Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
Mastodon were once the widely acknowledged titans of heavier music but their stock has slipped of late, especially amongst their earlier fans, and the question increasingly asked is ‘do Mastodon still have it?’ Well the good news is that if you define ‘it’ as ‘the ability to construct a killer riff’ (and really, why wouldn’t you?) then the answer is a definitive ‘hell yes’. But, the bad news, is having ‘it’ enough? Not quite, no. On Once More ‘Round the Sun, Mastodon find themselves bitten in the bum by the law of diminishing returns: this latest LP is the spiritual successor and follow up to 2011’s The Hunter, their least interesting release, and it is by and large more of the same.
Review Summary: A blueprint of how to go commercial without sacrificing one's artistic identity.By the fourteenth year of their career, Mastodon rose to become one of the most relevant outfits in modern metal. The triumph of this Atlanta quartet lies not only in their trailblazing brand of primal sludge metal with progressive leanings, but also in tremendous consistency and stiff refusal to dilute their music. They are a rare metal band who have achieved commercial success without surrendering creative control of their work.
Whatever’s in the tap water down in Atlanta these days, we want some. For a decade Mastodon have been calmly taking the modern metal and heavy rock world by storm, simply by evolving their uncategorisable sound step by step, album by album. Once More ’Round The Sun is another level in Mastodon’s unorthodox ascent: though the band have a template of sorts, based on an expansive sound with shimmering layers of guitar and vocals, the mood is calmer and more straightforward this time.
It’s now accepted as standard practice that once a band adored by the underground moves to a major label and reaps greater opportunities and rewards, those who have followed them up to that point are liable to lose interest, or – more aggressively – lambast the band at every chance through every social media medium available. The general ins and outs of this phenomenon deserve greater discussion at another time, but for Atlanta, Georgia’s Mastodon, the negativity from old followers seems to be growing greater since the primarily straight-forward—well, straight-forward for Mastodon—hard rock of their third major label record, 2011’s The Hunter. In saying that, ever since Leviathan’s massive impact cracked the glass-ceiling and brought Mastodon’s then-progressive and complex conceptual metal into mainstream consciousness in 2004, some corners have turned on the band and questioned their motivations.
Given the title of its sixth release, it's fair to wonder if Mastodon is hinting at 2011's The Hunter or its back catalog. Many of the tracks on Once More 'Round the Sun dig into the band's seemingly inexhaustible bag of monstrous riffs and wonderfully fractured motifs. That said, as a collective, they unapologetically explore the more polished and accessible songwriting and performing craft found on The Hunter.
Atlanta’s Mastodon have been very loudly getting on with the business of being the world’s most inspired alternative metal outfit for a long time now. 2011’s ‘The Hunter’ marked a shift away from the overarching narratives of goblins fighting their way up bloodied mountaintops that had come to define their records, in favour of remarkable standalone anthems like ‘Curl Of The Burl’. In ‘Asleep In The Deep’, this sixth record contains their grooviest, most accessible number ever, while the title track and the single ‘High Road’ are further indomitable classics-in-waiting.
Mastodon are a band who, almost without anybody noticing, have risen to become one of the most important bands in modern metal. Two things are interesting about this in relation to ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’; firstly, that in some regards, this new album fills the same niche as Wolfmother once did, and second, that, for all this, they bear more than a passing resemblance to cult Leeds metal eccentrics Humanfly. That is to say, of course, that despite becoming one of the biggest metal bands around, Mastodon manage to keep much of the same edge as an underground band.
Manifestly the metal-affiliated band least likely to get a bad review or even a slight frown of disappointment from anywhere in the rock media, Mastodon have set the bar so ridiculously high over the past decade that the biggest challenge they now face is to maintain their unassailable status. Once More 'Round the Sun sounds very much like the album they need to make to edge a little further into the mainstream – it has a largely straightforward air and a tendency to favour the big hooks of 2011's The Hunter over the labyrinthine weirdness of 2009's Crack the Skye. If there is a problem with these songs, it's that they rarely conjure anything we haven't already marvelled at.
Props to Mastodon for deviating from the well-trod metal path of making every new album heavier than the last. Continuing down the road they embarked upon with 2011’s The Hunter, America’s most mainstream metal act has doubled down on melody, harmony and verse-chorus-verse, and crafted something of a sister album, albeit with less adventure. Every song on Mastodon’s sixth album cops at least a little from the band’s past material—sometimes a lot.
Mastodon were not particularly young dudes when they formed in Atlanta back in ’99. They were in their mid-to-late 20s, and already had their musicianship, as individuals, absolutely down. Their jackhammered instrumentation, from the light-speed riffs on 2002 debut Remission to the sprawl of 2009’s Crack the Skye, remains their signature characteristic.
It seems there are two camps in the Mastodon universe: people who like Mastodon, and people who used to like Mastodon. Sitting between the two is somewhat uncomfortable. The band's talent, introspection and intelligence are undeniable. Drummer Brann Dailor is one of the most talented percussionists playing today, and their tunes offer something that 90 percent of "mainstream" metal bands don't offer: cerebral divergence and musical complexity devoid of pandering to clichés and stereotypes.
From the beginning, it was clear that Mastodon were never meant to be just another sludge band. Had they decided to get perpetually stoned and cycle through a minimal sequence of drop-A power chords, the quartet could have gone on to earn Down-level renown based on instrumental ability alone. Instead, they took the transcendent route, using their filthy guitars to conjure terrifying worlds.
"This time, things will work out just fine," drummer Brann Dailor sings in a rare moment of sunshine during the charging second track on Mastodon's sixth headbanging LP. The mercurial metalheads have improved on the lean hard-rock pummel of 2011's The Hunter with lattices of ornate riffs and primal vocals, but those intricacies verge on being too much of a good thing over the course of the album's 11 tracks. The band sounds best when taking cheerful risks, as with the "hey-ho" chant led by female guest vocalists on "Aunt Lisa." Judging from all the Sturm und Drang, Mastodon aren't happy just when things work out fine – they're happy when they work out at all.
Mastodon's sixth is probably going to polarize fans the way their last album, The Hunter, did (and Crack The Skye to a lesser degree). It continues in the direction of that 2011 effort, with completely clean vocals and dense guitar riffage layered into thick sludge, but with even fewer hooks and thrilling riffs. The music still branches off into proggy places, especially in the latter half, but nothing hits hard or is remotely memorable.
Mastodon Once More 'Round the Sun (Warner Bros.) Atlanta's finest took a tentative step sideward with its last album The Hunter, adding stronger doses of melody to its prog-metal. Once More 'Round the Sun gets the balance dead on. Bringing back the tonnage cast aside prior, Mastodon refreshes its ravaging riffmongering while laying catchy melodies on even thicker than.
“I can see what the world has done to you / I can feel the weight,” sings Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor on “The Motherload,” one of the strongest tracks on the Atlanta metal band’s sixth album, Once More ’Round The Sun. There’s a weariness to that title, and to the lyrics, but “The Motherload” doesn’t show it. First of all, producer Nick Raskulinecz—known for his work with Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice In Chains, and Deftones—applies an impregnable shell of slickness to the band’s tuneful, intricate layering of riffs.
With eleven consistently excellent tunes, Mastodon's sixth full-length, Once More 'Round The Sun is nothing if not an exercise in subtly edging towards the mainstream without ever sacrificing any of their considerable metal pedigree. After all, few bands experience as much "don't, whatever you do, sell-out" pressure as Mastodon seem to – from a portion of their fan-base that just can't get their collective heads around anything since the band's 2002 debut Remission. What they're missing though, is that regardless of how overtly melodic some of Once More 'Round The Sun might be in comparison to the earliest material, a band as progressive as Mastodon would never be truly selling-out.
Mastodon is truly the Mensa Society of the metal scene, having fashioned concept albums around Melville’s “Moby-Dick” and czarist Russia. This latest release is more about “the life and times of each person in the band during the past year,” according to guitarist Bill Kelliher. Various to-hell-and-back scenarios generally end quite positively: The slamming title track notes that “life can turn on a dime, so let’s enjoy our time,” while the blazing, Pantera-like “Feast Your Eyes” climaxes with “you stick with me and prevail as one.
For all the rave reviews that Mastodon’s 2011 album The Hunter snapped up, even their most ardent fans had to own up to the fact that there was something amiss with it. Maybe it was something to do with the Atlanta quartet aligning with Mike Elizondo, a producer better known for his work with hip-hop acts (Dr. Dre, Eminem) and pop stars (Carrie Underwood, Maroon 5) than a prog-rock-inspired metal band.
Probably the most prominent piece of exposure that Mastodon have enjoyed to date - in Britain, at least - is an appearance on Later…with Jools Holland back in October of 2011, when they were promoting their last full-length, The Hunter. Given that the show - like the Mercury Prize - prides itself on diversity whilst simultaneously demonstrating a serious phobia of metal, you had to wonder what it was about the Atlantans that saw them break that particular mould; the only other metal act I can remember making the cut is Metallica, with Lou Reed, playing songs from that record that should really be erased from official records out of reverence for the great man. The Hunter was rapturously received by critics, and broke the top ten in the U.