One of the very best things about Mastodon is their ability to make new music without repeating themselves. Sure, the band has an overall sound that is synonymous throughout all of their respective albums, but when listened to in sequence from 2002’s Remission right through to Emperor Of Sand, their eighth studio album of original material, one can hear a particular trajectory.
The band has fans who continually hope they will return to their roots and deliver material akin to Remission and Leviathan, two albums filled with relentless chaotic riffs, pummelling beats and snarling vocals. Seventeen years down the road, Mastodon isn’t really that collective of men anymore. Each and every album Mastodon delivers has elements of their roots. Their legacy fans will certainly have nothing to complain about when they hear the relentless “Scorpion Breath” with longtime guest-musician Scott Kelly of Neurosis. Kelly is the unspoken fifth member of Mastodon, having appeared on every album the band has put out except for their debut.
Many Mastodon fans (myself included) revere 2009’s Crack The Skye as the band’s swan song. That album, produced by Brendan O’Brien, saw Mastodon surrender themselves fully to prog-rock, creating one of the finest examples of that genre of music this generation has seen captured over seven delightfully genius movements of music. And now we have Emperor Of Sand, with Brendan O’Brien back in the Production driver’s seat – and an album that can truly give Crack The Skye a run for its money.
It’s unfair to try and outright compare the two albums. Mastodon has come a long way from Crack The Skye with the 2011 release of The Hunter and then the most excellent Once More ‘Round The Sun in 2014. There are some elements to the new songs on Emperor Of Sand that resonate with Crack The Skye, which one can only guess was part of the reason for Mastodon going back to O’Brien to help realise the music in the studio. “Jaguar God”, a meandering eight-minute long delicacy of guitar-riffs takes the listener to the end of Emperor Of Sand in much the same way “The Last Baron” ends Crack The Skye. “Jaguar God” manages to accomplish this in 5 minutes less time, but the kaleidoscope effect of meshing guitars feels like a warm embrace.
“Precious Stones” and “Steambreather”, songs four and five on Emperor Of Sand, are utterly humbling movements of music. They are ambitious songs, heavyweights in the guitar category, with an expanse to them that makes them feel commercially viable – potential singles even. “Clandestiny” is built on a grinding riff that progresses into something that seems almost like Moog-music lifted from a 1980’s John Carpenter film. Which then leads into “Andromeda”, a song that boils with manic drumming and frantic guitar work that only a band of Mastodon’s prowess could pull off. “Andromeda” is all over the place, but the song completely works.
There isn’t a Mastodon album that I put on to hear just one song. They have always been a band immersed in the fine art of creating an album experience, and Emperor Of Sand is exactly that. It’s 50-plus minutes of music you are going to want to commit to in entirety. It could very well be the best album in their catalogue yet.
Emperor Of Sand Track Listing:
01. Sultan’s Curse
02. Show Yourself
03. Precious Stones
05. Roots Remain
06. Word To The Wise
07. Ancient Kingdom
10. Scorpion Breath
11. Jaguar God
Run Time: 51:11
Release Date: March 31, 2017
Check out Mastodon’s Second Single “Show Yourself”