Review Summary: Twisting, Turning, Through the Motions
There was a time when Mastodon were just about the most exciting thing in metal. Not content to simply mimic their peers, often either busy playing catchup with Converge and presenting themselves as Rocky Horror lookalikes, Mastodon grew an identity solidified by themes of catharsis (Remission
), Moby Dick (Leviathan
) and the great beyond (Crack the Skye
). As metals newest stability, expectations became lofty after the heavenly encompassing concept of their opus Crack the Skye
, and Mastodon delivered with their most straightforward release at the time, The Hunter
. Bringing further success for the band, it makes sense that they may expect lightning to strike twice with the formula on its follow-up Once More 'Round the Sun
, and while it may be one of the years best active rock releases, by Mastodon's standards it constitutes something of a disappointment.
It's clear that all the critical praise that's been heaped upon them has been taken to heart, with Once More 'Round the Sun
sounding more like an obligation than a true statement or projection of beliefs. Where songs on previous albums felt tied together under an overarching thematic consequence ("Oblivion"'s grand declaration of armageddon, "Blood & Thunder"'s orders to riot), "Tread Lightly" is left to function as little other than a song amongst 10 other songs. Its vocal hook is infectious and its central guitar riff is absolutely enormous- but it just doesn't reach and command you like their concept records ever did (or The Hunter
, for that matter). Devoid of much in the way of complexity, it's deceptively representative of what Mastodon do for a living. Asides from the occasional "Aunt Lisa" or "Asleep in the Deep" that throw up a belligerent middle finger to convention, the album relies too much on simplicity with the likes of "The Motherload" and title-track the unfortunately conventional stand-outs.
This is a testament to Mastodon's enormous standard however that when they're performing by-numbers they're still trumping most other bands in their field. Lead single "High Road" is the best example of this, as it shows how little a decent riff and vocal hook can take this band; applied as many times as is done, Mastodon make sure to at least master their simplistic trade. Of course it's never particularly surprising but in terms of meat and potatoes rock, Once More 'Round the Sun
is of a higher pedigree than most releases we'll see this year. It's a shame that diversity and a artistry is shoved overboard in favour of the escalating radio presence.
When it comes down to it however there's very little here that is explicitly unlikeable. In fact, if there is an overall issue it's that Once More 'Round the Sun
is just too
likable. Unfortunately, with success comes the obligatory shedding of uniqueness that once defined the band, and Mastodon are unfortunately now caught in a conundrum of attempting to satisfy 2 vastly different audiences. When all is said and done, Once More 'Round the Sun
, besides being a bleak summation of intent, is Mastodon doing what they do over and over again. Thankfully they are masters of what they do and they make it enjoyable; whether this will sustain their career to album number 7 though is another conundrum all together.