As Mastodon’s transformation into a more radio-friendly band continues, it seems as if older fans are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the bands musical output. ‘Emperor of Sand’ represents the bands most commercial outing to date, though not entirely ignoring the bands roots, it does seem intent on them moving further away from the harsher, rougher, meatier sounds of Remission and Leviathan.
I’ve been a little hit and miss with this band over the years, and in all honesty I think that ‘Crack the Skye’ is their best album. To my ears, ‘Crack the Skye’ was a musical journey through the prog-metal cosmos. It had everything: great songs, production and musicianship. Followup ‘The Hunter’ was hugely underwhelming. I’m finding it difficult to think of anything positive about that album and although ‘Once Around the Sun’ was an improvement, it was no ‘Crack the Skye’.
So, where does ‘Emperor of Sand’ sit? Well, I definitely think fans of more recent Mastodon will really like this album. It is without doubt the bands most tuneful, with songs like openers ‘Sultan’s Curse’ and in particular ‘Show Yourself’ being radio-friendly rock songs that even casual metal fans will dig. I quite enjoyed both these tracks, even ‘Show Yourself’ which definitely has a hint of Foo Fighters in it!
‘Precious Stone’ is another solid track, again it’s tuneful, catchy and continues the bands more recent melodic approach to songwriting. The groovy ‘Steambreather’ is another track I quite dig, some great lead work in this one too. The next few tracks are a little Mastodon-by-numbers. We’ve heard them before and they don’t offer too much to get excited about unfortunately. It isn’t until ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Scorpion Breathe’ that things start to click again, but it is perhaps final song ‘Jaguar God’ that leaves a lasting impression. At nearly 8 minutes long it’s the longest track on the album and possibly my favourite. Heaps of layers to this song with intricate, melodic sections that carry a 70s style rock vibe to Levaiathan-style riffage mid-way through, it’s good stuff and perhaps a hint that the band might be venturing into more proggy territory again in the future!
Overall, I think ‘Emperor of Sand’ won’t change the minds of older fans who want a harder edge to the Mastodon sound. There are some heavy passages on this album but it’s the moments of melody and the quality of (the majority) of the songwriting that stand out for me. Mastodon is making the kind of music they want to make and probably don’t care one iota if you’re on board or not.
It ain’t no ‘Crack the Skye’ but it is the best thing they have put out since then in my eyes.
Pick up a copy from here.