"Once More 'round The Sun" has almost hinted that, missing most of the sludge and prog elements that have made Mastodon so large in the first place, being more direct in its approach, and fans are on the verge to screaming for the older stuff again.
With the emergence of "Emperor of Sand", I was of course curious if they would take it another step forward, and if it would still work, because truth be told, "The Hunter" and "Once More..." are still fantastic albums (with the latter being the best from 2014 in my opinion). The two lead singles have hinted that, especially the video single "Show Yourself", which does have an awesome and funny video, is probably as mainstream as it goes. It is really straight forward, catchy, clean, and all in all safe in its approach. A good choice for a single, absolutely, but does it represent the album? No, it does not.
Because while "Emperor of Sand" does continue on what the band has done for the last 6 years, there are a lot of old stuff thrown in too, like the fact that we once again have a concept record on our hands, about a man sentenced to walk in the desert for the rest of his life, representing tragedies that the band have been through within their families. The sound also has a more retro feel, even if it technically is more of the cleaner direction that the band has gone towards lately, so do not expect any "Blood And Thunder" here.
But what can you expect from "Emperor of Sand" then? Well, it is a grower for sure, every subsequent listen makes the album evolve and makes you wanna come back for more. For while the songs themselves are not quite the buffest group ever, they work very well together, creating a complete album that works out of each other's strengths. We get some groove, some mystical, some (or more correctly very little) sludge, yeah mostly everything that we have gotten to know from the band. The variety is really strong, while the band still manages to contain it to a grounded level so that everything feels united.
But what really elevates this album to the all high Mastodon standard is the performance from the band, which is just stellar as usual (even if Hinds and Kelliher did not break the riff bank this time). The thing I am most impressed by are the vocals, running the show like never before. Hinds, Dailor, and Sanders harmonize better than ever, feeling more confident with their inner instruments and also tries to expand their abilities further, and together with long time friend and regular album guest Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Mastodon has truly created a diverse and cool vocal experience.
However, I do not really see any of the songs in here becoming future fan classics. Sure, you will always find your own personal favourites from this album, maybe the tempo shifting "Word To The Wise", the melodic "Clandestiny", the epic finisher "Jaguar God", or the classic Mastodon songs "Precious Stones" and "Scorpion Breath", but it will almost certainly end in that you only get reminded of similar, and simply better, Mastodon songs from the past. Once again, unlike "Once More 'round The Sun" this album is not about the strength of the songs, it is about the complete picture and the concept.
I really was unsure at first, was this album actually gonna let me down? Mastodon, who are the masters of awesome, actually making a mediocre album? Fortunately, "Emperor of Sand" did turn things around, unveiling as a really nice work of art. Sure, it does not match amazing albums like "Blood Mountain" and "Crack The Skye", and it could even be considered as one of the lesser good albums the band has ever made, but I still love it and the charm it brings. Just like the main focus of the concept, this album is all about time. Give enough of it, and you will understand too how marvelous it can be, and that it do have its own place in the magnificent Mastodon discography.
Songs worthy of recognition: Word To The Wise, Steambreather, Roots Remain, Scorpion Breath
Rating: 8/10 Andromedas
More reviews of Mastodon
Once More 'round The Sun