhsip since beginning the writing process for this album, which in turn influences what the story of the album is. Dailor explains that the overarching story is of a man who is condemned to death and is wandering the desert, interacting with different tribal elements, until he is eventually saved and killed. And all of this combines into metal songs that sound both brutal and beautiful. With all of their previous albums being concepts of a sort, it’s no surprise that “Emperor of Sand” is as well. It’s a strong point for the band that each of their albums can tell a story and compel you to listen to more than just one song.
Favorite lyrics are:
“I wonder who I am. Reflections offer nothing. I wonder where I stand. I’m afraid of myself.” – Steambreather
“And all that I have come to lose: gone so long it doesn’t matter anyway. And all that I have come to gain: will remain with me until the bitter end.” – Roots Remain
“Constantly burying our loves in the trench of this mysterious despair, it leaves us empty.” – Scorpion Breath
This is a great album, though I’m not instantly in love, but I know that will change. I need a few more listens, and to pick up the vinyl (which comes with a cool color-in second album cover). The first two tracks on the album were instant favorites, “Sultans’s Curse” and “Show Yourself“, as the first reminded me very much CtS and the latter of OMRtS. I highly recommend watching the making of series on their YouTube after your own listen. Funny and informative, it gives good insight into how the album came to be. Overall, a very solid entry into the discography of Mastodon that will stand the passage of time.