Review Summary: A Mastodon album comes with a whole lot of expectations...
A new Mastodon album comes with a whole lot of expectations. Having covered so much ground over their discography means they have picked up a diverse and demanding fan base. And whilst some want to see a return to their sludge roots, and others may want a reprise of their classic 2009 prog album Crack the Skye, the band themselves have steadily carved ahead.
Once More 'Round the Sun is a continuation of Mastodon's development into a 70s prog influenced sludge/hard rock band that was evident on 2011's fantastic The Hunter. The band (guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher, bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders and drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor) have made clean vocal melodies the focus of their sound on recent releases, and on this album this aspect of their sound now matches their instrumentals in terms of innovation and quality. The vocal melodies here, particularly from Brann, are haunting, strange, processed and generally wonderful. The Motherload has the band's biggest chorus to date, and Ember City and Halloween both feature huge, spaced-out interludes with vocals weaving in and out of thick guitar textures.
Musically, the band also appear to be having a fantastic amount of fun. Where The Hunter was deliberately reigned in, a response to the decadence of Crack the Skye, OMRtS is frenzied, intricate and diverse. On the title track, cascading arpeggios wrap around a ⅞ groove, with Dailor's drums never letting you find your footing. Aunt Lisa is particularly hard to follow, embracing a technicality that had been purposely sidelined. Asleep in the Deep is one of the most texturally interesting tracks Mastodon have ever written, layering subdued and creepy melodies over chiming guitar lines, urgent bass and march-like drums.
Brent Hind's solos are once again all over the album, although there is nothing here quite as soul-shatteringly good as The Hunter or The Sparrow. Nick Raskulinecz's is pleasingly raw and occasional effects keep the album interesting, maintaining the psychedelic feeling of the previous two efforts.
Perhaps the album's only negative is that it contains too few changes of pace. Feast Your Eyes is the only fast thrash number on the disc, and Asleep in the Deep and closer Diamond in the Witch House provide the only slow tempos, the latter being a doom laden descent into the abyss with a stunning vocal contribution from regular collaborator Scott Kelly.
Whether it deserves the classic status that Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye have been given remains to be seen. It takes to time to recognise a masterpiece. It is, however, unquestionably a shining addition to possibly the most impressive and all-encompassing discography in metal.