Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun
Release Date: June 24th, 2014
Record Label: Reprise
For years now, Mastodon has largely been considered one of the best bands in modern day metal, but more recently we've been hearing the same sentiment from fans that should sound familiar to just about anyone who uses the internet: “I like old Mastodon better.” It's true, The Hunter wasn't their best output, but there were still plenty of outstanding moments on there, and the new hard rock indebted sound they harnessed sounded pretty damn good on them. It's perfectly fine to like Mastodon's old records more than their recent ones. Hell, even my favorite Mastodon record is their debut Remission, so I'm as guilty as anyone. But let's give credit where credit is due: Mastodon is still putting out some of the best metal records today.
It needs to be said because, obviously, the band has undergone a slow but steady stylistic change over the years, which is always going to put off the most die hard metal fans. However, the change has been natural enough to assure that the quality of the records never falters, and in their transition from sludge metal to progressive metal to more straightforward rock, the band has never put out a bad record. Their latest, Once More 'Round the Sun, continues the trend, solidifying their reign as one of the most consistent bands in mainstream metal.
While 2011's The Hunter found Mastodon chasing more polished and slick production, Once More 'Round the Sun finds them reincorporating some of the rawness that some fans felt The Hunter was missing. They still call upon the heavy rock style that shaped the last record, but this time around more of the classic progressive sludge they're known for is tossed back into the mix, as well as a touch of psychedelia. The result is a blistering trip around the sun and back again.
The title track showcases their knack for writing more conventional rock music, but the technical prowess shown in the riffs and songwriting makes it stand out from their contemporaries, as well as the woozy, shrieking bridge that shifts the energy before kicking into one last chorus. Similarly, “The Motherload” finds drummer Brann Dailor taking lead vocals on the track and offering up one of the catchiest choruses Mastodon has penned to date with “This time, this time/Things will look up just fine/We won't let you slip away.” His vocals soar over the aggressive riffing, and the dizzying guitar solo toward the end ties everything together. Lead single "High Road" underwhelmed fans for the most part when it was released, but in the context of the record the song rips as hard as anything else on here. No matter what style these guys are chasing, they always seem to be at the top of their game.
The back half of the record is decidedly more proggy than the first half, with the riffs on songs like “Ember City” and “Aunt Lisa” taking more twists and turns than those earlier on the record. It's a nice nod to their roots, and even songs like the massive closer “Diamond In The Witch House” (which features vocals from Neurosis' Scott Kelly) incorporate some of the good ol' sludge these guys mastered so many years ago. There are a couple of moments on the record where Mastodon trip up a bit, like the eye-rolling bridge of “Hey, ho, let's fucking go/Hey, ho, let's get up and rock and roll” on “Aunt Lisa” or the glaring lack of resolution on “Chimes At Midnight,” but moments like these are easy to gloss over when they're surrounded by some of the best moments on the album, like the unleashed screams on the former and the psychedelic haze of the latter.
Once More 'Round the Sun is the band's most accessible record yet in a lot of ways. The choruses are catchier, the guitar solos are flashier, and the production, while not too overdone, isn't too raw to leave any recognizable barrier to entry. It seems like The Hunter with a different twist, moving their sound further in the direction that record hinted at while latching onto some of their roots. It's bigger, grittier, and unafraid of going by instinct. Accessibility has never sounded better on a metal band.
Great album. Great review. Yeah I'm not sure how I feel about the end of Aunt Lisa. The weird singing of "Hey let's go Let's rock and roll. Let's fucking go." is weird. Love pretty much every song except High Road. Scott Kelly kills it again on the closer.
Great review Jake. I really, really enjoy this album. Even though their new sound is more accessible I still get a strong 'old Mastodon' vibe with it. I believe this album captures that more than "The Hunter" did. I love that riff on "The Motherload"!
Yeah this album is pretty awesome. I love Leviathan and Blood Mountain and like all the rest, including The Hunter. But my problem with The Hunter was it just seemed disjointed. It was like they were trying to go for that more accessible "hard rock" sound but it felt very inconsistent throughout the album. They really figured out the problems for this album as the whole thing flows and feels very cohesive. Just like you said, their sludge and prog-metal roots are much better intertwined on these songs. And while vocally it's not as raw or heavy as early Mastodon, there are so many interesting musical parts that pull me in with each listen. And Brann's vocals slay pretty hard. Never realized he was such an awesome vocalist.
The album gets a meh rating from me so far. Your first paragraph pretty much encapsulates my feelings on Mastodon nowadays; the stuff they're putting out is solid, but they're a shell of what they once were. Or my tastes have just changed a lot. It's probably a combo of both.
Still don't understand the hate for the bridge on "Aunt Lisa". In the context of the song, and reading what Brann said about his aunt Lisa, it makes sense as a tongue in cheek tribute to her. And they pull it off in a weird and heavy way I think.