Review Summary: A blueprint of how to go commercial without sacrificing one's artistic identity.
By the fourteenth year of their career, Mastodon rose to become one of the most relevant outfits in modern metal. The triumph of this Atlanta quartet lies not only in their trailblazing brand of primal sludge metal with progressive leanings, but also in tremendous consistency and stiff refusal to dilute their music. They are a rare metal band who have achieved commercial success without surrendering creative control of their work. Mastodon sounded equally invigorated on Moby Dick
-inspired staple sludge metal release Leviathan
10 years ago, and the hugely ambitious progressive metal opus Crack The Skye
5 years later. The album that followed The Hunter
cast aside the confines of a tangible concept and embraced an even wider range of musical influences. The foursome's new offering Once More 'Round The Sun
tones down the previous album's eclecticism in favor of a more unified, if equally direct sound to bracing effect.
The band's penchant for alluring concepts has once again been ceased as Once More 'Round The Sun
is a collection of thematically unrelated songs. There's also hardly anything novel in the act's sonic playbook this time around. As the title of the album implies, Mastodon have settled in their comfort zone in lieu of blazing new trails. However, the songwriting is so inspired that it turns this lack of reinvention into a petty shortcoming. The dashing pace of opener 'Tread Lightly' attests to this, propelling breakdowns and unbridled riffery with verve and admirable precision. Mastodon are equally commendable when they reveal their pop sensibilities on such cuts as 'The Motherload' and the title track, but there are also moments of controlled technical madness on 'Chimes At Midnight' that's built around cascading polyrhythmic riffs. 'Aunt Lisa' balances the technicality with melodicism even better, interestingly climaxing in a glam rock passage featuring the hooky chearleader chanting. Meanwhile, 'Asleep In The Deep' brilliantly showcases the act's most contemplative incarnation taking its sweet time to build up to an explosive chorus, while 'Halloween' is a sonic equivalent of a fun rollercoaster ride, finely contrasting a killer groove-laden main riff with eerie vocal melodies and a multifaceted guitar solo.
The playing on the album is intuitive and totally indicative of musicians who have worked together for a long period of time. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher continue to be sublime riff architects. Bridging the gap between sharp focus and complexity, the guitarists avoid going off on needlessly discursive passages. Drummer Brann Dailor and bassist Troy Sanders provide sturdy skeletons for the tracks, often rekindling the spirit of early Mastodon albums. On top of that the production, courtesy of Nick Raskulinecz, expertly balances the punch with clarity. What shines through the album most, though, is the quartet's uncanny knack for vocal hooks. Hinds, Dailor and Sanders deliver their lines with newfound confidence and power, frequently sporting memorable harmonies. Their best moments come when they cooperate with each other like in an uplifting dual-vocal refrain of the album's highlight, 'Asleep In The Deep.' Another standout track sees the group teaming up with Scott Kelly who lends closer 'Diamond in the Witch Hunt' its paranoid vibe and post-metal magnitude.
Despite its trippy artwork, Once More 'Round The Sun
is the quartet's most approachable album to date. Even though Mastodon go through the motions this time around, they're undisputed masters of their craft. That's why their combination of the crushingly heavy, the complex and the melodious is in a class by itself. Their output might have become more commercially viable in time, but it's crucial to point out how perfectly comfortable they feel with this shift in style. Filled to the brim with consistently excellent songs, Once More 'Round The Sun
serves as a blueprint of how to go commercial without sacrificing one's artistic identity.