Mastodon ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ Album Review: Metal Master Class
Mastodon floored me the first time I heard them. A friend recommended their album ‘Remission’, so I went to the mall and bought a copy. I slid it into my car stereo and I think my mouth literally dropped. ‘March of the Fire Ants’ was the first song to grace my ears, and that was it. Instant Mastodon fan. I obsessed and bought their entire catalog. How awesome to blast those albums over and over, finding new and interesting things about the songs, about the band, about the hype that seems to follow their every step. Then I saw them for the first time, right here in good ‘ol Lexington, June of 2010. I pressed myself against the stage and waited for those first notes of ‘Oblivion’. That show got me up and off my ass to more live shows.
‘Crack the Skye’ is still number one at Left Hand Horror. It’s a brilliant and beautiful metal album that touches on everything from personal loss to astral projection. I was terrified of what the band had to accomplish on their next album to satisfy my selfish needs. I was scared ‘The Hunter’ would get too ambitious and turn into prog soup. It didn’t.
‘The Hunter’, with all of its big melodies and intergalactic weirdness steamrolled over me in ways I never dreamed. I have friends that didn’t care for ‘The Hunter’, and my default response is still “But you have ears!” No one ever points out anything but personal preference in these arguments, so I’m not going to rehash the ignorant and pointless bitching of the “real metal” community. Some people would be disappointed if Slayer resurrected Jeff and toured with 1984 Metallica for a decade. To each his own.
2014 is making up for last year’s lackluster metal releases, and I’m thrilled to say I’ve listened to an advance copy of OMRTS for a week straight, only pausing to listen to older Mastodon for personal reference. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is as metal as anything the band’s ever recorded, just don’t expect 2002’s recipe for songwriting to be the same for the older, more musically mature Brent, Bill, Troy, and Brann. Before you get sand in your most metal vagina, this is the opinion of Left Hand Horror, and nowhere in this review will you find you’ve signed your metal power of attorney away to me. If you disagree, feel free to let me know why. If all you want to do is argue and show your ass, well, there are plenty of review sites to measure your metal dick all night long; it just isn’t here. Review time.
California-based artist, Skinner, was picked to illustrate the album due to his uncanny skill in creating nightmarish images with a heavy dose of psychedelia. Members of the band once stated they felt the new album was a continuation of ‘The Hunter’, but no official declaration was made. Personally, I don’t hear much of the previous album with this one. It’s polished and more experimental, but I think it has a decidedly more melodic and interplanetary sound. Guitarist, Bill Kelliher, did recently state his take on the album’s theme.
“It always makes for really good story telling. It’s kind of the theme that we have a lot in our music. We’ve had a lot of friends pass away since the last record. I’m not really sure yet. I think we’re kind of focusing more about living on this earth and what would happen if this was your last year to live. I think that’s sort of maybe a little bit of what we might be kind of touching on.”
I was talking with a good metal friend today, stating how important it is for my favorite bands to grow and evolve. I don’t mean evolve in a negative light, something much of the metal community seems intent on making a bad word. I mean I don’t expect 27-year-old Brent to feel the same as 39-year-old Brent, and his music sure as hell better not sound the same. So, for me, much of the record felt like it was created with a more mature musical/emotional impetus; not to say the album isn’t angry. It’s Mastodon after all, of course it’s angry.
The first song on the album is titled ‘Tread Lightly’, a burgeoning 12 string guitar ride through acid landscapes before finding its punch in the huge chorus and blistering guitar solo. Before the band sees this record runaway with some unforeseen ultra-commercial success, to me, it’s clear that Mastodon know how the music world works. They are a lot, maybe even a surprising number of big, clean, hooky vocal moments on this record, but, you Joe Q. Common Listener has to endure a couple of nasty, face-shredding riffs to get there; something a lot of music fans would give up rather waiting for a poppy payoff.
Segueing perfectly into the next track, ‘The Motherload’, the band has written one of their best modern-day songs. Jimmy leg drummer, Brann Dailor, takes the vocals over and brings such a pretty, yet dark tone to his clear and clean vocals. Packed with reverb and trippy effects, the song sets up Brent’s edgier, delayed vocals before drifting into a dreamy guitar-rich midsection. And once again, Mastodon showcase their mature track selection. ‘The Motherlode’ allows the first single from the album, ‘High Road’, to come barreling in.
Heavy dual guitars grind bassist, Troy Saunders, in for his first lead vocals of the album. The slow, alternating downtuned chug plays well with the upbeat and catchy chorus that once again gets Brann some lead vocal time. That big verse riff leads the song despite the textured chorus. Mastodon have three very distinct and different singers, and I love when they work so well together. I read a review for CTS that likened Brent to a nasally muppet, and thanks to that random asshole, I often times picture a Crank Yankers version of muppet Brent. Thanks for nothing, random internet dipshit.
‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is a curious song, one that caused me to pay much more attention to it compared to others on the album. Brent’s vocals are straight-forward and sound like something you might hear in a cinematic car chase. That makes no sense, I realize that. It gets a little trippy too, adding more and more subdued elements of experimentation. Maybe the song title refers to the act of aging, growing as we pass by once more, completing another cycle.
‘Chimes at Midnight’ ended up (at this point anyway) being one of my favorite new songs. Bursting in with dreamy, atmospheric double guitars, the song quickly strides into a typical fast-fingering, eclectic riff that makes this band Mastodon. Catchy and heavy as hell, ‘Chimes’ travels the Mastodon riff-o-sphere pretty well.
More sea themes with ‘Asleep in the Deep’. I love the fragmented, discordant guitars with contrast of Brann’s clean, powerful vocals. “The moment you walked in the room my friend, the demons they all went away – Be careful they’re only asleep for a while..” Creepy, but somehow coming from a positive place. Brent comes in with some gritty vocals while layered guitars direct the psychedelic tone back to Brent’s droning end verses. This really comes off as one the more experimental new songs.
“Feast Your Eyes’ with Troy on vocals reminds me more of Killer Be Killed than I wish I realized. The deep echo of the remaining verses catapults the song into moments of chaos and chromatic guitar runs until we’re back to galloping metal riffs. This has to be the most atonal chorus on the record. Very strange song.
‘Aunt Lisa’ is a prog guitar lovers moment to smile. Easily dragging Frank Zappa’s weird 3 or 7 note guitar patterns or King Crimson into the blend, the song quickly morphs to a heavily syncopated rager before pulling back to great subdued Brent verse or three. The weirdest and arguably best part of ‘Aunt Lisa’ is her ass. I mean, the end. In something from a Hunter S. Thompson high school pep rally, Mastodon asked the all-girl band, The Coathangers, to sing the chant “Hey! Ho! Let’s fucking go! Hey! Ho! Let’s get up and rock and roll!” So very weird, so very Mastodon, and so very appreciated. The straight 4/4 beat it ends with makes me want to step on a stranger’s neck.
‘Ember City’ scared me for a hot minute. I mean, literally scared me. I was in bed, half zonked on my Ambien when I noticed things panning from ear to ear. My first response was to jerk my head to the door like a rapist had just broken in. Oh, Ambien. Oh, Mastodon. This song is a complete exercise and dissertation on the auditory experience panning effects and instruments can have on your precious ears. Even Brent’s tone at the outro is so wah’d and mid-tone heavy, it cuts through the band, This album is one well-placed song after another. If you believe any of this review, then the album made my point for me.
‘Halloween’ makes me happy. Obviously a site called Left Hand Horror loves Halloween, and the song made me smile like a kid seeing his candy haul on Halloween night. The continued, non-traditional, completely Mastodon series of riffs and melodies offer a tapestry of Samhain imagery that teases some long, haunted memories and nostalgia. Check out the opening lyrics:
“Orange and black take me back to Halloween
I’ve given to the blind as you can see
Gasoline runs through my veins, so don’t you mess with me
I couldn’t tame that beast with a handful of meat”
Brann’s dreamy, melodic lyrics slows the song down and the chorus is absolutely soothing, very UN-Mastodon might argue, but I love it. This all goes back to my comments on evolution.
Finally breaking out the acoustic in a world of sludgy, riff-heavy songs, ‘Diamond in the Witch House’ ends the record. Another lesson in auditory hallucination, spoken verses pan from left to right, adding a deeper sense of mystery and gloom to an already colorful song title. Going back and forth with Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, Mastodon have dragged this guy into nearly every album, and as usual, his presence is a boon to the song. Big, harmonized guitars traverse over Brann’s slowly climaxing drums. The lyrics remind me of ‘Remission’ meets ‘Blood Mountain’.
“Only the void, connects me
With these mountains of dust, blood, and soil
The stones, border the plains of truth
Those men, they sacrifice
And that’s ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’, kids. Personal favorites include ‘The Motherload’, ‘Chimes at Midnight’, “Feast Your Eyes’, ‘Aunt Lisa’, and of course, ‘Halloween’. That’s not to say I don’t dig the others; only the ending track feels a little incomplete to me. Still, one song out of 11 isn’t bad my any means. So, all in all, how good is the new record? So, fucking good that I suggest you get a copy immediately and relegate your evening to blasting this with quality noise-cancelling headphones. This is A+ material in my opinion.
Mastodon are some clever guys. As poppy and melodic as parts of the new record is, you’ll never find these hooks in anything but Mastodon’s perfectly crafted songwriting style. Some old fans will undoubtedly hate it, more so, I think Mastodon will bring in even more metal fans. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is everything I love about Mastodon. This record is wrapped up in 55 minutes worth of sludge, metal, prog, screaming, soothing, melodic runs, and that familiar Mastodon lyrical approach. This is nothing about this album I feel compelled to warn you about. We should all thank the metal gods that they saw fit to put us on this amazing planet while Mastodon are at their peak.
Mastodon fucking kill it. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is available TODAY! Get your asses to iTunes, Amazon, a local record store if you’re so lucky, and support this glorious acid-drenched album.
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