Mastodon

Once More 'Round The Sun

Written by: AP on 09/09/2014 21:56:17

It is easy to construe the title to Mastodon’s newest opus, “Once More ‘Round the Sun”, as a metaphor for the lengths to which they push their artistry, and the cool nonchalance with which they do it. From humble origins they came with “Remission” in 2002, and few would have guessed that purveyors of such dark, bottom heavy sludge had the potential to revolutionise the metal genre - not just once, but time and time again - and grow to be held as one of the most respected and influential bands of the post-Millennium order. But as forward thinking and evolutionary as their recorded output has been, there are those that stubbornly believe Mastodon should never have changed their proven formula, with “Leviathan” and “Blood Mountain” representing, for such fans, the pinnacle of the band’s career, viewing “Crack the Skye” as too complex and long winding, and the no frills “Hunter” simply as selling out. For Mastodon, these albums were natural progress, forming an outlet for the boundless imagination seething in the minds of Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds, Bill Kelliher & Brann Dailor; and, in the case of the latter, slung them into mainstream stardom.

But “The Hunter” was realistically the furthest Mastodon could take their sound without losing face, and as such, those who swear by the first half of their discography will be pleased to discover the quartet has circled back and conditioned their sound anno 2014 with old and familiar ingredients for “Once More ‘Round the Sun”. It begs a twist on a timeless idiom: a lot of old, something new, and something blue; which is to say that the record is darker, heavier, and more brooding than its two most recent predecessors, yet simultaneously, Sanders' melodic tongue and flair for a pop chorus continue to forge a pronounced insignia onto Mastodon's palette. Nowhere is the fusion of retrospect and innovation more defined than on the standout opening track "Tread Lightly", which, following a brief acoustic prelude marches in with the thunderous, vengeful urgency of the band's "Leviathan" era and then smoothly unfolds into a powerful Sanders- and Dailor-sung chorus of sorts near the end - one which you won't soon forget:

Open your eyes! Take a deep breath and return to life. Wake up and fight! Fight for the love and the burning light.

"The Motherload" succeeds this track in reminiscent vein, finding a fascinating balance between Dailor's ever ingenious percussion, mysterious melodies and an exquisite contrast of Dailor's hopeful musing ("This time, this time things'll work out just fine. We won't let you slip away. This time, this time, things'll work our just fine. We won't let you leave this way") with Sanders' insisting roars ("If you want, you can will it. You can have it. I can put it right there in your hands"); and elsewhere, the gloomy "Chimes at Midnight" too, dwells on days much more overcast and distressing than the quirky and uplifting stuff carried by "The Hunter", emerging as a clear cut candidate for song of the album alongside the two just mentioned.

But for all the revelling in past glory, there is no quenching Mastodon's thirst for constant self-reinvention. Cue tracks like "High Road", which cuts a stunning contradiction between one of the heaviest riffs and one of the most soaring choruses the band has written to date; "Aunt Lisa", its peculiar lead and syncopated rhythm section mingling strangely with in turns a robotic voice and a cheerleader style section mildly reminiscent of Faith No More's "Be Aggressive" courtesy of all-girl outfit The Coathangers; or the lumbering 8-minute sprawl "Diamond in the Witch House" which features a monolithic cameo from Scott Kelly of Neurosis fame; and more like than not you'll be left scratching your head as per usual, in bafflement over Mastodon's unparalleled ability to work such abnormalities into their music so successfully.

Now, if you're still following my train of thought, you'll recall mention of something blue as well. And not just for the sake of completeness, but because there is a certain influence of blues on its atmosphere, I single out "Asleep in the Deep" for that purpose - a track very much in keeping with the progressive melancholy of "Crack the Skye", and one which enjoys a comfortable status as one of the stronger picks "Once More 'Round the Sun" has to offer. Naturally, the usage of a comparative adjective necessitates that there are songs of a lesser quality here as well, and those are readily found in the title track, "Feast Your Eyes" and "Halloween". But the thing is, Mastodon maintain such a high standard even with autopilot engaged, that they still reserve the right to condescend heavily on the work of most modern metal bands on the basis of their weaker material. No one sounds like them, nor works with ideas as advanced.

Consequently, if asked what position "Once More 'Round the Sun" would occupy in a ranking of Mastodon's six-album repertoire, I'd nestle it somewhere between "Remission" and "The Hunter" with the former my least favourite Mastodon creation - and still claim it surpasses the collected achievements of almost any other band. There is obviously a hint of bias in such a statement, so digest it with a grain of salt. "Once More 'Round the Sun" is no masterpiece, but it packs enough punch to send it into the finer league of metal releases this year.

8

Download: Tread Lightly, The Motherload, Chimes at Midnight, Asleep in the Deep, Aunt Lisa
For the fans of: Baroness, Bison B.C., High on Fire, Red Fang
Listen: Facebook

Release date 24.06.2014
Reprise Records

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