By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
It has been 15 years since the world was introduced to heavy metal’s newest heroes, Mastodon. With their screeching vocals, complex musicianship, mesmerizing lyrics, and elaborate stage charisma, the prog metal powerhouse took the nation by storm. When I was first saw the band, at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles, Calif. (Novo today) with Gojira, they did not have a fancy light set or special effects. They relied on their tremendous talent as musicians to put on a fantastic concert. Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, lead guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Bill Kelliher, and drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor created something that was timeless. They are back at it once again with their 7th release, Emperor of Sand. This album is nothing short of excellence.
Emperor of Sand marks a return to familiar roots for Mastodon. In the early days of their career, they would put out concept records that dealt with the elements of life. Some of these elements include fire (2002’s Remission), water (2004’s Leviathan), earth (2006’s Blood Mountain), and air (2009’s Crack the Skye). It also marks the second album to be produced by the legendary Brendan O’Brien. This album deals with the topic of mortality/death. It tells the story of a desert wanderer who has just received a death sentence by a Sultan. According to Mastodon, the reason they chose theme was because they had some family members and friends who recently been diagnosed with cancer. As someone who lost somebody close to cancer, I can understand the need to tackle this issue.
The first single was “Show Yourself,” which is by far their most radio oriented song in their catalogue. It has a catchy chorus and a very mainstream sound that does a good job capturing the listener. As soon as I heard that song, I knew I wanted more. Mastodon has a whole array of tunes that raises my spirits. From “Ancient Kingdom” to “Steambreather,” each song is woven with clever lyrics, dealing with the need for survival. In the song “Word to the Wise,” I loved the verses “I fell into a pit of lies; I tried to dig around the other side.” To my knowledge, I believed that the song deals with regretful decisions and wanting to correct them.
The band has always been known for having three of its members sing lead: Hinds, Dailor, and Sanders. Each one brings their own unique vocal talents to the songs that balance each other out. Scott Kelly of Neurosis, and Kevin Sharp of Brutal Truth lent their voices to “Scorpion Breath” and “Andromeda” respectively. Each guest vocalist brought some extra sharpness to the songs. My favorite track has to be “Jaguar Breath” because the folk rock touch adds a little mysticism to the sound. Hinds hammers down some scorching guitar solos, while Kelliher lays down swanky rhythms to accompany Hinds. Dailor continues to show he’s an animal behind the kit, and Sanders projects heavy bass riffs that have a monstrous hook.
Mastodon continues to dominate the rock scene with their genius display of heavy metal. It was awesome to listen an album that deals with an important subject matter. At the end of the album, there is something to be learned: even in death, you can somehow survive. Doing it the way they know how, Emperor of Sand is definitely a winner. With each member also busy with their side projects, it is rewarding to hear them bring their collective talents back together to create another masterpiece. Every song is nothing short of perfection. I cannot wait for them to share these terrific songs with the fans. Mastodon is back with style and aggression, and I salute them. Horns up!!! 10/10
01. Sultan’s Curse
02. Show Yourself
03. Precious Stones
05. Roots Remain
06. Word To The Wise
07. Ancient Kingdom
10. Scorpion Breath
11. Jaguar God
I dedicate this review to both my grandmother, Carol, and Tony Osuchowski’s brother, Chuck. Both lost their battle with cancer. They are now thriving on the other side.