HEY HO, LET’S GET UP AND ROCK N ROLL
Some bands defy classification, at the same time providing a huge slice of personal style and instant recognisability. Mastodon are such a band, crossing the boundaries from stoner, psychedelic, prog - it’s a great testament that the band are comfortable developing and honing the Mastodon sound, rather than choosing a flavour and carrying on. Fans of the first half of the collection will notice a sizeable shift in sound, from masters of the wild to a beast they control with genius mastery in the latter half.
We’ve seen a progression through the life of Mastodon, recently with Crack the Skye being very much an explorative prog-metal experience, with a focus on the prog. The Hunter saw similar sounds appearing although this time it was wrapped up into more concise statements with a lot more structured melody added for good measure.
And then we come to this, ‘Once More Round The Sun’, the sixth studio release and in my opinion, their best work to date. As the journey continues, Mastodon have refined their style yet again yet retain their distinct qualities. Much like on Hunter, we see radio length tracks, jam packed with relentless riffing and sometimes complex song structures that seem to ever evolve.
With the exception of the more straight up progressions in High Road, ‘Once More Round The Sun’ twists and turns like a snake on a tequila diet, for some bands this could be a musical disaster but it’s where Mastodon excel.
Long serving fans of the band will probably find High Road, the first single from the album, to be a bit lightweight, but it’s a bold choice for Mastodon to make. They have seemingly make a deliberate choice to make themselves more accessible without sacrificing too much. I have more problems with the ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ sounding title (Once More Round The Sun) track than their efforts to draw in new listeners. Not that the title track is a bad song, it’s not, but for me the ‘stoner sound’ needs something new, and ‘Once More..’ feels like a safe exploration of that genre.
Lyrically the album is also more accessible than previous releases. For starters, I haven’t spotted a single mention of anyone killing anyone else’s goats yet (but it could be there somewhere). Vocals in general are more understandable with this offering, Mastodon have always shared responsibility around the band for this and it’s part of the “sound”. Some critics have commented that this is a “new style” for Mastodon, and some think they’ve lost their edge – I say shush thou naysayer and just enjoy it! Each Mastodon release has bought a new facet to their creativity and this is just the latest step in that journey.
Where Once More Round The Sun excels is in its relentlessness, the ideal fusion between their prog and metal influences come together to treat us to what will be looked back on as one of their greatest works. While some die hard time served fans may be annoyed that their much treasured ‘Don can now be enjoyed by more people, they should just be thankful that they can claim to support one of the best bands on the planet at this moment – Once More Round The Sun, may not please everyone, but let’s face it, at least the band didn’t release a LuLu.
Once More Round The Sun is one of the best releases of 2014 so far, at the time of writing I’ve been listening to it for a couple of weeks and can testify that not only is it great for the first listen, but really grows with each repeat. I generally don’t like to compare bands with other bands, but there is a creative energy to Mastodon that feels like the channelled essence from Led Zeppelin, I would have liked to have used the term “possessed by the spirits of Led Zeppelin”, except they’re mostly still alive. Mastodon could go anywhere musically in the future, for me, I’m waiting for the Mastodon/Bjork project – that’s the stuff of dreams, but this band can pull it off!