Never again to return to their gruesome sludge roots, fearsome Atlanta foursome Mastodon have been tweaking and refining a sound ever since 2006’s Blood Mountain, consistently and constantly moving in a different, more progressive direction that peaked in unspeakable ways in 2009 with Crack the Skye. Admittedly, the band will never have an album as cohesive or as gut-wrenching as the partial homage to Dailor’s deceased sister, but they move forward nonetheless treading these new territories and exploring fuller sounds that push their boundaries beyond compare.
Enter Once More ‘Round the Sun, the latest conjuration from the band, sonically falling somewhere between 2004’s Leviathan and Blood Mountain. A heavier follow-up to The Hunter, with several tracks creeping into the area of being radio-worthy, Once More ‘Round the Sun probably isn’t the “return to form” that those who defer to Mastodon’s earlier work on a regular basis. This is very much in line with the progressive style they have grown into, and for the better, as the band clearly has their most tenacious work in recent years.
“High Road” and “Chimes at Midnight” were the lead singles from the album, the band clearly trying to put their best foot forward to garner crowds from a little of everyone. The former track speaks volumes of Mastodon’s current sound, while the latter offers a more aggressive front, recalling select tracks from Leviathan, and dabbles in the subject of the finality of life. Both tracks, however, are weak on their own. The chorus of “High Road” left a lot to be desired, weakening an already weak track even further by drawing away from the aggressive pretense the rest of the song set up. Similarly, “Chimes at Midnight,” a song that is perhaps all to similar to “Spectrelight” on the previous album, is seemingly trying too hard to pinpoint that sound that Mastodon has strayed too far from and “isn’t really Mastodon” anymore.
The pieces are what matter, though, in that they resonate together in order to create a greater whole. Context matters. For a band like Mastodon, work that is bound together is the most important aspect of all. Crack the Skye, in all its progressive glory, succeeds in offering a package that tightly wound together in an ethereal wrap. Similarly, Leviathan has all of its bodies connected by streams of thought, where these living pieces, although working very well individually, are part of a greater ecosystem. Once More ‘Round the Sun, while not reaching quite the same echelons as Mastodon’s strongest writings, manages to exist within its own biosphere and create a world ripe for the listening. Songs that previously felt weak are perfectly thriving creatures in the conditions that the album creates.
“Tread Lightly” manages to set up the entire album with a familiar, massive sound, akin to their namesake. Troy Sanders‘ vocals are as monumental as ever during the verses, with thick riffing from Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher below, while Brann Dailor pounds away at the kit as the backbone of the lumbering beast. When the track comes to a crescendo during the chorus, all the band’s voices can be heard swelling up into a bubble and exploding all at once. What a blissful sensation.
The fun doesn’t stop there, however, as we move onto one of the catchiest tracks the band has ever produced, “The Motherload.” Now, “The Motherload” exists as something of an anomaly, as Mastodon have never come together to create something truly befit for radio. Dailor’s voice soars during the chorus, with an uplifting, nearly poppy sound, well into the first part of the chorus as well, with Sanders bringing up the latter part of the chorus, but relegated to nearly background noise as his vocals are pushed between the bright guitar tones. The positive vibes the song exudes through its vocals and all of its catchy bits (riffs, lyrics, transitions, etc.) all flow together seamlessly to create one of the most absolutely fun songs in the band’s career.
Outside of the beginning two tracks and the singles from the album, there are several stand-out songs with hooks to contend with even Intervals‘ A Voice Within in terms of catchiness. “Ember City” rivals “The Motherload” in hooking you deep with its chorus, Dailor once again rising to the occasion, while the title track is on par with “The Motherload” for radio viability. “Aunt Lisa” even recalls the legendary Faith No More in tone, hearkening back to the the deviously fun “Be Aggressive.” Honestly, there’s something to love everywhere on the album, and that’s absolutely something to admire.
Once More ‘Round the Sun stands as a less “serious” album in tone, but still manages to be a very deliberate effort in terms of songwriting and lyrical nature, doing a fine job of storytelling (“Halloween” and “Diamond in the Witch House”), expressing personal feelings (“Asleep in the Deep,” “The Motherload,” “Tread Lightly,” and several others), and just an exploration of the self. After Crack the Skye, Once More ‘Round the Sun strikes as one of the most personal albums the band has offered, giving us a look at the aches and pains of their existence as human beings, traveling around our life-giving star year after year to new experiences and new ways to live and die each and every day.
If anything could be said against Mastodon’s latest work, it’s that the band will likely never produce anything as perfect as Crack the Skye ever again, and may never come close to reaching the same monstrous fusion as seen with Leviathan. Once More ‘Round the Sun, however, is an absolutely stunning album from a band that never seems to repeat themselves and gives us something interesting to listen to with every new release.
Mastodon’s Once More ‘Round the Sun gets…