After a period of emotional turmoil, US progressive metallers Mastodon return with their seventh studio album. For many fans, Emperor of Sand signals the return to the mastery of 2009’s ambitious Crack The Skye: the same producer, a strong conceptual theme, epic rhythmic galloping, and fantastical, doom-laden vibe. In short, it’s almost as if intervening (and rather derided) records The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun never happened.
Influenced by the tragedy of cancer, which has affected several band members’ lives through the years, the album focuses on the passing of time and deals in some heavy subject matter. That said, the track Show Yourself is the most radio-friendly Mastodon single to date, thanks to its strong alt-rock hooks and drummer Brann Dailor’s lighter style of singing compared to Troy Sanders’ grizzled growl.
Guitarist Bill Kelliher’s fretwork is as glittering as ever, swapping from crushing metal tremolo to screeching, 80s hair metal solos. Ancient Kingdom is the most overt nod to Crack The Skye, closely echoing the track Divinations in its vocal melodies, flurries of percussion and buzzing, rapidly-picked melodies. But the Emperor’s most prized jewel is the spell-binding Roots Remain – not a lengthy track by Mastodon standards – but long enough for some proper prog mazework, comprising psychedelic elements, soaring vocals, softer interludes and a signature breakdown.
A lot of Emperor feels like familiar territory, and the band doesn’t head down any jaw-droppingly original avenues. But each of the 11 tracks is expertly crafted and technically dazzling, and is sure to please the fans who loved the older stuff, while attracting a new legion of loyal subjects.
Edited by Ginny Wong