Heavy and Harmonic, With A Progressive Edge
Often times in life, people are subjected to hardship. What they choose to do in response to this hardship is often what ends up defining them. Mastodon have responded to their own personal hardships by writing an album that parallels their experiences with cancer among family members and the battles for survival that ensued. This adversity fueled the fire for what has become an emotionally rich and technically sound release that figuratively parallels their own experiences with life, death and salvation.
Emperor of Sand, Mastodon’s seventh studio release, is an adventure through unforgiving circumstances that follows a protagonist and his fight for survival. The elements of the story are littered with themes of triumph, survival and death, which are ever-present among a barrage of strategically placed harmonic vocal work, catchy hooks and blistering lead guitar runs. The overall arrangement is incredibly reminiscent of Crack the Skye-era Mastodon, possibly due to their collaboration with record producer Brendan O’Brien once again.
At just over 51 minutes in length, the masterful changes in tempo and the ability to change the overall weight of the material both serve to control the listener’s perception of time as they are incredibly seamless and calculated. The opening track, “Sultan’s Curse,” starts off strong and carries that same high level of energy all the way through. The depth of the drum sound and the transition from pure distorted crunch to a clean tone with a pronounced delay add an additional degree of suspense and resolution as the listener is left anticipating the sonic assault to begin anew. The bombardment continues throughout the album with songs such as “Roots Remain” and “Andromeda,” which inject a high level of energy and emotion without coming across as over-the-top. The ebb and flow of the tempo and volume throughout the composition serves to keep the listener engaged and guessing what will happen next, all culminating in the final track “Jaguar God.”
The song “Jaguar God” closer combines many of the musical aspects noted throughout the rest of the album, with the length of a traditional rock ballad, but the substance of a Greek epic. The song starts with a somber acoustic intro, only to build gradually, as the music and story progress into an all-out fusillade. Overall, Emperor of Sand is a phenomenal album that sees the band return to the level of prominence enjoyed with previous releases. It is a must-have for perennial Mastodon fans, as well as for progressive metal enthusiasts in general.
The Unites States tour in support of Emperor of Sand begins in Missoula, MT on April 14th and lasts through May 20th, at which time they will head across the pond to Donington Park to begin the European leg of the tour.