Emperor of Sand

Written by: MIN on 24/10/2017 10:12:13

Ever since 2009’s ”Crack the Skye”, Mastodon’s been softening their sound. Gone are the constant guitar riffs that sound like chainsaws clashing, in return arrived a smoother production and an increased knack for pop melodies and occasional prog rock excursions (the latter being especially prominent on the aforementioned “Crack the Skye”) – hell, clean singing even takes up most of the vocal duties by now. Alas, if you, like me, like both sides of the band’s discography, you shouldn’t really have a problem getting into “Emperor of Sand”, the latest album by Atlanta, Georgia-based metal quartet Mastodon. The band never gets as truly heavy as they’ve been known to in the past, yet they dive dark enough to make most neglecters of the band’s newer material nod along. Combined with “Emperor of Sand” being Mastodon’s most progressive outing since “Crack the Skye”, it ultimately makes for an excellently cohesive listen that should appeal to most fans.

“Emperor of Sand” follows a linear narrative: it’s the story of a man on the brink of death, wandering the Arabic deserts for a way to survival. However, unlike most albums by Mastodon’s 70s prog rock heroes that often include a concept story, only one song on this record exceeds the seven minute-mark: “Jaguar God” ends the tale with a sinister laughter after having rushed through several stages, including an acoustic intro, Ghost-like organs during the middle-section and a killer solo towards the end, all wrapped up in an emotional prog-adventure that only Mastodon are able to pull off; it’s one of the band’s finest stand-alone tracks, and the definite pinnacle of the album.

Obvious choice-cuts to get into this relatively varied record include most of the singles, such as the poppy chorus of “Show Yourself”, the crisp guitars and prog-prowess of “Sultan’s Curse” (probably the band’s best shot at combining old and new material) or the slow stoner-riff of “Steambreather”. However, the melodic parts of songs like “Ancient Kingdom” and “Clandestiny” also do their best to steal the show, especially during the latter’s outro: the extended chorus where Troy Sanders yells ”Give your life // So I can breathe // Save our life // It’s all we need” while Brent Hinds thrusts in a short but powerful guitar solo is impeccable, and the timing is perfect.

It’s never been a secret that Mastodon aren’t exactly writing poetry, yet they manage to convey an engaging story about an individual with a death sentence into something real (ultimately tying it to the death of rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher’s mother). Accompanying the story is the never-ending joys of listening to the band, who, time and time again, prove why they’re one of the best and most important metal bands of the 21st century (dare we soon say of all time?). Kelliher and Hinds’ well of imagination in terms of excellent guitar riffs and daring solos seems infinite, meanwhile Sanders and Brann Dailor keep the foundation thick and alive in pristine fashion.

As thrilling as “Emperor of Sand” is, however, it is not without its flaws. While everything sounds good, especially during the album’s more melodic moments, you occasionally wish for producer Brendan O’Brien to lay off the polishing and let things get really dirty. A touch of “Remission” would’ve aided, and although I know that Mastodon is a different band today, 15 years later, I’m a firm believer that a higher emphasize on a juxtaposition between raw and smooth would’ve worked wonders for the record. Production aside, “Emperor of Sand” is throughout an excellent record without any real filler material. Surely, there are highlights as presented in this review, but nothing comes off as lackluster or redundant. With “Emperor of Sand”, Mastodon has created an album that places itself confidently among the rest of the band’s enviable discography, and being seven full-length records in their career, that’s a damn impressive feat.


Download: Sultan’s Curse, Roots Remain, Andromeda, Jaguar God
For The Fans Of: Baroness, Intronaut, High on Fire, The Sword, Melvins
Listen: Facebook

Release date 31.03.2017
Reprise Records

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