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Mastodon’s New Album EMPEROR OF SAND Riffs on Time and Death (Review)

Mastodon’s New Album EMPEROR OF SAND Riffs on Time and Death (Review)

With their new album Emperor of Sand, heavy metal gods Mastodon ponder time and morality through the lens of a dark, desert landscape. The band is known for high concept albums, like 2004’s Moby Dick-themed Leviathan and the wormhole journey of 2009’s Crack the Skye, but Emperor of Sand is different. While the lyrics and songs may lean towards the big and absurd (in “Sultan’s Curse” or “Ancient Kingdom,” for example), there is something deeply personal about this album. There’s a immediacy to it, something intimate in the way it approaches death and life.

Much like their previous two efforts, Emperor of Sand sees Mastodon laying their rock roots on the table. This was evident from the first single, the radio-ready “Show Yourself,” a pop-infused rock number that clocks in at a comfortable three minutes and three seconds. It’s not exactly pushing the boundaries on Mastodon’s sound and, in a lot of ways, it’s not playing to their strengths as a band. But that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. It’s a great song that’ll get stuck in your head for days after just one listen.

The entire album is filled with numbers like this. Brann Dailor’s ability to sing a catchy chorus is on full display throughout the 11 tracks. Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders do plenty of melodic singing, as well, but it’s Dailor’s voice that really pushes through and stands out. Vocally, this record falls into the same category as the previous two albums, The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun. There’s less of an edge to it and a bigger focus on melody and harmony.

photo-credit-jimmy-hubbard-extralarge_1485208421986

Photo Credit: Jimmy Hubbard

That said, Emperor of Sand is more of a spiritual successor to the beloved Mastodon album’s Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye. It’s a multi-layered, deep album that is overflowing with riffs and heavy grooves. Tracks like “Clandestiny” and “Andromeda” are hard and heavy numbers that move fast and weave a tangled web of sludgy guitar solos and thunderous drum rolls. The songwriting throughout is complex; the band never lets you get comfortable. there’s never a rut or a moment when it feels like a song has gone on a second too long. Mastodon rocks just as hard as ever and this album proves it.

A big part of the connection to Crack the Skye is the return producer Brendan O’Brien. There’s no doubt that O’Brien was able to bring out something special in the band on the recording of Crack the Skye and he does it once again on Emperor of Sand. Most noticeably, O’Brien’s toucgh can be heard on Dailor’s drums. The chaos and frantic rhythms that Dailor often lays down are captured perfectly, never too high or low, always seeming to in a perfect sonic mid range that suits Dailor’s style. Mastodon’s strength is in their ability to harness musical madness into a cohesive vision and O’Brien brings this out in them better than any other producer.

It’s worth noting that the cover of the Emperor of Sand is something special, too. Mastodon’s album art is always exciting and unique, something that really helps shape the tone of the record. This time around, the band used artist Alan Brown / Medusawolf to produce a glorious cover painting. It certainly invokes the lyrical imagery of the album while looking thoroughly badass. Seriously, we want to tattoo this monster on our body, it’s just too cool.

If you love Mastodon, you’ll surely love Emperor of Sand. Is it their best album? Probably not, but it’s a kickass rock record that shows off everything these guys do so well. It’ll make you ponder mortality and the unstoppable march of your own death, which is all we can really ask for in a great heavy metal album. Plus, it feature’s appearance from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp, which are like the cherry on top of the delicious fudge sundae Mastodon has scooped up here.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4-burritos

Image: Warner Bros. Records

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