Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun - (9/10)
Published on June 19, 2014
93 million miles away from ordinary.
Belonging to the genus of Mammut, the long-extinct (approx. 10,500 years) American mastodon was a distant relative of today’s African elephant and the equally shaggy-looking, equally extinct wooly mammoth, two creatures to which the mastodon was of a (slightly) shorter build. However, in spite of its squatter height, the plant-eating and forest-dwelling mastodon was, more so than the mammoth, heavily muscled, a characteristic that did little in delaying its eventual extinction as a victim of human hunting.
A sludge-hybrid quartet of similar shagginess, Atlanta’s Mastodon are nowhere near extinct, even if the numbers of humans hunting their albums continues unabated. However, with the advent of their sixth full-length record, Once More ‘Round the Sun, the band has effectively killed off any last prog remnants of their Leviathan, Blood Mountain, Crack the Skye trilogy, while continuing in the more refrain and alternative-heavy species of…The Hunter. This migration from aggro-beast on efforts like Lifesblood and Remission to prog-sludge globe-trotters and network television stars, to a band who are nearly as admired and accessible as prog-tinged rock/metal acts Tool and Opeth, it’s been an unparalleled evolution that’s witnessed Mastodon hitting all the right notes, time and time again.
So much like its predecessor in The Hunter, Once More ‘Round the Sun features Mastodon flexing their vocal chords more than ever. While the band entire have added their voice to one song or another, the majority of the band’s songs are sung by guitarist Brent Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders. But with The Hunter and now Once More ‘Round the Sun, guitarist Bill Kelleher and, in particular, drummer Brann Dailor have been given even greater liberty to sing their ever-loving hearts out, an album trait that encapsulates this chapter of Mastodon so neatly; the band have never sounded so vibrant, so vocally in tune. And, dare this reviewer add, Dailor has swiftly become Mastodon’s best singer.
As they familiarized on The Hunter, Mastodon have written an array of infectious hard rock ditties rife with a metallic stoner patina. More so than any other record, Once More ‘Round the Sun is awash with radio possibility, a reality that isn’t to say that the album is sonically or even thematically ‘light,’ just fashioned in a manner conducive to the tunneling of your common earworm. Your typical Mastodon fiddling is here in profusion, as is the band’s penchant for eclectic arrangements and solos, components that have always made Mastodon an odd and irresistible listen. Tempered with conflicting emotions, this verse-versus-chorus contrast of tones are what make these songs so enjoyable, forcing you to head-bang and then, quite often concurrently, scream at the top of your lungs.
The heavy is still kicking around on songs like “Feast Your Eyes” at the very Tool-like 2:22 mark, “Chimes at Midnight” at 2:56, or the whole of “Diamond in the Witch House,” the longest and eeriest of the songs and one that nearly doesn’t fit the record, as it ends on a note much stricter than its forbearers. Still, the aforementioned track remains a keeper; the only expendable would have to be “Aunt Lisa,” which, despite its strong vocal work and Dailor’s always entrancing drumming skills, stumbles to the finish line with gang shouts of a decidedly unimposing character. In the end, that 30 second decision is about the lone hiccup you’ll find amidst a preponderance of stellar tracks.
When looking over the whole of Mastodon’s artistic output, Once More ‘Round the Sun has a firm and undeniable place. It’s the band at their most accessible, perhaps at their most mainstream, but it’s also the quartet at their most developed and passionate, distinctions that give this album so much more warmth than its counterparts.