The Emperor of Sand is a Mastodon

Mastodon seems to be an anomaly. The metal four-piece, despite their more than 15 years of making music and their obvious skill, still manages to retain the rough hewn energy that carries a younger band through the first few albums. A lot has changed since their debut, Remission, to their latest, Emperor of Sand, but one thing remains the same–the passion with which these four guys unleash their sonic assaults. Emperor of Sand picks up where Once More ‘Round The Sun left off but does so while exploring the heavier aspects of Mastodon’s sound.

The album begins with the single “Sultan’s Curse.” A brutal lead in riff and growling vocals leave no doubt that Emperor of Sand will be unrelenting march from start to end. “Sultan’s Curse” not only sets a bar for the album’s sound as delivers crucial bits of Emperor of Sand‘s narrative. The narrative aspect of this song (and many others) and of the album itself offers a nice counterpoint to the lyric intensity of Mastodon’s instruments–which are arguably better than they have ever been.

Much like the band’s previous album, Once More ‘Round The SunEmperor of Sand splits its time between radio friendly rock and the metal that had driven Mastodon’s sound in the early 2000s. That said, unlike Once More ‘Round The Sun, this album incorporates more progressive twists and turns, more dark and noisy elements to the mix, making for an album that successfully creates a hybrid between radio rock and underground metal.

“Roots Remain” acts a perfect lynchpin between Mastodon’s earlier and current sound. Splitting the difference, dueling vocals nod toward albums like Blood Mountain while simultaneously weaving more melodic choruses (like those found in Once More ‘Round The Sun). Whether you fall into the diehard since-day-one Mastodon fan camp or have recently found them due to their success, songs like “Roots Remain” show that the Atlanta juggernaut is not forsaking older sound but progressing.

The second half of Emperor of Sand exhibits some of the heaviest moments Mastodon has created in recent years. But the dark and brooding sound of songs like “Clandestiny” or “Andromeda” are not pure sludge. The heavier moments of the album seem to be held in check by the lighter and more shimmering aspects of Emperor of Sand. The balance between these conflicting aesthetics gives the album a dynamic that no other band but Mastodon could achieve.

The album ends with the melodic and labyrinthian “Jaguar God.” The nearly eight minute epic acts as a nice concluding volta both in terms of aesthetic and the conceptual narrative that has developed from Emperor of Sand‘s beginning. Showing the subtly Mastodon is capable of, “Jaguar God” is the type of song that burns slowly and unfurls its blooms at its own pace–a perfect counterpoint to the steamroller feel of the rest of the album. And if you dig this record, be sure to catch Mastodon at the Uptown with Eagles of Death Metal and Russian Circles later this month.

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