Saturday 28 June 2014

Mastodon - ‘Once More 'Round The Sun’ (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 24/6/2014
Label: Reprise Records

Mastodon - ‘Once More 'Round The Sun’ track listing:

1). Tread Lightly 05:14
2). The Motherload 04:59
3). High Road 04:15
4). Once More ‘Round The Sun 02:58
5). Chimes At Midnight 05:32
6). Asleep In The Deep 06:12
7). Feast Your Eyes 03:23
8). Aunt Lisa 04:08
9). Ember City 04:59
10). Halloween 04:39
11). Diamond In The Witch House 07:49

The Band:

Troy Landers | Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Brann Dailor | Drums, Vocals
Brent Hinds | Guitars, Vocals
Bill Kelliher | Guitars, (B) Vocals

Review :

The best metal bands have a handful of classic albums each. By my count, Iron Maiden has six. Metallica have five (yes, I count it). Black Sabbath have eight across two line-ups. Judas Priest has four. Slayer has two as do Megadeth and Pantera. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Mastodon, prior to this latest album had three... Will they improve on this tally? Read on to find out my opinion.

The observant amongst you will note that Mastodon were placed into a paragraph among what many consider to be the “classic” metal bands. Sure, other bands have classic albums too and some are classic bands within a sub-genre, but the above bands are the true behemoths of the form. It is my view that Mastodon have joined this elite- they are forward thinking, risk taking, musically dexterous, unique in their sound. When you hear them, you know who’s playing. For me, ‘The Hunter’ did not make the “classic” bracket. By some distance. I found it to be lacking in what I love about Mastodon and somehow lacking the fire of earlier albums- or even the prog-weirdness of ‘Crack The Skye’. I desperately wanted this to be a return to the days of ‘Leviathan’ - which is my favourite metal album of the first decade of this century.

Opener ‘Tread Lightly’ is tight and crisp with snappy drums but oddly muted guitars, I thought. What is immediately clear is that the album will not be a re-tread of their previous work. The vocals are clean and well delivered. ‘The Motherload’ has a snappy Dailor intro and then we are into the riffing. More clean vocals but the track and album are more upbeat than ‘Crack The Skye’ by far. The positivity of the chorus is infectious and packs a memorable refrain.

‘High Road’ is a superb track- catchy and heavy. Great riff, perfect choice for an album primer... and surprisingly straightforward. Don’t get me wrong, this is not The Black Album- but it is certainly less cluttered than previous offerings. The title track clocks in at under three minutes (!). It is again strangely upbeat and focused on the song as opposed to the riff but there is some superb guitar interplay to be had in between verses.

‘Chimes At Midnight’ is an altogether more sombre beast. Sparkly guitar on one level and mournful work on another. An excellent riff replaces this and the band groove away in familiar Mastodon territory. ‘Asleep In The Deep’ represents something of an album high point. Epic and mournful in delivery (great bass tone) it is trippy, jazzy and progressive in the best ways possible. ‘Feast Your Eyes’ is another three minute wonder. Up tempo and almost punk like in approach, but of course there are time changes and frenetic percussive passages. ‘Aunt Lisa’ is dexterous and light on its feet and features god guitar work and vocals. ‘Ember City’ follows with a kind of Mastodon does Maiden approach- galloping it is, metal it certainly is too. Great solo, strong hook.

‘Halloween’ is not a Misfits cover, but allows Hinds and Kelliher to extend themselves well- a nice feature of the album generally is the way that the guitars weave together- I guess years of writing and touring will do that. ‘Diamond In Witch House’ is the close to eight minute album closer and starts with acoustic, then electric and then the band start to build up. Slow and crushing in its own way with dark musical passages too, it is a brooding way to finish what is an oddly happy record in places.

The verdict... Well, this is a good album. Maybe even a great one- it could well be a grower. Mastodon remains head and shoulders above the competition and the vast majority of bands. However, for me, the classic tally still stands at three.

Words by: Richard Maw

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