Review Summary: Mastodon’s most accessible album yet is a freeing listen, proving that they can sound both catchy and adventurous successfully.
Mastodon have continually seen an abundance of praise and admiration in the metal community, due to their unconventional blending of sludge metal and progressive rock. Their signature style in more recent years could be described as mystical, heavy metal. 2011’s The Hunter
divided Mastodon’s fanbase, with some declaring that they strayed too far from progressive metal insanity after the adventurous Crack the Skye
. This mainstream approach resulted in a rebirth of sorts, keeping to shorter track lengths and more straightforward songwriting. One More ‘Round The Sun
continues in this vein by keeping that focus while still indulging in some light experimentation and unconventional decisions along the way. There are no mind-bending odysseys like “The Last Baron” to be found, with the consistency but still sprawling nature of The Hunter
becoming even more streamlined overall.
One immediate difference found here is the reliance on catchy choruses. Once More ‘Round The Sun
starts out strong with “Tread Lightly” and contains echoes of Leviathan
opener “Blood and Thunder.” “The Motherload,” “High Road,” and “Ember City” also feature some of the most melodic choruses Mastodon have ever recorded. This more accessible approach doesn’t always work, as a heavy metal band writing catchy choruses results in some falling flat or being unmemorable. The band don’t seem capable of writing a subpar song though, as each one has at least something enjoyable or interesting going for it. This does not explain the bizarre decision to feature an all-girls choir chanting outro featured in the otherwise solid track “Aunt Lisa.” The missteps are thankfully few and far between though, with the mainstream leanings on here exuding a charming, infectious quality thanks to such energetic songwriting.
Mastodon feature a few slow-burners here as well, one being the best track on the album, “Asleep In The Deep.” It takes its time building to an explosive chorus, with climbing guitar riffs and melodic vocals throughout. The chorus doesn’t come in until the last couple minutes, feeling earned and climactic after such a blissful build-up. The other, “Diamond In The Witch House,” is a corrosive, doomy epic, clocking in at almost eight minutes long. Guest vocalist Scott Kelly from legendary post-metal group Neurosis contributes some tormented shouts to accompany the dissonant guitar riffs and tribal drumming. This track recalls the scarier moments from his band, and serves as a strange ending to a mostly light-hearted affair, by the standards of Mastodon at least.
When taken as a whole, Once More ‘Round the Sun
is the band’s most consistent and streamlined release yet. Mastodon sounding this mainstream probably wouldn’t sound much better than what they have presented here. One of the best aspects of it is how strong the songwriting is while being enjoyable in such an accessible way. Many of the tracks, like album highlight “Halloween,” include bombastic outros with classic heavy metal sounding guitar solos that shred their way to the end. Qualities like these hint toward a continuation of mainstream leanings for the band’s future. Whatever they do going forward, there’s no doubt that it will always be an intriguing, fun listen with much to uncover on repeated listens and an open mind.