Mastodon – Emperor of Sand

Mastodon is one of the most consistent bands around. They are constantly changing and have proved their versatility over the course of their career. Emperor of Sand the band’s newest album is quite possibly their best, and that is saying something.

Written during a time of great emotional distress for the band. Emperor of Sand is an album full of intricate layers and a deep emotional narrative running through it. While not a concept album in the strictest sense, the character of the Emperor of Sand is a recurring force on the album. He was created to give the band a face to their collective pain.

It’s always hard to review each new Mastodon album because it feels like you can never listen to it enough to fully understand everything it has to offer. This album is no different. By now you will have heard the three pre-release tracks ‘Show Yourself”. ‘Sultan’s Curse’ and ‘Andromeda’ which not only show the diversity of the record, they don’t even scratch the surface.

‘Steambreather’ for example seems to be one of the most personal songs the band has ever written, with lyrics that are stark and poignant, providing a true heart on sleeve moment. Underpinned by a grooving rumbling guitar riff and a shimmering chime of bells in places, It’s a perfect display of the vulnerability. Touches like this allow you a more intimate glimpse into their world without taking any of Mastodon’s signature elements.

‘Roots Remain’ quickly comes on its heels and is the most instant track on the album. Right out the gate it opens up with a pace that feels like trying to grab onto a moving train. It delivers a monumental chorus that will batter you over the head, and work its way into your brain for days on end. Spreading its wings in the middle before going very spacey, and bringing back the twinkling bell sounds. Here we are introduced to the Emperor character with a supreme sinister vocal layered over a cracking guitar solo. All this before bowing out with a stripped down piano part. This is by far my favourite track on the album and one that I can’t stop going back to. 

The album’s second half is  back loaded with tracks that are destined to become instant classics in the live set. Whether it’s the aforementioned ‘Andromeda’ or ‘Ancient Kingdom’ both of which are strong standouts. The closing track ‘Jaguar God’ will leave you out of breath with your head spinning by the time it’s done. It ensures that the album goes out in a rousing fashion. It will leave you disorientated but positive that you want to hear it all again as soon as possible.

Mastodon has really stretched themselves on this album. Although it might not be as complex or out there as some of their other albums. Emperor of Sand is an album full of pure emotion, it opens up another layer that is seldom seen. This wild emotionality coupled with their neverending invention has created one of the most spellbinding, rich, and nuanced albums that you will hear all year. It is certainly a highlight in a career that is full of them.

I know it’s only March, but Mastodon has already made a strong case for album of the year.

9.5/10

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