Mastodon's latest effort Emperor of Sand isn't exactly the happiest or most uplifting album in their discography, as it's a concept album about a man sentenced to death, given a terminal cancer diagnosis but embarking on a journey through the desert to battle the Emperor of Sand, otherwise known as the Grim Reaper. It's all influenced by tragedies that have happened to various family and friends of the band themselves, so in all likelihood Emperor of Sand was meant as a way to purge some of the pain. The end result is a powerful album that draws from both Mastodon's progressive leanings as well as their more accessible modern heavy rock approach that we've seen on the last few releases.
Those who are longing for the days of Crack the Skye, Blood Mountain, or Leviathan are likely going to be a little disappointed, but if 2014's Once More 'Round the Sun sat well with you, then Emperor of Sand will be quite satisfying. "Sultan's Curse" kicks things off in fine fashion, a swirling, dramatic, and heavy song filled with those memorable Mastodon melodies, bruising riffs, and challenging arrangements. "Show Yourself" is probably the bands catchiest and most mainstream sounding song ever, a real hook laden modern rock song that will probably piss off longtime fans but open themselves up to a whole new audience. I have to admit, it's quite addicting, and I'm liking it more and more with each listen. Both "Precious Stones" and "Steambreather" are heavy songs with loads of texture, and it's good to hear that Mastodon still aren't afraid to inject a wealth of prog-metal elements into their music, the latter track containing plenty of jarring passages and scorching guitar solos.
The band take a dreamy prog approach on the atmospheric "Roots Remain", a song featuring some great vocal harmonies and spacey sound effects, while "Word to the Wise" is a raging, metallic rocker with complex rhythms and brilliant drum work. For old school metal fans, "Ancient Kingdom" is a must hear, complete with some of the tastiest riffs on the album, and "Andromeda" actually wouldn't have sounded out of place on Leviathan, a wild mix of prog, metal, and hardcore, the band throwing out clean vocals, roars, heavy riffs, atmospheric passages, and anything else they can conjure up. For the lengthy closer "Jaguar Gold", gorgeous acoustic guitars and dual crooning vocals from Brent Hinds & Troy Sanders slowly build to a violent barrage of metallic thunder for an epic prog-metal finale.
When it's all said and done, Mastodon have once again come up with another winner in Emperor of Sand. Even when these guys don't completely hit it out of the park, which for me was 2011's The Hunter, the results are still pretty damn good. Here in 2017 though, this one is going to rank pretty high as one of the best of the year.
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
Word to the Wise