First things first let’s start by pointing out the fact that Mastodon have never released a bad album, from Remission through to 2014’s Once more round the sun, each album has been packed full of boundary pushing, ambitious metal anthems. It is of course, no surprise to say that Emperor of Sand is no exception to this rule. It becomes apparent when listening to EOS that this album shares a kinship with various aspects of their outstanding back catalogue. The conceptual aspects of Crack the Skye? there’s plenty of that, the intricacies of Blood Mountain and Remission? yep that’s definitely present, the stadium sized choruses of Once More round the Sun? check, and the big hulking riffs of The Hunter and Leviathan? guess what… That’s here in spades also. That’s not to dismiss this album as a rehashing of past work however, Mastodon are a band who are simply not going to settle for that, and Emperor of Sand; as you would come to expect by now is a collection of songs which are fresh and invigorating, at times going places they have never gone before.
Opening with Sultans Curse, the signature, burly Mastodon tone is instantly recognisable, meshing together with elaborate and intricate lead guitar lines which drive the songs and are constant trait of Emperor of Sand. The guitar work is amongst some of the best ever heard on a mastodon record with the track Roots Remain featuring one of the best guitar solos you are likely to hear all year. Drummer Brann Dailor deserves every bit of praise he is likely to receive from this album, once again playing like a maniac throughout the album, his jazz influenced drumming ever present; on top of this, he also puts in a stellar vocal performance throughout the record. Show Yourself for instance, builds upon the more straightforward arena rock tracks as frequently heard on the last album Once more round the sun, a setting in which Brann appears to be the leading voice for this style of song. The vocal interplay is where this album strongest moments exist. there’s a vast improvement in Brann’s voice from previous records, which; when put next to unmistakable bellow of Troy Sanders, and Brent Hinds menacing, nasally delivery offers beautiful layers of contradictory styles which allow the emotional subject matter to tell its story. This aspect is particularly present throughout Words to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom. The latter offering the album’s stand out moment, the track is unpredictable in its structure yet possesses a chorus which blows the track wide open and has arena filling capabilities.
If big, forceful riffs is your thing, then this album is definitely worth your time, Andromeda provides the biggest of the lot, immediately settling into a groove which stomps and snarls at mid-tempo, Troy’s howls throughout the verses weave elegantly into the higher register of Brann’s voice when the chorus kicks in. The album closes with the seven-minute Jaguar God, a progressive number which features more twists and turns than you could care to count and also wraps up the conceptual storytelling aspect of the album which has progressed throughout the eleven tracks.
Once again Mastodon prove that they can do no wrong, seven albums in and the band are still producing music as ambitious and eclectic as this, their catalogue has amassed another flawless collection of challenging music which is bursting at the seams with vast amounts of memorable melodies. Emperor of Sand offers another reminder that Mastodon are a band who should be a lot bigger than they are, what more can they possibly do to reach the status they deserve? I wish I knew the answer.