Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Mastodon is a juggernaut of a band, whose precision and technical prowess were honed to a find tipped point on their last record, the almost gleeful Once More Round the Sun. However, there were some fans that were left feeling the record was undercooked. The band’s first three records were monoliths to Southern progressive metal with themes that rival a Rush or Yes concept record. 2009’s Crack the Skye was based on the Tsar of Russia and offered 10+ minute blistering anthems that put all four members technical wizardry on full display.
Emperor of Sand is none of the above, and all of the above. There are no 10 minute epics about foreign royalty anywhere on the record, but that doesn’t mean that the band can’t be masters of their instruments within a 5 minute song? There is the ongoing theme of death and mortality throughout as shown by the songs lyrics, and the untimely deaths of the band members relatives.. Produced by Brendan O’Brien, the mastermind behind 90’s alt-rock, the band has certainly shown progression from the earlier in their career, with Emperor of Sand finding that correct balance between swirling melody, and thrashing Viking metal.
The first two tracks “Sultan’s Curse” and “Show Yourself” lend themselves to the Once More Around the Sun ethos and are almost giddy as they drive the band’s songwriting abilities. Songs like “Precious Stones”, “Steambreather”, and “Roots Remain” are firmly inside that balance, with Brann Dailor’s octopus arms taking a less is more approach to his drumming ability. “Ancient Kingdom” churns the waters with a hook-heavy chorus equal parts hum-along, equal parts menace. The gem final song on the record, “Jaguar God”, is the most proggy tune on the album clocking in just under 8 minutes with enough breaks to require neck surgery and a thrash metal explosion right around the four minute mark.
To say that Mastodon matured, or found their mojo, on this record is absurd. They have had it all along. Artists are meant to experiment, change sounds, change perspective. Who wants a band to sound the same all the time. Mastodon at least did it with their backbone intact, and 15 years on, they will still make your ears bleed.