Sound — 9
Mastodon formed in 2000 when the members met at a High On Fire show in Atlanta, Georgia. Except for losing their original vocalist after only a few months the band has had a consistent lineup since then. Their sound over the years which initially included predominantly very harsh vocals has slowly changed to include mostly clean vocals. Musically, the band has created their own niche by mixing stylistic elements belonging to several different genres though they most notably take aspects of hard rock, progressive rock, and New Wave of American Heavy Metal. "Once More 'Round the Sun" is their sixth studio release and contains a total of 11 tracks and clocks in at 54 minutes. It is being released on Reprise Records. "High Road" was released as the lead single in mid-April of 2014 and the second single, "Chimes at Midnight," was released in early June 2014.
The album opens with the track "Tread Lightly," which has a clean guitar in the intro but quickly transitions into a much heavier sound. "The Motherload" uses a pretty cool vocal effect, it seems to be some type of delay, which really helps give the song an almost psychedelic vibe. The lead single, "High Road," most of us have heard and it is a great example of what to expect from the album - crushing metal rhythm, engaging melody, otherworldly vocals and all that type of awesome stuff. Next is the title track, "Once More 'Round the Sun", which does a great job using a relatively simple riff and a great melody to create an infectious groove that runs through the entire track. The second single, "Chimes at Midnight," is another song most of us have heard, which relies very heavily on a few repeating arpeggios and a haunting melody in the intro and outro, but then experiments with a fairly progressive song structure in the great space in-between. "Asleep in the Deep" definitely has a few twisty guitar parts, and is one of the most vocally interesting tracks, as well. "Feast Your Eyes" has a quick little riff that reappears throughout the track, as well as a heavier slower riff and harmonized vocals. Next up is "Aunt Lisa," which has guest vocals from the all-female band, The Coathangers, though their vocals aren't present until the outro of the song. "Ember City" has some cleaner and some dirtier vocals, which is possibly the closest I have heard them do anything to metalcore (but they still sound nothing like metalcore, relax), and has my favorite solo from the album on this one. "Halloween" opens up with a cool little melody and quickly opens up with some heaviness - much more in the realm of hard rock than any type of metal, really, but still a very worthwhile track. The album closes out with the track "Diamond in the Witch House," which opens up with some acoustic/clean guitar with a distorted melody flirting with atonality over it. A very classical style of metal rhythm guitar comes in, and the track has a lot going on vocally. There seems to be at least 3 separate vocalists included on the track, and of course, this is the track on the album that includes Scott Kelly from Neurosis. This album was absolutely a fun listening experience and I can't wait for the physical copy of the CD that I've pre-ordered to make it to me.
Lyrics — 8
Vocals on the album, as their previous albums, are shared between all 4 members of the band, but in addition this album does include some guest vocalists. Scott Kelly (of Neurosis) provides guest vocals on the track "Diamond in the Witch House," and he has provided guest vocals on several Mastodon releases. The Coathangers, an all-female indie/punk group from Atlanta, Georgia, provide guest vocals on the track "Aunt Lisa." Valient Himself, from the band Valient Thorr, provides guest vocals, but which song he provides vocals on isn't listed anywhere online that I could locate. As always, the vocals on the album definitely work well in the context of what the band is trying to do. There is sometimes a good deal of processing, but it is used as a creative device for the song instead of any kind of pitch correction - if there was any type of auto-tune on the album it was used in moderation and I didn't notice it. As a sample of the lyrics from the album, here are some lyrics from the track "High Road": "You let the wind take us down/ you let the storm come wipe us out/ I saw the fog snuff you out/ I saw the ocean come take you under/ I have my boot stuck in your mouth/ I have you screaming for your last breath, yeah/ I shoved them both deep inside/ you're waiting for the devour/ you take the high road down/ I take the ground below you/ you take the high road down/ I take the ground below." It fits in with their usually fantasy/horror themed lyrics, and I'm not complaining.
Overall Impression — 8
I've been a fan of Mastodon for a while now, and they're one of the few modern bands that I'm not sure could do any wrong in my eyes. This album doesn't test that theory, because they seem to do everything right on this one. There is definitely a balance between having truly heavy rhythm parts, and having progressive and psychedelic elements, fantasy-themed lyrics and guitar solos - if a band teeters too far in any one direction they can quickly start sounding goofy, cliché, or disingenuous - but Mastodon executed this album perfectly. Choosing my favorite tracks from this album wouldn't be easy, but I think I would have to say both of the singles, as well as "Asleep in the Deep," "Ember City," and "Diamond in the Witch House." This album would definitely go somewhere close to the top of my five favorite metal releases so far in 2014.