Review Summary: The reassurance that the skeptical fans needed, it's Mastodon's most startlingly adventurous release in years.
Being a Mastodon
fan in 2017 is complicated. When a band that kicked down the doors of progressive metal, one that released some of the most daring LP’s of the 2000’s, starts sharing airwaves with bands like Foo Fighters and Papa Roach, you can’t help but be at least a little nervous. Because of this creative direction, the band’s 2017 LP Emperor of Sand
was a controversial release. Some loved the classic rock-inspired tracks and interesting concept, others found it to be Mastodon spinning wheels. I admittedly was of the latter; Emperor of Sand
was Mastodon doing what Mastodon does. The radio-friendliness made it apparent that the group had solidified a formula, one that they relied on far too much throughout the album.
But Cold Dark Place
stands in an unusual spot for Mastodon. Recorded during the Once More ‘Round the Sun
and Emperor of Sand
sessions, it stands amongst the band’s most creatively tepid periods, but manages to outshine the band’s work as far back as 2011’s The Hunter
. Cold Dark Place
is one of Mastodon’s most experimental and curious releases, and a few lingering familiarities aside, it invigorates the band in ways that their most recent LP’s didn’t.
Most of the tracks on Cold Dark Place
dive into the experimental sides of Mastodon’s discography, most notably the eerie Crack the Skye
, which played around with mood as opposed to overt heaviness. For example, the opener “North Side Star” repeatedly shifts tones and tempos, reaching the same dynamics of lengthier tracks like “The Czar”, which is impressive for a song that stands at only six minutes. “Blue Walsh” moves from mid-tempo jamming with drummer Brann Dailor’s subdued crooning before moving to more energized territory in the track’s later act. “Toe to Toes” is easily the most interesting track on the EP, opening with revving, uplifting guitars and infectious clapping hand rhythms. Bassist Troy Sanders’ vocals soar and drift atop the guitars, but once guitarist Brent Hinds takes the mic, the brilliantly toned instrumentation harkens back to acts like Rush. It’s such a strange mood for the band to explore, and while it admittedly takes some time to get used to, “Toe to Toes” is one of the most uniquely sounding tracks that Mastodon has ever composed.
And while Mastodon does take a number of unique directions on Cold Dark Place
, there are familiar elements, for better or worse. The title track is a “love it or hate it” song, sounding a bit too much like a typical Mastodon closer (think “The Sparrow” from The Hunter
or “Jaguar God” from Emperor of Sand
). It’s a pleasant-sounding track, but doesn’t reach the experimental heights of something like “Toe to Toes.” And ultimately, this isn’t a very heavy EP. If you’re looking for Mastodon kicking it to the curb with another “Blood and Thunder”, you won’t find it here. The closest we get to that is a brief passage in “Blue Walsh”, where Sanders goes back to his low, howling vocals as the tempo revs itself up.
But with all this in mind, Cold Dark Place
is the reassurance that the skeptical fans needed. It’s not heavy at all, and has its share of undercooked moments, but this EP is the ace up Mastodon’s sleeve. It’s such an alien sound, but at the same time, feels comforting in its tumultuous moodiness. Cold Dark Place
is a startlingly adventurous EP, one that opens so many doors for the band to pass through, and it’s a direction that I desperately hope the band will, even for just a moment, revisit as their career furthers.