Review Summary: Mastodon stopped being scientists and now 'engineer' their way through 'Once More Round the Sun'.
Mastodon have been known as a band to constantly progress in their sound. Take for example the huge leap they made when they went from aggressive, sludgy and edgy "Remission" to a more refined, melodic sound on "Leviathan" and from there to their two most progressive and elaborate offerings “Blood Mountain” and “Crack the Skye”. When “The Hunter” was released they scaled their songs back to a more compact and catchy format. “Once More 'Round the Sun” continues with that formula, while also bringing back more of their older work's elements. The Problem with “Once More 'Round the Sun” however is not the format, structure or accessibility of the songs. One could say Mastodon have reached a point where they don't invent themselves anew anymore. Instead they seem to recycle and mash together what they have done before. The fire that made them so unique and appreciated is not nurtured anymore and burns dim. Once More 'Round the Sun might be Mastodon's most unoriginal album to date, that however does not mean that it does not deliver solid riffs, catchy choruses and an overall entertaining listen.
The opener Tread Lightly starts off with sludgy guitars and Troy Sanders' low shouts that sound like Mastodon are revisiting some stuff from their older days. When the chorus hits though, it is clear that they have gone down another road. Many of the Songs on this record wait with easily accessible melodic choruses. The most notable of those might be in The Motherload. The song appears to be "Curl of The Burl" on steroids. Being faster, punchier and even catchier. The following song High Road had me worried whenever they released it as a single, but if you disregard the monotonous and boring chorus the track surely has its moments. Further Highlights can be found in the latter half of the album. Aunt Lisa starts off with an opening riff that could be cut straight out of “Blood Mountain” and suprises with female gang vocals near the end over one of the albums grooviest and best riffs. The up-tempo rocker “Ember City” thrives largely on its chorus. This will probably be one of the best songs for Mastodon to play live. Of the same pace but a different kind of animal is the song “Halloween”, while having clean vocals all throughout the song, the riffs dominate here. Arguably, guitar-wise this might be the best song on the album. The closer Diamond in the Witch house comes on a lot slower and darker in atmosphere, with Troy Sanders shouting : "Only loss fills my void" over almost doom-bringing harmonies. Similarities to Leviathan's "Hearts Alive" are obvious. Being the longest on the record, the song functions as a worthy finisher and showcases some of Brann Dailor's best drumming.
“Once More 'Round the Sun” shows a band exploring the dynamics and different possibilities inside the band, rather than bringing fundamentally new ideas to the table. For example are the vocals more equally distributed between Troy Sanders' low shouts, Hinds' piercing-high nasally voice and Brann Dailor's soft, stellar and almost angel-like vocal melodies. The problem is of another kind. Spontaneous and instantaneously recognizable riffs like 'March of the Fire Ants', 'Iron Tusk' or even 'Circle of Cysquatch' seem like a trait the band is progressively (deliberately?) losing. Some tracks on the album like “Chimes at Midnight” or “Asleep in the Deep” lack exactly those important foundations, leaving them to be the two weakest tracks on this LP alongside "High Road".
This album is certainly heavier than its predecessor “The Hunter". However the band fails to accomplish a maximum impact. Everything sounds a little watered down compared to the classics and more inconsistent. But fear no evil; "Once More 'Round the Sun" is definitely an improvement over the disjointed mess that the "The Hunter" represents. Songwriting-wise the band might not have been on top of their game, but still succeeded to deliver a well-rounded album that is uniquely Mastodon and a lot of fun to listen to. It also should be noted, that this is rather a "slow burner" and will certainly be appreciated more if you listen to it more than just a few times.