REVIEW: Mastodon – ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’

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Artist: Mastodon
Album: Once More ‘Round the Sun
Genre: Metal
Label: Reprise

Six albums into their career, it’s almost as if Mastodon have created their own subgenre. No two albums are alike, but each one of them is unmistakably Mastodon, a sound that continues to evolve on their latest release, Once More ‘Round the Sun.

Mastodon’s 2011 release, The Hunter, was probably the most divisive of the band’s career. While still undeniably metal, the album brought the psychedelic elements the band toyed with on previous releases to the forefront, while delivering a single (“Curl of the Burl”) that, while still heavier than anything else on the radio, was on the verge of mainstream hard rock. The Hunter was also the first Mastodon record where I found myself skipping around a bit after multiple listens.

For my money, the standout track on The Hunter was always “Dry Bone Valley,” which featured all of Mastodon’s finest elements converging on an absolute banger of a heavy metal singalong. I bring this up because it’s also the one song from The Hunter that sounds like it could have made its way onto Once More ‘Round the Sun. And, um, that should tell you I like this album quite a bit more than The Hunter.

“Dry Bone Valley” is also notable because it prominently featured drummer Brann Dailor on lead vocals, and his expansion into the band’s third lead vocalist has been a catalyst for the evolution of Mastodon’s sound, or, at the very least, made it more palatable.

Dailor’s refined crooning makes the choruses on tracks like “The Motherload” and “High Road” pop off the speakers in a way that would have previously proven impossible given the aggressive bark of bassist Troy Sanders and searing snarl of guitarist Brent Hinds. Dailor’s presence makes the band’s transition into writing more traditionally structured songs not only forgivable, but, well, actually make sense.

But that’s not to say Sanders and Hinds have lost their place. The heavy opening riffs of “High Road” are met with intense shouting from Sanders, while Hinds hits his stride on the brooding ballad “Asleep In The Deep,” which is anchored by a NWOBHM-inspired dual guitar attack.

Longtime fans will find signatures of the band’s earlier sounds all over Once More ‘Round the Sun, but particularly on the track “Chimes at Midnight.” The song starts with a brooding intro reminiscent of “The Czar” before bursting into some of the band’s thrashiest riffs since “Blood and Thunder.” I’ve always considered Mastodon one of metal’s greatest “headphone bands,” largely because there’s always so much happening in the rhythm section. And even with a simplified song structure and some more straight-forward riffing, Sanders still turns in some gripping bass lines and Dailor’s drumming is as frenetic as ever.

On “Aunt Lisa,” the band gets a little help from female punk group The Coathangers in paying tribute to Dailor’s late aunt and, apparently, Faith No More, while taking a few cues from former tourmates and mathcore titans The Dillinger Escape Plan. The album closes with the slow, menacing 8-minute sludge metal track “Diamond in the Witch House,” which features the album’s now-obligatory Scott Kelly cameo.

It’s hard to believe in this day and age when metal bands seem confined to small clubs and dingy dive bars, but there was time when metalheads lined up outside arenas for the chance to see Ozzy or Judas Priest. Songs like “Crazy Train” and “Electric Eye” are equally anthemic and bombastic, tailor made for such venues. There are moments on Once More ‘Round the Sun, such as the infectious, uplifting chorus on “The Motherload” or the classic ‘guitar god’ solo that closes album opener “Tread Lightly,” when it feels like Mastodon is trying to bring metal back into the arenas, or at the very least, bring an arena rock feel into the 2,000-seat theaters the current musical landscape seemingly deems them incapable of moving beyond.

Perhaps more than anything, Once More ‘Round the Sun sounds like a band that has become comfortable with their position in the heavy metal kingdom. Mastodon aren’t trying to out-heavy or out-prog any of their peers. They’re simply trying to push their sound forward while continuing to write great songs because, well, they’re basically in a class of their own. Mastodon’s only competition is Mastodon — and they’ve really outdone themselves this time.

SCORE: 9.5/10
Review written by Kevin Blumeyer – follow him on Twitter

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  • Dave Keyes

    This record does not disappoint. People can hate on Mastodon all they want for changing up their sound and being less “metal” than they used to be, but I think they’ve successfully evolved into something greater than their earlier selves (don’t get me wrong, I love the early shit). OMRTS has great energy, fun hooks to sing along to, shredding solos and, most importantly, the tone and essence that makes Mastodon Mastodon. What more could you ask for? Maybe a beer and a joint…