In the future, when music historians (this will be a thing in the future) are studying Mastodon’s catalog (which they definitely will be), they will split the band’s discography into two distinctive halves: everything before The Hunter and everything after it. Or, in other words, The Elemental Era and the Post-Elemental Era. Future music historians can now relax as I’ve now gone through the trouble of neatly categorizing Mastodon’s discography with cool official sounding names and everything. Anyway, for the uninitiated, Mastodon’s output up to The Hunter was comprised of four now-classic sludge-prog concept albums loosely based around fire, water, earth and air. This tetralogy represents modern metal’s greatest achievement to date, as those four albums are literally perfect and have proved to be massively influential, arguably saving New Wave North American Heavy Metal from its floundering in the early 2000’s. After 2009’s Crack The Skye, my personal favourite of the bunch, news arrived that Mastodon was working on new material and you could almost hear the collective gasp from the metal community when it was announced that the next record would not be conceptual. The Hunter arrived amongst plenty of apprehension in 2011, furthered by the fact that Mastodon had not only ditched the far-reaching concept of their earlier work, but a lot of its heaviness as well. While we eventually warmed up to all the clean vocals, hooks, and compact song structures, there was no doubt a fair share of worrying amongst fans whether or not this was the new Mastodon, and if we’d have to get used to it, whether we liked it or not.
It turns out that, yeah, the Mastodon showcased on The Hunter is the new Mastodon, and we might as well just get used to it. Luckily, on their sixth outing Once More ‘Round The Sun, they make it pretty easy for us, as the worst thing about this record is its title. On The Hunter, Mastodon made up for their lack of proggy chaos with broad stylistic strokes, no two songs really sounding the same. As with most records that take this approach, it was a blessing and a curse, as sometimes these sonic experiments didn’t quite pan out as well as I’m sure they hoped (I’m sorry but The Creature Lives was just silly). While retaining the focus on songwriting that The Hunter showcased, Once More ‘Round The Sun compresses the Post-Elemental Mastodon sound into 11 tight arrangements whose sonic similarities would almost get boring if not for the sheer quality of the songs themselves. Think of The Hunter as Party Mix and Once More ‘Round The Sun as bag of pure fucking delicious spicy Cheetos. You’d get bored of the Cheetos if they weren’t so tasty! I’m gonna call this the Spicy Cheeto vs. Party Mix approach (you’re welcome once again, future music historians).
Are Mastodon still metal? This is a stupid question that really has no consequence on anything, but I’m going to address it anyway because lord knows enough publications are likely trying to tackling it. So are they? Honestly, I don’t know. Probably not. Maybe sometimes, but not so much anymore. I mean, tracks like “Chimes At Midnight” and “Feast Your Eyes” are pretty clearly metal, all the signifiers are there. But in 2014 heavy hitters like those songs are exceptions rather than the rule, and you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. Why would you want more ‘heavy’ Mastodon, when it’s been perfected by them already in their Elemental days? A better question to ask, rather than ‘are Mastodon still metal’, would be ‘are Mastodon still good?’, to which the answer would be a clear, resounding FUCK YEAH. Regardless of whatever tags you wanna put on these guys nowadays, there’s no denying that Once More ‘Round The Suns contains some absolutely killer tracks, some of which stand along the best on the band’s catalog. “The Motherload” is hands down the catchiest song the ‘Dons have ever written, “Asleep in the Deep” brings the trippiness of Blood Mountain’s “Sleeping Giant” to a whole other level with a seriously hallucinogenic chorus, and closing track “Diamond In The Witch House” is their best Scott Kelly featured song since Leviathan’s “Aqua Dementia.” Ultimately, when it comes to this record, the fans are almost more important than the band itself. Mastodon has done their part, creating yet another extremely solid record that I would say is probably better than The Hunter and at the very least one of the best rock albums of 2014 so far. It’s the fans’ turn to put in work as well, and recognize that something as extraordinary and powerful as Mastodon simply cannot stay stationary. Bury your baggage with this band and hop on for this trip ‘round the sun, I promise you it’s one hell of a ride.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre Of The Day: asteroid rock