When ‘Once More Round The Sun’ was released, MASTODON promised that there are more ideas that they may be released in a future EP. We are glad the band managed to hold on and wait, preparing the release of ‘Emperor of Sand’. The record marks the seventh release of MASTODON, the band that, in my mind at least, has managed to re-write history for our music, releasing records that a mind can’t easily conceive (with ‘Crack the Skye’ to be the most important one).
‘Emperor of Sand’ follows the story of a desert nomad who has been sentenced to death by the Sultan. Yes, after a break, MASTODON returned to their concepts records, leaving ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Once More Round The Sun’ era behind. The record’s concept is a metaphor for cancer, the disease that affected MASTODON’s personal lives a lot during the past two years.
I may have stated that the band opened a new era for their music by bringing back the concepts records, but they haven’t forgotten the sound the embraced in their previous two records. Pleasing Brent Hinds, I must reassure that ‘Emperor of Sand’ is a rock record; a record that involves complex rock riffs, great riffs actually, with the significant vocal lines of Hinds, Sanders and Dailor. It is also worth to mention that the album was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who also produced the band’s “Crack the Skye”.
“MASTODON got as ‘rambling’ as it was years ago, full of anger but also full of wisdom.”
All songs include significant riffs and many alterations of the music. As MASTODON have used us to, the music changes along with the vocals, from heavy rock to groovy break-downs. Bill and Brent may have had their best guitar work in years, with the second one to enrich each song with memorable guitar solos, setting his guitar’s frets on flames. Hearing songs like ‘Sultan’s Curse’, ‘Andromeda’, ‘Scorpion’s Breath’ or ‘Roots Remain’, ‘Blood Mountain’s’ era comes in mind. The band got as ‘rambling’ as it was years ago, full of anger but also full of wisdom. Each record is a struggle; a struggle with conceiving the essence of their concept and bring it in its complete state as perfect as possible. After all, it is Mastodon we talk about.
Brann Dailor’s vocals, along with Hind’s contribution, create sticky-to-head moments, such as in ‘Steambreather’, ‘Ancient Kingdom’ or ‘Clandestiny’. It is important to point out how much the band has progressed in terms of vocals, which, after years of struggle, have gone as good as they can get. The experimentation ‘Crack The Skye’ introduced is still traceable in MASTODON’s new record. The synths in ‘Clandestiny’ or the drone vocal lines (Cysquatches used the same voice back in ‘Blood Mountain’) in ‘Roots Remain’ are common stuff that can be considered a trademark enrichment of MASTODON’s concept universe. In the end, the journey ends with ‘Jaguar God’, giving the character a death in the terms of redemption (death can sometimes be a redemption, if you suffer from late stage cancer or if you are in terrible pain). ‘Jaguar God’ reminds a lot of ‘The Last Baron’, beginning with acoustic guitars and switching to distorted sound later, while being around eight minutes long.
MASTODON can brag that they have achieved to create their own unique sound. Just by listening to a song, someone can easily attribute it to MASTODON, just by a few moments of music. The band does not recycle their own ideas; they are just using their trademark traits to compose records that they feel comfortable with. ‘Emperor of Sand’ is the perfect come-back to the concept record, because it familiarizes the concept of death, smashing the taboo of the unbeatable god, while offering great and inspiring music.