By James Burcky
Photo via Alan Brown and Donny Phillips
The 8th studio album by Atlanta based progressive metal band Mastodon, “Emperor of Sand,” is heavy. No pun intended. The soul-crushing subject matter of the death of family members and diagnosis of terminal cancer makes clear the pain that they are experiencing through the lyrics.
The band creates a loose narrative of a lone traveler, making a journey across an isolated desert. Mastodon evokes themes of death, loneliness, and dread, and really tugs at the heartstrings in an intense way. I love it. It ties in perfectly with the high caliber of rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher’s riffs, lead guitarist Brent Hinds’ shredding solos, bassist Troy Sanders’ thunderous bass, and drummer Brann Dailor’s unforgiving drum fills. And the combined efforts of the vocals on all parts, except Kelliher, is beautiful.
However, this album, along with their last album before this, “Once More ‘Round the Sun,” takes a far more poppier and radial direction on their signature sound. Being very reminiscent of ‘90’s era Metallica in their sell-out phase (which they are finally coming out of!), Mastodon doesn’t take it too far. Metallica took it too far and alienated their core fanbase, but Mastodon has found the perfect middle between heavy and accessible.
While it isn’t quite always heavy enough for my taste, I’m glad they were able to strike that balance and win a Grammy for the opening track, “Sultan’s Curse,” beating out my favorite band, August Burns Red, and heavy metal juggernaut, Meshuggah.
The record starts out strong, and ends even stronger with the modern prog masterpiece, “Jaguar God.” The middle of the album kind of drags on, with many tracks taking on the same song structure, but each track comes full circle nicely. What keeps it from getting a perfect 10/10, is just that: the fact that too many tracks take on such similar song structure. Each one on its own is very enjoyable, but one after another feel monotonous.
Overall, this is a very strong record, musically, lyrically, and financially. I highly recommend it to any metalhead, anyone looking to get into metal, or simply anyone who appreciates masterfully made music.
Best Tracks: “Sultan’s Curse,” “Steambreather,” “Word to the Wise,” “Jaguar God”
Worst Tracks: “Show Yourself,” “Andromeda”
Overall Score: 9/10