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Mastodon – “Once More ‘Round the Sun” – ALBUM REVIEW

Mastodon “Once More ‘Round the Sun”

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Atlantan progressive metal group Mastodon has been consistent in remaining one of the genre’s most charismatic and talented bands. The group effortlessly combines sludge metal, psychedelic rock, doom metal, stoner rock, and hard rock in ways that are always interesting. They incorporate several storytelling elements that result in some of the greatest sci-fi novels never written. They reinterpret, reinvent, and rethink countless heavy metal tropes without appearing too pretentious or over-the-top. Mastodon is a popular band that deserves every fan they’ve ever made and more. “Once More ‘Round the Sun” is their sixth studio album, a continuation on the themes and sounds on their previous album, 2011’s “The Hunter.”

Mastodon die-hards like to complain that the group has become too mainstream, or rather that their sound has evolved to a much more radio-friendly place of high production values and 3-minute rock tunes. While I can understand the complaint considering the fairly drastic change in pace between the 2009 opus “Crack the Skye” and “The Hunter,” I think that Mastodon is one of those bands that can write less complicated tunes but still be consistently great. Take for example the first single from “Once More ‘Round the Sun,” “High Road.” With a soaring chorus courtesy of drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor and a simple yet groovy riff courtesy of guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, the track combines the animalistic violence of 2004’s “Leviathan” and the forward-thinking mentality of their more recent work. Sure, Mastodon have changed since their 2002 debut, “Remission,” but they are still keeping alive the sound they started with: primal yet smart.

Fans of the group are likely to point out similarities between this album and “The Hunter,” and that’s totally understandable. Though I would also like to opine that the album’s are different sides of a coin. “The Hunter” appears to deal with more natural, physical elements of the world while “Once More ‘Round the Sun” focuses beyond the physical realm. Both albums are stylistically similar, yes, but “Once More ‘Round the Sun” seems to be much more expansive. Fans love to complain that Mastodon no longer have what it takes to craft a masterpiece like “Crack the Skye”‘s 13-minute closer “The Last Baron,” but I think that the group has taken this affinity for atmospheric experimentation and turned it into something more people can jam out to. The members of Mastodon certainly have not toned down their beefy, thick guitar riffs or breakneck drums; they’ve only turned them into something different.

While there’s nothing wrong with Mastodon’s current sound, I must say that “Once More ‘Round the Sun” isn’t perfect. There’s tons of catchy songs that epitomize a lot of what I love about Mastodon. However, there are a few misses that sort of take me out of the experience. For example, fellow Atlantans The Coathangers have a guest appearance on the song “Aunt Lisa,” bringing a “Hey! Ho! Let’s fucking go!” bridge towards the end of the song. And while Mastodon has never come off as a band that takes itself overly seriously, that sort of silliness feels very out of place on the record. There are also songs like “Asleep in the Deep” and “Halloween” that really try to undo the album’s consistency both sonically and lyrically in a way that I don’t quite enjoy. Other than that, though, “Once More ‘Round the Sun” is a tight, solid LP that is another step in the right direction for the band’s development, even if it’s not quite as good as “Blood Mountain.”

SCORE – 7.8

FAVORITE TRACKS – Tread Lightly, The Motherload, High Road, Chimes at Midnight, Feast Your Eyes, Ember City, Diamond in the Witch House

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