It seems like only yesterday Atlanta riff lords Mastodon released Once More Round The Sun but alas that was three years ago now. Emperor of Sand is the bands seventh album and like any piece of Mastodon material it is on a whole other level of crazy.
Mastodon have returned to their concept album formatting. Emperor of Sand revolves around a desert wanderer sentenced to death by a sultan and is heavy on the theme of mortality. According to bassist and vocalist Tory Sanders the album is very much inspired by real life. In an interview with Rolling Stone he said “the album ties into our entire discography. It’s 17 years in the making, but it’s also a direct reaction to the last two years. We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives”. It is most certainly darker and more mature than anything I have heard from the band before.
So that’s the story behind Emperor of Sand but what about the music? Well it’s Mastodon so you know it is going to be something special. The first single, Sultan’s Curse, leads the charge and it vibe s serious a Mastodon sound. Heavy sludgy riffs whilst Tory’s booming vocals burst through is almost the bands signature by now. The vocals are traded off with the eerily brilliant slurring of guitarist Brent Hinds whose voice just rides the guitar melodies so well. Sultan’s Curse was just the thing I was looking forward to in a new Mastodon album and the band delivered.
Show Yourself proves the band can do catchy radio safe songs as well as huge sweeping progressions. Simple drum beats and addictive guitar riffs, it sticks in your head long after the song has finished. Much like his work on the song The Motherload on the bands previous album, drummer Brann Dailor’s clean cut style slots nicely into the hard rock sounds of these more mainstream appealing songs. However there is still plenty of opportunity for a blistering guitar solo just to keep that Mastodon flavour fresh.
Emperor of Sand feels like the bridge between Once More Round The Sun and the bands old material. It captures the riff laden heavy progressive sound of Blood Mountain, Crack The Skye and even Leviathan and blurs it with the catchier sound of Once More Round The Sun. You just have to listen to Steambreather. It has the gritty and deep riffing of Brent and Bill, the big doomy bass of Troy but Brann is let loose on vocals making for a more anthem like song. Having a band in which all four members have some form of vocal duty makes for a diverse formatting as each song has its own twist.
There is plenty experimental, psychedelic and proggy sounds littering this album. Andromeda and Ancient Kingdom is chock full of little guitar licks and drum fills that are a result of the bands long career. Each member has a space to fill and play off each other perfectly. The devil really is in the detail. You really must listen out for the oddities that make Mastodon such a finite band. The tambourine beat in Scorpion Breath is the best example. It gets the head moving. I don’t think I have ever banged my head to the rhythmical tapping of a tambourine before but my god it works here.
Mastodon have certainly become one of the most awe inspiring bands in modern music. They have become a band that can create absolutely insane music again and again. I don’t think they have ever missed a mark or released anything short of brilliant. Emperor of Sand shows exactly what 17 years in the making can produce. Thick riffs, impressive musical prowess, diverse vocals and an attention to detail that makes the album a joy to listen to.