Friday, 27 June 2014

Mastodon – Once More 'Round the Sun (2014) / 94%

This fucking artwork is totally insane, I love it.

When the sun rose again!

The Georgian boys are back with their sixth album already and every single of their releases was a surprise for the listeners and it's no exception this time either. Their evolution towards more progressive realms felt natural and so is their endeavour into more melodic territories.

In 2011, we were offered a very poppy album with the sadly underwhelming The Hunter, an album plagued with too many songs and fillers but with some jewels like the title track or “Stargasm”. I'm sure I wasn't the only person expecting their new one with haste and interest. I've been following the band intensely since the excellent Blood Mountain, an opus created just when I was starting to get into metal and even if my horizons changed after my formative years, Mastodon remains an important band for me and they'll be seen as the most important American metal band of their generation. I remember when I discovered them, I was sixteen and it was the week that I also got Frances the Mute by The Mars Volta, a band that also became one of my favourite. I opened BM's booklet and I thought it was very odd that Cedric Bixler-Zavala (singer of TMV) was featured as a guest. What a fun coincidence, everything happens for a reason! And now, it's time for the first Mastodon full length since the tragic dissolution (some will say hallelujah but to hell with them) of the El Paso prog juggernauts and it's easily a contender for my album of 2014.

After only one listening, I already told myself that the main problem of their previous record was solved. OM'RTS has absolutely no filler whatsoever. Its main strength is its cohesion and unity. The eleven songs for fifty four minutes is perhaps their most balanced album to date. One of the forces of an album like Leviathan was its diversity but it didn't worked as well on Crack the Skye, an album with a great vision ultimately afflicted with an overachieving will. I mean, I liked the long tracks like “The Last Baron” but the album wasn't as close-knitted as this one even though I think it was honourable progressive metal. CTS also had too many members of the band trying their hand at the mic and it felt disjointed at times. While their new opus is definitely their strongest vocally speaking or at least their most accessible. I'm sure the people who were complaining about how the vocals were their weakest quality won't find much material to complain about here. Sanders (who's obviously Mastodon's best singer) and Hinds are prevalent but they seem harder to differentiate this time around or maybe it was so well constructed that it isn't apparent.Their deliveries are mostly clean but rough and they're simply better at the game, they know their forces and explore them. The choruses are powerful and the use of ethereal, atmospheric but grasping vocals enhance the whole experience

Lyrically speaking, it's not as special as CTS or weird like The Hunter, it doesn't seem conceptual this time around (perhaps for the better since they'll be repeating themselves and that's counterproductive.) The lyrics are still deeply personal and metaphorical and they flow very well. It's kind of giving me a contemplative vibe that goes hand in hand with the rock influences they're incorporating this time around, you can easily hear the love they have for Deftones and Alice in Chains and I have no problem with that! 

It goes without saying but don't expect Mastodon to go back to their sludgey roots on this album, it's perhaps heavier than The Hunter or maybe I think it is since it's not as joyful. It's sort of a return to a math-esque sound not so present on their two latest albums and it delivers immense heavy riffs as well (such as the great epic closer “Diamond in the Witch House” with “surprise” guest vocals from Neurosis' Scott Kelly.) Of course, a Mastodon album wouldn't be complete with other guests, this time the all girls punk band The Coat Hangers from their local city of Atlanta are featured on the fun “Aunt Lisa” with girly, shouted vocals adding a juvenile feel to the track.

Hinds and Kelliher (massive guitarists for sure) are not quite as inclined to show off their lead guitar skills as they were before but they let loose some tasty leads like on the single “High Road”. Throughout the album, they prove once again that they're modern metal's most accomplish guitar duo. They have their own distinctive approach and alongside Dailor's inventive, intense and intelligent drumming, it's part of Mastodon's signature sound. It's full of blistering and smart riffs intertwined with groovy rhytmns played wonderfully showcasing that they're one of the proudest Rush disciples of the new millenium. Mastodon has always been a technical band but I truly believe that it never was a burden to their compositions, quite the opposite.

Indeed, it's progressive & technical but without giving up one iota of melodic might. “Tread Lightly”, the opening song, is the perfect example with its sweeping leads and its catchy vocal patterns. They learned of their gigantic progressive voyage with CTS but played a more subdued card on OM'RTS and still managed to craft an impressive and original record. Proof that sometimes less is more. Nevertheless, this album is fucking intricate and rich and it's just doesn't try to be too creative or pop, it just is. It's like they accepted the fact that they were going in a poppier direction, that's a direct continuation of The Hunter which can be seen as a transition album since the formula & the quality weren't quite there yet.
It really feels like Mastodon took the better songwriting of The Hunter and mixed the idiosyncratic power from their other albums with it. Someone might dislike Mastodon for a bunch of reasons (their immense popularity, their beards, the fact they moved on from extreme metal and so on...) but no one can say that they sound like another band. If a bunch of hipsters try to mimic them, they'll strike again with a new, fresh record and the kids will have to update their sound once again. They're reinventing themselves after each record and for most bands, this prowess would be disastrous but not with these fabulous and silly hairy homo sapiens sapiens.

It's without a doubt their best album since Blood Mountain and it helps building an important, almost faultless legacy for the band. I had low expectations after their previous album and this was a pleasant surprise. Highly recommended for fans of adventurous, catchy prog metal with a flair for originality. Mastodon are still on the rise and there's no way to stoptheir progression. In time, you will join them in the sun, In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice review! You are pretty much damn right! :)