Review Summary: Mastodon’s friendliest and most accessible album yet sees them at their freest and most inspired in years.
Mastodon have continually seen an abundance of praise and acceptance in the metal community due to their unconventional blending of sludge metal and progressive rock resulting in a truly unique sound that could be described as both mystical and relentless. 2011’s The Hunter divided Mastodon’s fanbase, with some declaring that they had abandoned the progressive insanity they have been known for in favor of a more streamlined and conventional sound. The shorter song lengths and absence of distorted or growled vocals certainly didn’t help their case. It ended up being their most consistent and listenable release yet. Possibly the most interesting aspect of One More ‘Round The Sun is Mastodon’s reluctant embrace of mainstream songwriting tropes. Much like The Hunter, it sees Mastodon performing some light experimentation and unconventional songwriting in relatively conventional songs. Track lengths usually stay around the four-six minute length and rarely descend into technical guitar wankery. Consistency seems to be Mastodon’s recent focus, and this album is even tighter than The Hunter. Filler tracks are nowhere to be found and is the first album with a complete absence of interludes and extended filler. Mastodon have never been the best at trimming the fat, but have seemed to finally understand by omitting them completely and focusing on just writing the best songs they can.
One immediate difference found here is a heavy reliance on powerful choruses. Once More ‘Round The Sun starts out strong with Tread Lightly and contains echoes of Leviathan opener Blood and Thunder. The Motherload follows suite and tops the opener by having one of their most melodic choruses they have ever written, topped only by Ember City later on. At some point during the writing process Mastodon figured out that the best song they ever wrote was Oblivion. Half of the songs here try to replicate it, particularly Ember City. While they obviously don’t reach the dizzying highs of their best song, the attempt ends up with most of the album highlights. The change works for the most part but unfortunately results in some truly weak moments, particularly lead single “High Road” and the children’s choir(?) at the end of “Aunt Lisa.” The missteps however are few and far between and represents an improvement from the glaring inconsistencies of past albums.
Asleep In The Deep and Halloween are mid-tempo rockers that thunder along in technical guitar lines while restraining potential extended jams that plagued earlier releases. Mastodon’s album closers were always an interesting discovery, being anything from the mystical prog jam The Last Baron of Crack the Skye to the meditative Pendulous Skin from Blood Mountain. Diamond In The Witch House, clocking in at almost eight minutes long, is a corrosive doomy epic and is the closest the album gets to exhibiting atmosphere. Guest vocalist Scott Kelly’s tortured shouts fit the dissonant descending guitar riffs and tribal drumming, closing out another triumphant and surprisingly fun listen. A few riffs here and there begin to sound a little too familiar as the album plays out, but this quickly dissipates as this record reveals itself to be a truly different beast altogether. One of the best aspects of Once More ‘Round The Sun is how strong the songwriting is in a more mainstream sounding release. The choruses don’t sound like nothing as they sometimes did in previous releases and almost always end up being the strongest parts of the album. Another welcome change is the inclusion of large scale outros punctuated with classic heavy metal sounding guitar solos that shred their way to the end of almost half the tracks. Are they overused to cover up the absence of true uniqueness and mystical atmospheric textures the band were always known for? Maybe. But perhaps Mastodon felt the excessive sludgy intensity that had built their musical backdrop for so long had exhausted itself in favor of a more stripped back rockin’ approach, and the end result couldn’t be more satisfying.