MASTODON – EMPEROR OF SAND
Release Date: March 31st, 2017
Mastodon is a band that I’ve been meaning to get in to for a few years now. I just never had that proper push in the right direction to start getting their stuff. The music I have heard from them over the years has been fantastic and they certainly have deserved to be one of the first names people bring up when talking about modern metal bands. I wanted this new album Emperor of Sand before even being asked to review it. I listened to parts of a few songs from it the day it was released and I knew this was the time to get in to them. Then a couple of days later I was asked to review it which gives me the perfect opportunity to dissect my opinion of the album and see if my first impression still holds up.
You can’t go wrong with any of the first four tracks on Emperor of Sand. Opening track Sultan’s Curse sets a tone that the rest of the album follows. It sounds like desert metal, true to the title of the album, there is an underlying tone that makes the song, and many others on the album, sound like Mastodon took a trip through the sands of an ancient Egyptian desert (which I’m sure they didn’t actually do) before writing the music for the album.
Mastodon has been getting some flack over the song the track Show Yourself. I can understand why. Out of all the songs on Emperor of Sand, this song sounds the most like they were trying to make a song for the radio. I like to compare this one song to Megadeth‘s Risk album, in which the majority of the album is quite great and could be considered one of Megadeth’s best, but since the Megadeth name was on the album it got backlash over its less than heavy hard rock sound. If someone hasn’t really listened to anything since Mastodon’s Leviathan came out thirteen years ago, they’d surely be taken quite aback by Show Yourself. I feel it fits on Emperor of Sand well given its heavy desert sound, only with a few vocal hooks that may be a little more clean compared to much of Mastodon’s music of the past.
Rounding out the remainder of the first four tracks of Emperor of Sand are Precious Stones and Steambreather. Precious Stones picks up the pace a bit after Show Yourself while keeping the trend of great vocal melodies topped with a standout guitar solo at the end. Speaking of great vocal melodies though, I think it’s easy for me to say that Steambreather’s chorus has the rest of the album beat, with some good harmonies to boot. Mastodon‘s ability to change the pace from slow and doomy to its faster paced chorus make the five minute listening experience a memorable one.
The six-and-a-half minute Roots Remain reminds me of why Mastodon are one of, if not the most respected progressive metal band of the modern day. If I could make a comparison to a less than heavy band, Mastodon make music similarly to how Rush has always made their music progressive. What I mean by that is, unlike other progressive bands stemming from Yes to Dream Theater who seem to do everything they can to make music as complex and challenging as possible, Rush and now Mastodon make their progressive sounds seem natural, kind of like they go in and write/jam out songs that just happen to come out with a progressive sound, topped with time changes and odd sounds not typically heard in rock/metal. Jaguar God, the other long epic track which is also Emperor of Sand‘s closer, does much of the same, only in a slightly less catchy way.
After Roots Remain, the progressive side of Mastodon really starts to shine a little more than it was in the first four tracks. Word to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom both have their progressive elements while forging their own individual identities within the Emperor of Sand tracks. Word to the Wise has a sound that fills your speakers with instrumentation, while Ancient Kingdom takes on a bit of a doom metal sound, not too different from some of the earlier tracks in that it also sounds like the song makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a desert.
For people hoping for songs with a little more intensity on Emperor of Sand, they would be looking for Clandestiny, Andromeda and Scorpion Breath. While not the quite as ferocious as some of the Mastodon‘s earlier songs, both songs succeed at adding some magnitude to the album. Though the vocals still concentrate heavily on the melodic side of things, the pace of Clandestiny is one of the faster ones on the album. It’s middle section reminds me of late 70’s Black Sabbath when they started adding keyboards in to a few of their songs, most particularly when Sabbath had Rick Wakeman perform on the song Who Are You. Apparently a “synth guitar” was used on Clandestiny, and I wonder if that’s what gives it that unique sound.
Both Andromeda and Scorpion Breath feature more intense vocals by Troy Sanders compared to others on Emperor of Sand. The latter of the two songs is especially intense, with the inclusion of long time Mastodon collaborator Scott Kelly lending his voice to the song, as he’s done on just about every other Mastodon album.
Mastodon has said that all of Emperor of Sand‘s songs were written about going through cancer, inspired by the struggles they’ve seen family and friends go through. These deeper meanings are hidden behind the album’s concept of “a desert wanderer who has been handed a death sentence.” Their ability to turn such a concept, both lyrically and musically, into this album is impressive enough. Then taking in to account the power of just about every track on this album just adds to why this will be a hard album for other metal bands to top throughout the rest of the year.
Thanks for reading!
8.5 (Out of 10)
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