Mastodon are one of a number of bands you find these days that people are completely divided on. You either love them or hate them and it’s a struggle find anyone in between the divide. For myself, I tend to swing from one side of the fence to the other; in terms of recordings there have been some absolute killer albums, but also some I'm not keen on at all. The same goes for live performances and personally I have experienced the good and the not so good shows.
Traditionally an elegant and heavy progressive metal band, Mastodon tend to shy away and even distance themselves from the term "heavy metal", but its undoubtedly where their roots lie with that added progressive technical twist. Emperor of Sand turns out to be a finely tuned well rounded album, maybe slightly missing the rough edge so many of us loved from the first five albums, but also lacking the over radio friendliness of Once More Round The Sun which turned some longer term fans off.
The album opens with the dark undertones of Sultans Curse, part of the grander story of the concept album telling the story of our protagonist cursed to wander an arid endless landscape. The guitar work of Hinds and Kelliher immediately grabs you by the balls from the off; fast and heavy.
Show Yourself is, if anything, the exact opposite of the opener, light and airy in sound and vocals by comparison. A steady almost grungy riff throughout and for added listening pleasure a technical guitar solo executed to near perfection. The drum track from Dailor on Precious Stones is masterful, another dark number driven by his technique, it has the feel of a latter day earthtone9 number, especially vocally.
Steambreather injects an atmospheric tone to the album with guitar effects that give the sound a depth of vision, akin to listening to music in 3 dimensions. Dailors growth on the vocal front evident as he takes a big step up here expanding his talents yet further.
Roots Remain and Word to the Wise both pick up the pace of the album, faster and a little less on the heavy side. The latter standing out as a standalone song and again Dailors vocals on the chorus adding that extra element. Now over half way through the album, its quickly turning out to be a masterpiece, technically solid, experimentally progressive enough to keep the older fan engaged throughout but no so much to turn off the casual listener.
Although having said the above, Ancient Kingdom starts to push that progressive boundary a little more and Clandestiny adds an element of space rock wizardry mid song delivering yet more depth to this meteoric sound. It’s easy to drift into the epic nature of this album, seeing it as the one long story it was intended to be you can lose yourself completely following the protagonists tale through the music.
Overall, Mastodon have a recording which could be their definitive album in Emperor of Sand. Learning the lessons from their last offering which had fans questioning where they were headed. This opus takes the best elements of all previous works, and lets it grow with their experiences. Thus allowing them to take a step up, musically, technically; quite possibly allowing them to break through to a wider audience with a more accessible piece all round.