The Student Playlist

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REVIEW: Mastodon – ‘Emperor Of Sand’ (Reprise)

  • 9/10
    - 9/10


‘Emperor Of Sand’, Mastodon’s seventh album, sees the metal wizards in scintillating form.

If people were to think of bands who consistently replicate their music quality from one album to the next, bands such as Death, Opeth or Tool are ones that would most likely crop up within the metal community. For 17 years now, Mastodon have been ceaselessly submerged into this category also. From Remission (2002) to their previous effort Once More ‘Round The Sun (2014), every album is an unyielding 8/10 or above where their second album Leviathan (2004), based on Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ novel, achieves a perfect 10 effortlessly. It’s an instant classic due to teeth-gnawing tracks like the much-loved ‘Blood And Thunder’ and ‘Iron Tusk’ along with the 13-minute and underappreciated epic ‘Hearts Alive’. It had blood-curdling riffs, growling vocals, and heartfelt lyricism.

If a close friend is into metal but disinclined to venture outside of the past where Sabbath, Priest, Metallica, and Megadeth (to name a few) reign supreme, tell them that they need to get out more. Besides, these bands have released several below-par albums in their time – Mastodon hasn’t released one! One of the reasons why Mastodon’s gorgeous discography has been so unbelievable are the concepts or back-stories that uphold them in such high-esteem. Their first four albums (Remission, Leviathan, Blood Mountain, and Crack The Skye) were based on the four ‘elements’ of fire, water, earth and air respectively – pure genius. It was with The Hunter (2011) where their sound became less progressive and positively stripped-down to grooves associated with heavy rock. Once More ‘Round The Sun continued this new style and songs like ‘High Road’ and ‘The Motherload’ highlight their most melodic outgoings to date.

With their new release, Emperor Of Sand, the two worlds of old and new seem to collide and achieve yet another astonishing product in the Mastodon franchise. This is also the first album since Crack The Skye where the band takes the listener on a journey from beginning to end through a compelling and introspective narrative. Over the past two years or so, the band members have been through some tough family experiences with the main nemesis being cancer. This has resulted in rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher’s mother to sadly pass away. All this emotional build-up and torment is what stimulates the listener’s experience and the opening track ‘Sultan’s Curse’ envisions the desert wanderer who’s subjected to a curse and stranded in a land of nothingness. The riffs and guitar melodies are heavenly – Satan himself would blush a tad.

The lyricism throughout this album lives up to previous entries in terms of painting a mental picture for the listener (on the same level as Leviathan in this aspect). ‘Precious Stones’, for example, contains lines like “Don’t waste your time / If it’s the last thing that you do” which bombards the listener with a very powerful message – make the most of your life and do the things you want to do as there may be no tomorrow in sight. The song ‘Steambreather’ contains lines like “I wonder who I am / Reflections offer nothing / I wonder where I stand / I’m afraid of myself” where we dig deep into the strained psyche of the band members as they contemplate the meaning of life. There’s a lot more where that came from but let’s move on to the music.

Well there’s no other word to describe the music – inspiring. There’s not a riff or melody on this album that feels out of place. Lead guitarist Brent Hinds’ guitar tone is to die for and his technique is world-class. The songs ‘Ancient Kingdom’ and ‘Roots Remain’ is where Hinds’ guitar playing is second-to-none with cracking guitar solos. The song ‘Show Yourself’ is where we see the melodic side of Mastodon follows through with profound energy. The closing track ‘Jaguar God’ starts off with a foreboding melody that then picks up the pace with every chord enriching the next; then all members rally for one final hit of metal mayhem as the album draws to a gratifying close. All over this album, bassist Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds, and drummer Brann Dailor’s voices continue to work harmoniously with each other (and yes, Mastodon has three lead vocalists!).

To get from sleeping on each other’s floors to where they are now really goes to show that metal is far from irrelevant in today’s music industry. Emperor Of Sand fortifies Mastodon’s position as an imperative force in 21st century metal with an album that deserves every ounce of respect. (9/10) (Harry Beynon)

Listen to Emperor Of Sand here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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